Red-breasted Nuthatches and Busy Summers
October 12, 2007
Well, although I didn't really intend it, I took a summer hiatus from Tiny Aviary. It was a very busy summer between some big illustration jobs and helping my husband move his screenprinting shop into a new space. It was eerily quiet at the museum. Many of the scientists that haunt my particular corner of zoology were off on various field excursions to Africa. Dr. Willard had set a number of birds aside in one of the freezers for me to pull from when I was able to make it in. For the most part, I have become competent enough that he no longer needs to hover over my work. I've become quicker, and this past Wednesday I prepared a record 6 skins. It's a record for me, but a number at which any seasoned field biologist would probably snicker. Dr. Willard spent the majority of the summer in Malawi, but along with some other department members, has returned, and the bird division has settled back into a more gregarious atmosphere. This past Wednesday I was able to meet some of the dedicated individuals that volunteer as Chicago Collision Moniters (check out link to right). They sat in a small group around a table and prepared an astonishing amount of birds collected that morning from McCormick Place and other loop buildings to be made into skeletons. This involved removing the feathers, after which, Dr. Willard would determine the sex of the bird and then they were placed in tanks full of dermestid beetles. The dermestids are voracious flesh eaters and within hours or days, depending on the size of the carcass, will have the bones picked clean. The idea of a room full of carrion eating beetles is surely off putting to some people, but I have become rather fascinated by the industrious colonies of dermestids. The economy and detail of their work is difficult to deny.
I hope to be posting again on a regular basis, or at least not having two months in between posts. So I'll start this up again with one of my favorite birds, Sitta canadensis or commonly known as the Red-breasted Nuthatch. The genus Sitta includes White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and the Pygmy Nuthatch. Nuthatches are distinctive for their tree climbing acrobatics. They have the ability, and flaunt it often, to climb upside down and sideways along tree trunks and branches as they forage. We are in the midst of fall migration and many, many birds are coming through the Chicago area. Red-breasted are making their way down from the conifer forests of the North.