Ornithology (EEB/NRE 433): A unique look at birds.
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Collection Manager Janet Hinshaw and assistant Aspen Ellis, helped by Ira Richardson of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design and Sara Cole of SNRE, led ornithology students through the process of preparing study skins, which begins much like a dissection but involves additional steps such as inserting cotton eyeballs, carefull stuffing, and sewing with needle and thread. During the process, students got to glimpse at the tissue-thin skulls of young birds, the bubble-like air sacs which extend into the bird's limbs (which can rupture if a bird breaks its wing), and the spongy structures inside of woodpecker skulls that prevent them from getting headaches.
After preparing specimens, students prepared special labels that included the name of the species, date and location found, weight, sex, size of gonads, and cause of death if known. Most of the birds that the students prepared were birds that had struck buildings, windows, or cars and were donated after being discovered on the sidewalk or by the side of the road. Other birds were donated after being injured or killed by outdoor cats. The students recorded this information on the back of the tag.
The students' study skins will be added to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Bird Collection. The collection, which contains over 209,000 bird skin, skeleton, nest, and egg specimens from all over the world, is the sixth largest in North America. Most of the collection is stored behind-the-scenes and is never seen by the public, but is accessible to researchers and students interested in using the specimens for scientific research or as a reference for art.