RTPI to host Bird-Skinning demonstration workshop

JAMESTOWN — The bird specimens so artfully depicted in Alberto Rey’s ‘The Extinct Bird Project’ exhibition, now on view at RTPI, are stunning studies of lifeless creatures that will never again be seen in the wild. Some of the birds represented in Rey’s paintings have been dead for over a century, but their preserved bodies are still available for researchers – and artists – to study in the country’s natural history museums, including the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (RTPI).

These so-called ‘study skins’ are not taxidermy mounts, prepared with their aesthetic value in mind, but rather scientific specimens that are prepared and preserved for longevity and scientific accuracy. Museum preparators strive to maintain the birds’ proportions, plumage, and other salient features in true-to-nature fashion, so measurements can be taken, samples collected, or color notes recorded many years after the specimen was prepared. In essence, modern natural history museum collections provided a virtual time capsule – a glimpse into the past of certain species, which can help document changes over time. For example, a recent study of historic bird study skins from steel belt cities allowed researchers to establish historic levels of local air pollution well before such data was reliably recorded, by comparing levels of soot build-up on the feathers of birds collected in the area up to a hundred years ago.

RTPI houses Roger Tory Peterson’s reference collection of bird skins – specimens Peterson used as ‘models’ for his field guide art to ensure accuracy. In addition, RTPI is a licensed repository of bird casualties, such as window and car strikes. These local birds are preserved to hopefully help better understand the area’s bird fauna and are available for research and education purposes. On October 20th at 11am, RTPI director Twan Leenders will offer a workshop on the process of creating study skins. The public is welcome to observe this procedure, or to participate by producing their own study skin from one of the many bird casualties that have been donated to RTPI over time. The cost to observe Leenders’ demonstration is a $10 donation. Should you be interested in preparing a specimen of your own, the cost will be $25 and you will need to RSVP by 4pm on October 13th. Please call 665-2473 ext 227 if you have questions or to RSVP. The Roger Tory Peterson Institute is located at 311 Curtis Street in Jamestown.

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