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Mist Nets and Museum Skins

March 7 - April 16, 2016

photograph by tara freeman

Barred owl (Strix varia) pinned and drying for use as a study skin in the
Johnson Hall of Science natural history museum (2016), photo by Tara Freeman.


An exhibition of museum-quality bird study skins created by students in Susan Willson’s fall 2015 biology course of the same title. The class centered on teaching two principal techniques in bird biology. The first part of the semester focused on mist-netting, or the catching, handling and release of live birds in their natural habitats for scientific purposes. Students then learned how to prepare study skins of dead birds for natural history museums, which involved the step-by-step removal of the internal skeletons and organs from thawed birds, as well as stuffing and sewing of the bodies with cotton. All study skin birds came from those killed locally by car and building strikes or by cats.

bird study by donald demauro

Bird Study (1965), by Donald DeMauro,
wash and watercolor on paper, SLU 67.43

In addition, artworks from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection and from the Owen D. Young Library’s Special Collections are on display. An original Cedar Bird print from the Havell edition (1827-38) and eight prints from the Amsterdam edition (1971-72) of John James Audubon’s Birds of America are shown next to study skins of barred owl, grackle, merlin (pigeon hawk), red-tailed hawk, ruffed grouse, saw-whet owl, song sparrow, and wood thrush. Prints and drawings by Will Barnet, Leonard Baskin, Robert Motherwell, Gabor Peterdi and others complement the scientific study of birds in the exhibition. A 19th-century Canton-based artist, Elizabeth Miner, and Hazel Tyrrell, the “Birdwoman of Pierrepont,” represent birds through a lyrical wool tapestry and a series of painted wood carvings. Photographs by Tara Freeman document the students working in the field and lab.








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