New York City Travel
Birds of the world and ornitology exhibits and permanent collections in the museum. Guide and description for visitors.    
American Museum of Natural History.


Beginning on the right, the first four cases contain representatives of the 13,000 known species of birds in the principal groups, arranged according to their natural relationships.

This series of the American Museum of Natural History birds of the world begins with the ostriches, those birds which have changed least from their reptilian ancestors, and terminates with the singing perching birds, such as the thrush and finch, of the highest type of development. The remaining specimens in the cases around the hall are grouped according to their faunal regions, i.e., South American Temperate, American Tropical, North American Temperate, Arctic, Eurasian, Indo-Malay, African and Australian.

Visitors who do not care to inspect every case of birds of the world will be interested in an examination of the hornbill, which has the peculiar habit of sealing the female in her nest when she is "setting"; the varicolored toucans, whose bills are fashioned into spoons by the natives of the different countries these birds inhabit; the Argus pheasant, with its great spreading tail; the gyrfalcon, equipped with its hood and shown as being "pegged out" in the open air; the jungle fowls from Africa, the progenitors of our domesticated chickens; the brilliant colored quetzal with its long plumes, the national bird of Guatemala, and the long-tailed fowls of Japan with tail feathers frequently reaching a length of from twelve to fourteen feet.

In the center of the hall of the birds of the world are cases containing groups of extinct or nearly extinct birds:

The Heath Hen, common in the early part of the last century in portions of Massachusetts, Long Island and New Jersey. The near extinction of these birds is due to excessive shooting at all seasons; when the present specimens were secured in 1907 from Martha's Vineyard, not more than one hundred individuals were known to exist. This bird has the general habits of the prairie hen, but frequents a bushy rather than an open prairie country.
The Dodo, of which a restoration and skeleton may be seen. The Dodo was a strange kind of pigeon about twice the size of a turkey and was found on the Island of Mauritius by the Portuguese about 1507. The last authentic record shows that there were individuals alive in 1681.

The Great Auk, of which no living specimen has been recorded since 1844. This bird formerly bred on a few small islands off the coast of Newfoundland and during its migration was known along our coast as far south as Virginia. Being flightless and helpless on land, it proved an easy victim for the early voyagers and fishermen, who killed the birds in vast numbers for their flesh and feathers.

The Labrador Duck, which formerly was somewhat common on the Atlantic coast from Labrador to Chesapeake Bay. No living specimen of this bird has been recorded since 1871, although as late as 1850 it was met with occasionally in New York markets. Only forty-odd specimens are known to be preserved in museums. Of these, thirty-one are in America, seven of which are in this institution.

The Wild Pigeon, which in 1805 was so numerous that Audubon wrote that he saw schooners at the wharves in New York City loaded in bulk with wild pigeons caught up the Hudson River, which were sold at the rate of one cent each. The last individual died in the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens in 1914.
Near-by is a group indicating the relation between structure and habit in birds as illustrated by woodpeckers, followed by a case containing specimens of nearly all the known varieties of the birds of paradise.

In alcoves will be found small groups of various birds and series of birds' nests and eggs, showing the size of the egg and the number in the clutch. Of special interest in the case containing the ostriches, is an egg of the Epyornis, one of the several species of gigantic extinct birds distantly related to the ostrich and known only from bones and eggs found in the forests of southern Madagascar. This egg has a capacity of six times that of the ostrich egg, 140 fair-sized eggs of the common hen or 18,000 eggs of hummingbirds. They were frequently used for bowls and water jars. Stories of their size, told by Arabian traders, gave rise to the fable of the roc, a giant bird which could carry off an elephant. It is said that when the present natives of the island find one of these eggs, they hold a feast in honor of the event, at which time they sacrifice several oxen.

From the ceiling of this wing of birds of the world of the American Museum of Natural History hangs a skeleton of a finback whale sixty-two feet in length.


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