Collection of songbirds, raptors, game birds, waterfowl finds new home at University of Minnesota-Crookston
CROOKSTON — Considering these birds haven’t been able to fly for the past 100 years, they sure have gotten around.
Their perches have included a hotel, a bar, a restaurant, prolonged time in storage and even a trip to a landfill, where, as good fortune would have it, their stay was short-lived.
Now, this collection of songbirds, raptors, game birds and waterfowl — some 200 in all — has found a new home in the safe and sheltered confines of Owen Hall at the University of Minnesota-Crookston.
The birds are the latest additions to the mounted menagerie that resides in the campus wildlife museum. UMC staffers say they’re happy to have them.
“We now have just about every North American species we have in the area,” John Loegering, assistant professor of ecology, said of the wildlife museum’s bird collection. “That’s huge.”
According to published reports, a Grafton, N.D., taxidermist by the name of Williams began collecting the bird specimens in 1890, and in 1914, he passed it to an East Grand Forks hotel owner for display. The collection also changed hands during a poker game before East Grand Forks businessman Leonard Zimmer bought a cafe that had been home to the collection.
In a 1998 interview with the Herald, Zimmer said he wanted to donate the collection to a school or organization for others to enjoy.
“It’s too big for a private collection, and I’m not going to live forever,” Zimmer said of the collection, which was being housed in a rural East Grand Forks work shed at the time. “I have lived forever already.”
Zimmer died in 2001, and the collection was transferred to the Wetlands, Pines and Prairie Audubon Sanctuary near Warren, Minn., after his death. When the Agassiz Audubon Society that administered the sanctuary had to transfer the collection again, they contacted UMC.
Within a week, the birds, and an enclosed trailer that had been used to showcase the display at county fairs and other events, were donated to UMC and the collection transferred to Owen Hall during last month’s spring break.
“The trailer with the birds had been to the landfill at least once,” Loegering said. “I just couldn’t see having that happen. It was sad to see someone’s clear passion and investment ended up on the chopping block. We said, ‘yeah, we’ll take it.’ It’s just a wonderful addition.”
Difficult to get
Loegering said many of the birds are protected species that haven’t been legal to collect since the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1916. Included are four wren species, two bluebird species, a colorful scarlet tanager, rarely seen birds such as the whippoorwill and even a tiny mounted hummingbird.
“It probably adds one-third to the specimens we have in the songbird area,” Loegering said. “Most of the time you can’t go out and really acquire them.”
Laura Bell, lab services coordinator in the UMC Agriculture and Natural Resources Department, said she didn’t know anything about the collection before Agassiz Audubon offered to donate the birds.
“It was, ‘act fast,’” Bell said. “I had no idea it was like this — something so mind blowing-ly wonderful.”
Bell has been cataloging the collection, working to refurbish the mounts and find places to display all of them. About a dozen specimens had sustained mold and mildew damage when the trailer leaked and couldn’t’ be salvaged, but overall, the collection was in surprisingly good shape considering its age and the ride it’s been on during the past century.
Finding a place to display all of the birds is an ongoing challenge, Bell says, but that wasn’t a consideration when accepting the collection.
“You wouldn’t win a million bucks and not take it because you don’t know how to spend it,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”
Besides, after displaying all of the male-female waterfowl pairs on a high shelf at the front of the room, Bell says she now can tell students she finally has her “ducks in a row.”
That brings the expected chorus of groans, she said with a laugh. But dry humor aside, there’s no question about the learning opportunities the collection provides.
“These birds were collected while it was legal to do so, and now our students have the opportunity to learn from the real specimen as part of a collection we own,” Bell said.
After all these years, the collection finally has found a permanent home in a place where it can be seen and appreciated.
“It will be taken care of, and it needs to be,” Bell said. “So that’s a good, positive thing, too.”
For more information about the collection or set up an appointment to see the display, contact Bell at (218) 281-8131.