Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
On Monday, we asked our Facebook friends to solve a little ITTB teaser in preparation for today’s post: “This type of bird is also the name of a county in central Oklahoma.” Think you know what it is? Our Facebook friends certainly do. Today we’re talking about the wildly-plumed, internationally known kingfisher.
Kingfishers are a group of brightly colored birds that are famous for catching fish by swooping down from a perch, as shown in the video above from BBC Wildlife. They are found all over the world, but the largest number of species is found in Africa. The Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) is the largest kingfisher in the world, usually between 16.5 and 18 inches, and is a resident breeder over most of Africa south of the Sahara Desert.
A Giant Kingfisher from the SNOMNH ornithology department
For comparison sake, the African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ispidina picta) is the second smallest kingfisher, usually measuring in around 4.75 to 5.11 inches. This species is only slightly bigger than its closest relative, the African Dwarf Kingfisher (Ispidina lecontei). Unlike most kingfishers, they are insectivorous and found in woodland and savanna terrains away from water.
An African Pygmy Kingfisher from the SNOMNH ornithology department
Both of these specimens were donated by Jack Hill II, a student of curator Gary Schnell. When he was a child, he and his father collected these birds in Ethiopia in the 1970s. How’s that for father-son bonding? What’s so unique about these specimens is that, thanks to Jack Hill II, the Sam Noble Museum now houses the largest and second smallest species of kingfisher in the world. What do they look like side by side? We’re glad you asked.
Giant Kingfisher and African Pygmy Kingfisher side by side
So, what’s in store for next week, you ask? Well, dust off your time machine because we’re going back 455 millions years. That’s right, 455 million years. Just let that sink in for a moment. Though it may come from a long-gone era, this specimen was actually found not so far from home. Any guesses as to where? Tune into Facebook Monday and tell us what you think for this week’s teaser!
Orphaned collections are a growing concern for natural history institutions worldwide. An endangered or orphaned collection is any considerable body of material, which is or soon may be no longer regarded as of value in its present ownership. According to the American Association of Museums, every year more institutions, agencies, corporations, and individuals divest themselves of their collections. When this occurs, “orphaned” collections need to be “adopted” by an existing natural history collection.
In November of 2011, Eugene Young, a professor in the Agriculture and Life Sciences department at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Okla. contacted the Sam Noble Museum about the possibility of adopting an orphaned collection from the A.D. Buck Museum.
Originally called the Yellow Bull Museum, the A.D. Buck Museum’s science exhibits included mounted specimens of birds and mammals. Sam Noble Museum curator Gary Schnell and collection managers Marcia Revelez and Tamaki Yuri traveled to the A.D. Buck Museum to view the specimens. Upon further inspection, the team found many specimens that had been on loan from the Sam Noble Museum.
A total of 14 specimens were loaned to A. D. Buck in 1961, including an adult grizzly bear, all still in good condition. Most of the collection’s Oklahoma birds and mammals were found in the early 1900s, such as the marsh hawk, in 1910, and a Pintail, in 1913.
Many of the specimens in the A. D. Buck collection are significant to Oklahoma’s history, such as the Spotted Skunk found in 1934 in Kay County, an area that had no previous record of having that species before the 1990s. After evaluation, a crew returned in December to pack up the collection of birds and mammals and bring them to their new home at the Sam Noble Museum.
The A. D. Buck specimens are not the first collection the museum has adopted. Recently, the museum’s Department of Mammalogy adopted approximately 26,000 mammal species from the University of Memphis Mammal Collection.
“It’s an ongoing goal for the museum to aid orphaned collections,” Revelez said.
Natural history collections play a vital role in understanding cultures, habitats, biodiversity and more. They safeguard specimens, inspire, educate, and tirelessly continue the research and study of various sciences. We welcome back our mammals and birds that have been on loan for so many decades and will always strive to maintain and preserve Oklahoma’s rich natural history.
This morning as I was walking past the water garden in front of the museum, I noticed a whole flock of robins feeding around the pond. I stood still and counted at least a dozen, with more flitting around in the plantings and in the branches overhead.
This past Saturday I had seen a flock of 20 or more in my front yard. And I wondered “why don’t I see flocks of robins in the spring and summer? Why only in winter?”
So I marched upstairs to the office of Dr. Gary Schnell, our curator of birds. It’s so handy to have a building full of scientists when you come up with these random questions.
He tells me that we don’t see robins in groups in the spring and summer because they pair off to mate. In the winter they come together to feed.
But what about that whole “first robin of spring” thing? I asked. Well, turns out that works much better up in Michigan (whose state bird is the robin, by the way), than it does down here in Oklahoma. Here we have robins all year ‘round.
There is some migration movement of robins to the south from up north, so the robins we see in the winter may not be the same robins we see in the spring and summer (to those Michigan robins, Oklahoma probably feels like Palm Beach). But don’t get excited when you see that robin in January… spring is still, sadly, many weeks away.