Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bird heaven

Thousands of specimens sit in silence, waiting for a scientific research question to give them life. Birds from different decades sit together in one drawer. Birds that lived thousands of miles apart might share a cabinet. It is a time capsule, and a pile of places — it is a collapsed little world.

I have been dreaming of this starling project for months. What motivates me is not their striking beauty, or their precious handwritten specimen tags, it is looking for patterns and tracing the biological legacy of their dramatic story. I sat at my desk and stared out the sliver of almost-window, I read, and researched, and emailed about it. But what I didn’t realize is that the historical specimens that would allow me to understand how the species changed through time were sitting —without much exaggeration—on the other side of my office wall. Behind my office wall there is a bathroom, and then not far beyond that, it is bird heaven.