Sometimes, life as a museum specimen can get messy. Being on display all the time can take a toll on a taxidermied bird. Years of dust and dirt build up, like plaque on teeth, until the color and clarity of each feather is covered up. With the recent generous donation of a HEPA approved artefact vacuum, we are restoring our exhibit specimens to like-new shine.
The museum’s collections manager, Ann-Eliza Lewis, with the help of the Intro to Collections Management class, is starting this project with the “Indiana Birds of Prey” exhibit from the lobby. Donning lab coats and gloves, the students will eventually work up to the mounted heads in other parts of the museum. In fact, any taxidermied animal that has hair, fur, or feathers in the museum, and a corresponding layer of dust, will get a little museum spa time.
No ordinary dust cloth or vacuum would clean up these birds without destroying its carefully preserved feathers. A particulate vacuum, made specifically for collections, is gentle on the feathers, but strong enough to remove the build-up of dust. With special filters for fine particulates, including a HEPA filter, the vacuum thoroughly cleans each specimen. Even this specially made tool can be a little too strong. Ann-Eliza and the crew made a small modification to keep our specimens intact-a simple Handi-Wipe over the mouth produces the perfect amount of suction.
The first client at the JMM spa, a Northern Harrier, is a kind of hawk. Harriers build their nests not in trees, like many birds, but on the ground or on small mounds in the middle of open areas, like prairies or marshes. Hunting mostly small mammals like ground squirrels and mice, harriers will fly low over their territory, listening carefully for any sounds from potential prey. Click here to listen to Harrier calls, and here to see a picture of the northern harrier in action.
Are you ready for the big reveal?
Meet our Northern Harrier, freshly cleaned up: