With 500,000 specimens, the collections of birds have many more than that number of stories associated with them. Some illustrate new knowledge (e.g., new populations, new species), some represent aspects of the natural history of the species (plumages, migration dates), while others represent the past (e.g. extinct birds). Below is a photo of a clutch of eggs from our collection. The FMNH specimen number is 22175 and the eggs are of an Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda). They were collected by George W. Freidrich and donated to the museum by his family. On the left, is the detailed egg slip data that Freidrich wrote about this clutch. What caught our attention when Dave Willard was cataloguing Freidrich’s collections was their date 1934 (May 28th) and even more so their location, near the intersection of Crawford and Devon. As the crow flies (or the Upland Sandpiper flew), these eggs were collected only 2 miles from my house in Evanston, but they document that, 76 years ago, the landscape around this intersection was very different from the landscape that exists today. Upland Sandpipers are birds of open prairie and some farm fields, today they only breed in a few scattered grasslands in the Chicago region. In winter, they fly all the way to the pampas of northern Argentina. In August in eastern Bolivia, I have seen one appear at water filled rut on a road in forest, but I confess that I have not seen them in the Chicago region.
This egg set, documents a habitat long gone. To illustrate that, I took them out to the intersection of Crawford and Devon on a cold windy Fall day to take this photo. yes">
The modern intersection is bordered by buildings and a golf course, in some senses a benefit to urban wildlife, but hardly suitable for Upland Sandpipers and the other animal and plant species that used to grace the grasslands that were here 60 years ago. Today, this is just another stoplight slowing drivers down on their way somewhere. I do not know if the city simply grew straight through this area of gradually filled in from all sides to squeeze the grasslands out, but humans have claimed this land and altered it, so that Upland Sandpipers cannot raise their young near Crawford and Devon anymore. yes"> It highlights how truly important those few Chicago region areas are that Upland Sandpipers still find suitable, and it illustrates how are collections document loss, which is only one kind of change through time.