Rarely seen specimens on display at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
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The green-and-orange plumage of a now-extinct Illinois bird. A long-tailed weasel collected in 1893. An album of Midwest plants collected by the wife of a railroad tycoon.
In honor of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s 160th anniversary, staff there are pulling some rarely seen specimens out of storage for the public — on view at the Lincoln Park museum through Saturday. Head for the second floor and look out for the folks wearing blue lab gloves.
One of the more interesting items from the museum’s earlier history — it was first located downtown — is an album from the 1800s filled with all sorts of pressed flowers and plants, now faded and brittle. The collector, Midwesterner Elizabeth Atwater, was a botanist and the wife of a railroad tycoon. She found some of her specimens during train rides, said Dawn Roberts, the museum’s director of collections.
“She would hop out to gather her plants and then hop back on again,” Roberts said.
The specimens include a Carolina parakeet, a now-extinct bird about the size of a red-winged blackbird, with spectacular green, yellow and orange plumage.
“The farmers didn’t really like them because one of the things they’d do is attack fruit crops,” said Doug Taron, chief curator of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. “They were hunted very heavily, and they were treated as pests for a long time.”
The parakeet, which became extinct in 1917, was found predominantly in the southern states. The one on display was found in Union County, Illinois, in 1857.