Ornithology Collection at the Burke Museum

In the heart of Seattle’s U-District lives the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. It began as a club of young naturalists with a passion for collecting all types of specimens; over time it became a tangible catalog of natural history, a conglomerate of objects that help us see Earth and its creatures over a timeline much longer than our own.  Today the Burke is a hub of research and public education.


Before my visit I didn’t realize just how important museums are for preserving natural history and contributing to scientific discovery. What we see in the displays as we browse the aisles is only a tiny percentage of what the museum actually holds. The Burke has one of the largest tissue sample collections in the world, specifically avian tissue samples. With so many specimens at hand, scientists are able to understand how the tissue of, say,  a  modern Pileated Woodpecker differs from that of a 100 year old woodpecker, and so on. Beyond public education, museums are vital in preserving history so that we might study it and understand how our world and the creatures on it change over time.

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Earth’s Cleanser: Turkey Vulture

Have you ever bought a new car, and then everyone on the road suddenly had it too? The Turkey Vulture is my new car, so to speak.

After an enlightening visit to the Woodland Park Zoo’s raptor program a couple months ago, my husband and I realized that not every large, dark-colored bird of prey circling above us was a  “hawk” or “eagle”, general terms we’d throw out there because we had nothing else to go on. With our identification skills for raptors lacking and our binoculars far from “good”, it never occurred to us that the alien-looking Turkey Vulture we vaguely knew from childhood books and Westerns would be so prolific in the Pacific Northwest. After our revelation, we noticed those naked red heads and wobbly, V-shaped flight patterns everywhere, even more than hawks and eagles. We’ve become deeply interested in this bizarre creature; its presence is a favorite companion to our car trips and walkabouts now that we know what to look for, and suddenly I find them quite beautiful.

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