Blast Radius

ROM has the last remaining mounts of extinct birds

And if we’re not careful, more birds will be joining them in the museum collection

Birds always catch my eye. Every time I take my kids to the Royal Ontario Museum, we say hi to the Atlantic puffin in the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity.

To me, birds are a symbol of freedom.

So, when I spied Oriole Park resident Anne Thackray pencilling a Harlequin Duck at the ROM back in March, I needed to know more, and what I uncovered was a treat fit for an ivory-billed woodpecker.

Thackray studied art in London and is a member of the Friends of Canadian Connections at the ROM. I spoke with her in April about how she started drawing the mounts from the museum’s catalogue.

The ROM has many extinct species in its collection, including the passenger pigeon, the aforementioned ivory-billed woodpecker, the Labrador duck, and the puffin’s relative, the great auk.

Actually, come to think of it, the ROM has one of only a dozen Labrador duck mounts in the world, as confirmed by Schad Gallery manager, Mark Peck.

Back in the 1960s, Vassar College in New York was cleaning out its cupboards in a biology room and found the Labrador Duck and the Great Auk mounts. They were sent to the American Museum of Natural History to get fixed up. When the ROM caught wind of this, they wanted the extinct indigenous species for their collection.

“They’re both placed into the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity and there is a lot of information about why they went extinct,” Peck said of the two, which are alternated yearly. “We educate the public on species that have gone extinct and mostly due to man’s greed and habitat loss.”

Man’s greed, eh? Come to think of it, our premier is salivating over development and has recently taken steps to allow developers to pay a fee in lieu of complying with environmental regulations.

It’s a move that makes me apoplectic. Short gain at the cost of not only a species of birds survival but ours as well.

Eventually, there won’t be an environment for folks like Doug Ford to strip mine. And we’ll all be visiting mounts of animals in museums — if he doesn’t cut funding to those too.

As an archaeology undergrad, I spent most of my days in and around the ROM. I’ve imparted that interest in the past, present, and future to my kids. Their love of animals is growing because I continue to share the stories that animals are constantly threatened by greed.

I’m sure I’m not the only one.

“I had no idea that passenger pigeons were stunning birds,” Thackray cooed. “The more you look at these birds that are no longer flying around — because they are extinct — the more you appreciate what we are losing.”

Outside of misguided policy changes by businessmen with no sense of preservation, our avian friends’ greatest threats are cats and window strikes. A 2013 report by Environment Canada listed the death toll for window strikes between 16 to 42 million.

It’s a sad fact, and even sadder is many of those bodies are passed along to the ROM for study.

“Even though we don’t do a lot of collecting anymore, we still get a lot of birds coming down,” Peck said. “We do try to keep some of the species at risk.”

If you have some time and have an interest in learning about Ontario’s biodiversity, pay the ROM a visit, and be sure to say hi to the puffin for me.

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