Taxidermy at the Manchester Museum

"The world is not to be put in order; the world is order, incarnate. It is for us to harmonize with this order" - Henry Miller

Last weekend I visited my family in Manchester, UK. While I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Manchester museum, where natural history is a big theme and there is a large collection of taxidermy exhibits. My personal favourites were the birds and forest wildlife. Below are some pictures I took of the exhibits:

1. Taxidermy squirrel
This exhibit shows part of the process involved in creating a mammal taxidermy. It is clear that the skin removed from the cadaver is placed on a man-made structure shaped as a squirrel. Of course, due to natural decay the animal's real eyeballs are replaced with glass eyes. I had a chance to touch a finished taxidermy squirrel in the museum and it felt like a living, furry animal, except for the lack of a spine.

2. The big bad wolf
This angry-looking wolf is a well-made taxidermy, with its original features well-preserved. There is fake blood on its teeth, making it appear to have recently eaten a meal. Its expression is one which you would expect from a hungry wolf being distracted from his food. You would not want to come across this guy during a hike in a forest.

3. Why dead birds are preserved and studied:

4. Sparrowhawk study skins
Study skins like these do not contain filling material, and tend to be used mainly for the purpose of research. The process involved in skinning and preserving a dead bird is described in more detail in one of my previous posts. The above skins belonged to sparrowhawks, small birds of prey, which are very common in Europe. They are known to hunt for even smaller birds, such as sparrows and finches. They have small beaks, thus they use their feet for catching prey, as the feet are strong and very well adapted for gripping objects. The prey is usually killed by the impact or by being crushed by the sparrowhawk's feet. These birds' deaths and reductions in their population have been attributed to the use of pesticides, causing chemical poisoning in grown birds and reduced thickness of laid eggs' shells, often causing them to break.

5. Hummingbirds and barn owl exhibits
As shown, the hummingbird skins come from Central America, while the Barn Owl was found in Lancashire, UK.
Hummingbirds are well-known for their small size and rapid movement of wings. The wings are additionally remarkeable because they are able to keep the bird in a stable position even when subject to sideways gusts of wing by adjusting the orientation of their tail feathers and increasing the amplitude of wing strokes. Male hummingbirds are generally smaller than females, but their feathers are more colourful. These birds can only be found in America, mostly in the northern Andes region and Mexico.

Meanwhile, barn owls can be found almost everywhere in the world, except for deserts and polar regions. However, unlike most other parts of the world, in Britain, Barn Owls are not purely nocturnal, but have also been observed to hunt during daytime. Most of their prey are small mammals. In terms of breeding behaviours, they tend to be monogamous, with the male being the main provider of food for the female and the chicks. Meanwhile, the female teaches her children how to hunt. The most common causes of barn owls' death are starvation, colisions with cars, pesticides and collisions with power lines. However, they can also fall prey to other birds, such as eagles and great horned owls, as well as some carnivore mammals. Providing nest boxes is a good method to help preserve and increase the species' local populations.

6. Decapitated birds' heads
The above board only presented the heads of various birds, rather than their whole bodies. This is a rather interesting example of taxidermy because it allows to compare the details of a specific single part of various specimens. As seen on the picture, the sizes and shapes of birds' heads, their beaks and their eyes can vary significantly between different bird species. These adaptations usually correspond to their individual behaviours and lifestyles. 


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