Above is a picture of the study skin of an Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis), but it isn’t any ordinary skin, this is a cake, made by the very talented Curator of Natural History Clare Brown!
Study skins of animals can be used by researchers to look at features such as colour and shape and it can be very useful to have more than one skin of each species as you can compare them with each other. Just like people, animals in each species have differences and it can help to know how different they can be when you are trying to identify them. Also the collection information attached to the skins can be useful, as it can tell you where they were collected and when. A specimen may have been collected from a place where that species is no longer found, so you can see that their distribution has changed due to things like hunting, habitat loss or climate change.
Eskimo Curlews used to over winter in the Argentinean pampas and then come up to North America to breed. Sadly, Eskimo Curlews were shot in their millions in the late 1800’s, so from being one of the most numerous shorebirds in the of western arctic – around Alaska and Canada -they are now thought to be extinct, with the last reliable sightings being in the 1980’s. They used to eat a mixture of berries and small insects and they could use their long curved beaks to probe for food in the soil.
This is the start of the Skin Deep project, funded by the Arts Council, England. There are over 3,000 bird study skins in our store and within the next year they are going to be put into new drawers and made more accessible with a view to showing people how interesting and beautiful they can be. Watch this space!