On Friday I was at the NatSCA conference, hosted by the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. The conference was excellent (thanks Jan and Helen) and I really enjoyed the natural history collections on display – particularly this piece of partially made taxidermy:
I asked you to identify what species of bird this mannequin is intended to represent. The only actual bits of the bird are the legs, head and wings, so these are the bits you should have concentrated on.
I was a bit surprised that no-one managed to get this. Most people went down the line of thinking that it was a fairly long-legged and long-necked bird, but that is without taking into account that the feathers are missing! Feathers considerably alter the shape of a bird, smoothing the contours of the neck (which has a strong curvature in life which shortens it) and providing a substantial amount of insulation. Feathers also layer quite densely on top of one another, with a stiff rachis down the middle of each, which provides structural support, changing the outline.
In the end there was one person who came close – Neil, who correctly identified that it was a corvid of some description and his suggestion was supported by Bob O’H. It is in fact a European magpie, Pica pica (Linnaeus, 1758).
Well done to everyone for having a go – I may have to do a post on bird skulls and bill morphology some time so there is a decent reference available for this kind of identification. I’ll do something very different this Friday.
Well i never! I’ve skinned a few magpies in my time but never thought the neck and legs were as long as that, I can see it now with the beak and feet, cunning!
Wow! Well, at least I was right about being prepared to be dead wrong. What a great display of how feathers make the bird.