Camarillo bird museum features more than 1 million eggs
By Alex Wilson 06/23/2011
It’s somewhat surprising to learn that Camarillo is home to a bird museum that has more eggs and nests than any other on the planet.
The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology offers monthly tours of the museum that’s tucked away in a huge warehouse in an industrial area of town. It has occasional open houses to help share its conservation mission, and is always looking for volunteers and donations to support its work.
I was surprised when I turned a corner into the main storage area, and got a sense of the vast nature of the collection, which includes mounted birds, including giant California condors and even the unusual egg-laying mammal species duck billed platypus There are extinct birds like passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets, the only parrot native to the eastern United States.
Other surprises included basketball-sized eggs from a giant extinct bird from Madagascar called the elephant bird, which was the biggest bird ever to roam the planet. There were also dinosaur egg fossils hundreds of millions of years old, and mummy birds found at Egyptian archeological sites.
The tour was led by jovial Collections Manager Rene Corado, who worked as a journalist in his native Guatemala and first did jobs like gardening and washing dishes when he came to the United States in 1981. He heard that an oil company heir who had accumulated a huge egg collection was working on a book and was hired to help him. Bird conservation has been his passion ever since.
Corado had fascinating stories about research missions to places like the Amazon, where head hunters were an issue, as well as encounters with dangerous wild animals like tigers. Becoming a bird expert has made him eager to protect their habitats. “I’m passionate about conservation because everything has changed in the places I work, like Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala, because I’ve seen how the forests are disappearing,” says Corado.
The foundation’s Executive Director Dr. Linnea Hall says it welcomes scientists to the museum and sends birds, eggs and nests around the globe to assist with their research. “The purpose of this institution is to provide data on bird’s eggs and birds’ nests, so we loan out materials to scientific researchers all over the world. The mission of the foundation is to provide those materials in support of conservation of the world’s wild bird species,” says Hall.
Scientists learn a lot from studying things like the thickness of egg shells over time according to Hall. “They look at how many eggs per clutch. Has the number of eggs changed over time, and that’s really important now in terms of effects of climate change on birds nesting. They look at laying dates to see if those have changed over time,” says Hall.
The foundation has an Internet website at www.wfvz.org. It also offers classes on bird identification and is always looking for volunteers. “They get a real sense of what happens in a professional museum and a much better idea of what goes on in science,” says Hall.
I asked Hall why she thinks people are fascinated by birds. “I think it’s because birds are so visible. They’re among the few wildlife that you see all the time, that you can attract to your backyard with feeders, that generally are quite beautiful and have wonderful behaviors and are quite animated and have beautiful songs and build nests in people’s back yards,” says Hall. “They’re a great vehicle for introducing people to the world of natural history and science”