Birds in collections

One single bird can keep a registrar occupied for quite a while.(c) Hans Bleh

One single bird can keep a registrar occupied for quite a while.
(c) Hans Bleh

We talked about #registrardreams lately and I have a special one: I wish that only one time when my director shows up he finds me all dressed up in a clean working dress with a tidy desk and reporting “no serious incidents”. Alas, it never happened in the last 10 years. Whenever he meets me I’m for some reason or another all dirty with dust and/or machine oil and some colleagues swear that I once told him to hurry up because I had work to do. Be that as it may, I’m really glad he didn’t show up the other day when I was running up and down the storage, swinging a broom and shouting, all in the attempt to shoo a bird out of the hall. Not only did I behave like an idiot, I also looked like a contemporary artwork made out of spider webs, because the bird flew in the most distant corners that haven’t seen a broom in ages. Standing there looking up at the bird who constantly ignored the wide open gate I asked myself if I was the only collection manager on earth mocked by a bird and if I could do better.

Obviously, if you ask yourself the answers are limited, so I asked my colleagues from the RCAAM listserv. I received a whole bunch of enlightening hints and some fabulous stories about birds in collections. So, now I’m able to provide a step-by-step guide on how to handle birds in collections (if they are not dead and taxidermies, that is):

  1. Close all inside doors to the room the bird is in.
  2. Open all gates and windows that lead outside.
  3. Turn out the lights in the room, so the escapes appear lit for the bird.
  4. Clap hands, swing brooms, shout, behave like an idiot, do everything to shoo the bird towards the openings. The higher the open window/gate, the more likely the bird will get out.
  5. When the bird flies out, close all doors and windows.
  6. Search for holes that made it possible for the bird to come in and seal them (like Elizabeth Alberding put it: “Unless you can seal your building you are soon to be known as the “bird whisperer” of your museum.”)

Kara Vetter pointed out that there are sonic deterrence devices that can be installed near gates if that’s where they come in.

Anne T. Lane provided a true MacGyver story:

It's a good idea to inform the colleagues with a sign.

If you closed the door to a room because there is a bird inside it’s always a good idea to inform your colleagues

“We used to have this problem in a very open building in which I worked, where there was no way to close off between floors. They didn’t get into collections storage, but they could and did weaken and die in crevices around the windows high up on the mezzanine level. We caught one once by making a sort of fish landing net out of a wire hoop, a broom handle, and some light plastic sheeting. Oh, and blue tape. My registrar got up on a tall ladder under one of the rotundas and took wild swings at the bird – I was terrified that he’d swing himself right off the ladder onto the ceramic tile floor. But dang if he didn’t catch the poor thing. I took it outside and released it, and it flew off.”

No bird, but a bat mocked Janice Klein when she was a director in a small museum:

“The museum had a wide open plan and (other than the rest rooms) my office was the only space with a door, so when a little brown-nosed bat appeared late one afternoon when everyone else had gone home, that was where I had to chase him. Once I got him in the room he started panicking and echo-locating (and frankly, I also made some of those little squeaky noises, since I didn’t know anything about bats). I managed to trap him under a box top, but then didn’t know what to do next. It was freezing cold outside, which was probably why he found a way in to the nice warm building, so I didn’t want to just show him the door. I called one of my board members (it always pays to have a naturalist on the board who is willing to give wild creatures refuge in his basement) and while we were waiting, I finally realized why one of my motion detectors had gone off the night before.”

And Suzanne Quigley provided hands-on advice on what to do if woodpeckers are an issue:

Of course, there are birds in collections that are not an issue.

Of course, there are birds in collections that are not an issue.

“I am also in a rural area (a recent change of lifestyle). After living my whole life in big cities, there has been a lot to learn. But germane to this discussion, I have learned a bit about woodpeckers. This has become important as I live in a wood-clad house. Once we figured out what that horrible noise was, and saw what the little devils were doing to the side of the house – it was war. The battle was won in a rather bizarre, but funny way. No one notices (cause they aren’t looking for it), but scattered around the exterior in more or less discreet spots we have pinned (with clear pushpins) about a dozen 10-inch long shiny, strips of silver mylar ribbon (the kind used to wrap presents) made into curls over the edge of a pair of scissors – this was three years ago and no more woodpeckers!”

Well, I learned much more than I thought. Thanks to Kara Vetter, Anne Lane, Elizabeth Alberding, Julie Blood, Suzanne Quigley and Janice Klein for the responses and Maria O’Malley for convincing me to write a Registrar Trek post about it.

Oh, by the way, I finally managed to usher that little fellow out of my storage, securing my colleague on call a good night sleep. Chasing a bird is one thing but being called in the middle of the night because the burglar alarm went off is much, much worse.


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