By Patrick McShea
A detail in a Hall of Botany diorama can add much to our understanding of a popular songbird. Pictured above is a male Northern Cardinal, a species widely portrayed on cards and calendars amid snowy scenery.
Cardinals are certainly noticeable under winter conditions. The bright red of the male’s feathers and the reddish-brown plumage of the female stand out in snow covered landscapes. The range for this non-migratory species is enormous, however, and includes tropical regions.
The Hall of Botany bird, for example, adds color to a three-dimensional recreation of a tiny patch of Florida Everglades. Northern Cardinals have also long occupied suitable habitat much further south in Mexico and Guatemala.
The species, which has been deemed the official avian representative for seven U.S. states, was rarely seen anywhere in Pennsylvania until the 1890s. In Birds of Western Pennsylvania, the encyclopedic volume published in 1940 by the museum’s then Curator of Ornithology, W.E. Clyde Todd, growth of the local cardinal population is noted:
In recent years it has invaded the parks and residential sections of Pittsburgh in gradually increasing numbers, and it is seemingly as much at home there as it is in the wooded ravines in the vicinity of the city.”
One measure of the Northern Cardinal’s continued popularity is requests by elementary teachers to borrow taxidermy mounts of the species from the museum’s Educator Loan Collection. Pictured above are a taxidermy mount and the “toolbox” it travels in. The illustration on the box is a recreation of John James Audubon’s cardinal portrait by Museum Educator Assistant John Franc.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.