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  • Harbingers of Spring

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    Tags: spring, red-winged blackbirds, birds, ornithology, mating calls, Biology

    Created: 3/26/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Bluebirds have been the traditional avian harbinger of spring throughout our nation’s history. However, with the various pressures applied by habitat conversion, heavy pesticide application, and the introduction of exotic competitors like house sparrows and starlings, the bluebird is a species few city dwellers will ever see in their neighborhoods again. On the other hand, human activity has been generally good for the red-winged blackbird and throughout the region---city, suburb and rural areas alike—wherever there is tall grass and some standing water, male red-winged blackbirds are arriving in droves.

    As with many bird species, the males arrive first to stake out the best territories; he with the best territory will have the most mating opportunities later in the spring when the females arrive. The male proclaims his fiefdom with a loud metallic call that sounds a bit like a squeaky swing set. At the same time he leans forward to display his eponymous red wings, really just a patch of bright red feathers on his wrist that contrast well with the rest of his jet black body. While it’s a small patch of color, it makes all the difference.  The bigger and more intense patches attract the most mates. 

    In fact, scientists have influenced mating opportunities by experimentally cutting the red feathers off of some males and gluing them on to others. Much like humans who are stereotypically impressed by a man driving a red sports car, regardless of his age or personality, female red-winged blackbirds apparently look no deeper than the red patches on a boys wrists.

    Red-Winged Blackbird with vibrant plumage
    Red Sports Car

    Red-Winged Blackbird with dull plumage
    Hand-me-down van from your parents

    Once the male has established his territory, he will aggressively defend it against all interlopers, including you. It can be fun, and a little daunting, to walk past a breeding colony of red-winged blackbirds. Most will simply scream at you but usually one will sneak up behind you and, when you are not looking, he may drop out of the sky and hit you on the back of the head. Keep your eyes to the sky this spring.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Just Grow 'Em

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    Tags: native plants, black-eyed susans, purple coneflower, native gardening, Gardening, horticulture

    Created: 3/19/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    For all you tweethearts out there who prefer knowledge disseminated in 140 character quanta,  I will be participating in a Twitter discussion (follow me @HorticulturSeth) on #NativeGardening tomorrow, 3/20, at 12:00 pm CST.  No surprise, preparing for this event has turned my thoughts away from the tropical plants I was perusing just last week in Florida*, and back to local flora.

    Thoughts are really all I have at this point – interactions are limited by the fact that most plants ‘round here are still hitting the snooze button awaiting more favorable weather.

    Some of you may remember my “bottom ten” lists (to which I still owe a promised conclusion.) I must say, it’s fun writing those. I mean, who doesn’t love making fun of terrible, terrible things? Especially plants, which have a limited capacity for retaliation? So hopefully you will not think less of me for admitting the temptation to combine my love of cruel mockery with my current focus on native plants in order to generate a bottom ten native plant list. (I’m looking at you, Hackelia virginiana.)

    But alas, I don’t have the heart. Native plants are underused, underappreciated, and under assault from development, climate change, and invasive species. So instead of following my baser instincts, I’m just  gonna drop some sweet, sweet native plant knowledge. To wit –

    Six native plants Chicago area gardeners really have no excuse for not growing:

    1. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – It’s attractive.  It’s available. It’s a potent pollinator magnet. And it’s easier than shooting fish in a barrel, assuming the fish are relatively large and not similarly armed. Seriously, all you need is sun and sorta decent dirt. You have that, right?
    2. Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) – Also easy to grow, though maybe a little harder to find in the garden center. Needs decently draining soil. The best thing about butterflyweed is that whole “butterfly” part. Monarchs feed on this plant from cradle to grave.**
    3. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) – You may be asking yourself, who is Joe Pye? Well, the answer is twofold: I don’t know and I don’t care. This is one of my favorite plants, and it wouldn’t change my opinion if I found out Joe Pye had invented spam email, parking meters, and the word “irregardless.” It should be noted that this plant’s kinda big. And it needs consistent moisture. But when in full bloom, there’re few plants that can rival its beauty and raw butterfly magnetism.
    4. Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) – Sun and dirt that’s not soggy - got that? You can grow this.  When you do, you’ll enjoy masses of colorful flowers over a long season, starting in early summer. You’ll also draw bees and butterflies like…flies.
    5. Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) – Whether their eyes are black or brown, the Susans really hit the spot for daisy lovers. There’s a place for a Susan in every garden, assuming she’s relatively sedentary. Also, I really needed something yellow on this list.

      Black-Eyed Susan
      Black-Eyed Susan
    6. Swamp Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) – Got a wet spot in your yard? As long as it’s sunny and the soil’s reasonably rich, you can grow flowers the size of your face.

    Swamp Mallow obscuring child's face
    Swamp Mallow

    *mic drop*

    *I travel to the Sunshine State once a year to purchase plants for the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. Can I be frank with you a moment? I have strong opinions about Florida, and they are not congenial.  I hope you’re happy, butterflies.

    **I use “grave” metaphorically, as very little is known about lepidopteran death rituals.

    Seth Harper, horticulturist

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  • Where is the polar bear?

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    Tags: Nature's Struggle, collections, polar bear, taxidermy, exhibits

    Created: 3/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    When you visit the Nature Museum, you will definitely notice that something is missing on the first floor…our polar bear mount.  It has been temporarily moved to the second floor of the museum to become part of our latest exhibit, Nature’s Struggle: Survival and Extinction.  Moving a mount this large, even from one floor to another, takes some planning and plenty of help. 

    Staff prepping polar bear mount

    Although the polar bear is mounted onto a base that has wheels, at just under 10 feet tall it was not a simple matter of pushing it onto our freight elevator. Before any of our specimens are moved, we plan out how we are going to get them safely moved to their desired location, particularly tall, heavy mounts like the polar bear. Impediments in this case were hanging light fixtures, an archway, watching out for museum visitors since we had to move the mount during museum hours, and the mount itself (those claws are still extremely sharp).

    Polar bear mount

    In this case we decided the safest way to move it was to place it on its back on large, wheeled platform that would provide support during the transition. The most delicate part of the procedure was in lowering the mount onto its back. It needed to be done smoothly so that we did not cause any torque, or twisting, to the mount that could result in damage to the internal armature, or structure. 

    Staff transferring polar bear mount to cart

    Mounts like this one are typically attached to their bases by long bolts that extend through their legs and feet that are secured by nuts on the underside. If one of these bolts were twisted or broken the mount would no longer be able to support itself when put back into its upright position.  Once the polar bear was successfully placed on the wheeled platform, it was taken to the freight elevator and then moved into the second floor gallery, where it was lifted back up into its standing position. 

    Staff with polar bear mount in freight elevator

    Come see the polar bear, as well as other specimens and objects from our collection in
    Nature's Struggle: Survival & Extinction.

    Amber K. King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • To Bee or Not to Bee

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    Tags: bees, honeybees, winter, spring, honey, pollinator, pollinators, beekeepers

    Created: 3/6/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    We had a mini moment of truth up on the roof this past week -- we took a look into our honey bee hives to see if by chance, some had survived the winter so far. Honestly, there was not much hope. With beekeepers around the country reporting major losses it seemed too much to hope that any of our hives had made it through one of the harshest Chicago winters on record. 

    Honey from the Hive

    Last fall we made the decision to leave all the honey in the hive for our bees, taking none for our traditional honey sale in the museum gift shop. You can buy a little taste of the previous seasons labors in a jar from our gift store. The jars are small, just enough to taste how special our roof top bees are, and not so much that we did not leave them what they need to get through that year, or so we thought. 

    Truthfully, even in the best of years it seems a bit rude and even a little crazy to take honey. Open up a box of bees and take some of their most precious resource, without getting stung…too may times.  We spend the whole summer watching and waiting for this other moment of truth.  How strong is the hive? How much were they able to produce and store? Can they spare some for their caretakers and fans?

    It’s not a new story. People in cultures around the world have been after honey for centuries. There is evidence of humans harvesting honey in cave paintings. Only bees can make it, with their remarkable nectar gathering skills, specialized honey stomach, and a work force to rival whole cities. 

    The manner in which bees are kept, and the ease with which we are able to take a little of the extra honey, has made some real strides over the years. It used to be that you had to completely kill a colony in order to harvest that honey. Now with the use of moveable frames we simply take a few out, process them for honey and return them with much of the comb still in tact.

    Harvesting honey
    Harvesting excess honey in a banner year.

    The previous year it was a hard winter for many of the honey bees in the area and the ones on the roof of the museum were no exception. Like many of the local beekeepers we were sad to see that despite our efforts, few of our bees made it through the winter in 2012/2013.

    We started fresh this past spring with new colonies. With the help of our local beekeeper Anne, we installed them in June and were happy to see them get as busy as, well, bees. They could be seen around the grounds buzzing around flowers and collecting nectar in the various habit recreations featuring native plantings throughout the growing season. 

    Supplementing hives with sugar water
    Supplementing the hives with sugar water.

    So without taking any of the fruits of their labor, we tucked our bees in for the winter of 2013/14.  We added a little extra nutrition to tide them over and some insulation so it would be less drafty. We hoped for a strong start in the spring.

    Hope Springs

    Rooftop hives with snowmelt
    A good sign of live bee activity. Snow melt around the hive.

    The good news so far is that when we looked into our hives we found 10 out of 12 with activity. Some look stronger than others and there is still a long way to go until we can say they’re going to make it into the full growing season, but this is far more then we dared hope for.  

    Working with bees
    Working quick to minimize cold exposure

    We keep hoping for better years for the honey bees and their relatives the native bees. These species are important in helping to provide the pollination that gives us many of our favorite summer flowers and fruits. It’s hard to over estimate the importance of these services in both the natural world and in the cultivated crops we rely on for much of our diet. For now we’ll take this small victory.

    Karen Kramer Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist

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  • Person Behind the Program: Andy O!

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    Tags: public programs, children and family programs

    Created: 2/6/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Hi there! My name is Andy O and I’d like to take a little time to tell you about my upcoming interactive story time, “Stories and more with Andy!” at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on Monday, February 17 at 11 a.m. This program offers a chance for children and families to tell and act out different nature stories for a fun, educational, but most of all, REALLY GOOFY time!

    Andy posing with a butterfly in the Haven

    So, what makes me the expert for a really goofy time? Well, for four years I taught a Star Wars and Harry Potter “Hogwarts” themed camp. My work involved encouraging children to use their imagination. We were able to harness the essence of our favorite animals in our “Transfiguration” class and study evidence left by dragons during “Care of Magical Creatures.” In Star Wars Camp, children spent a week learning intergalactic life lessons in our “Jedi Training Academy.” They were able to direct, write and star in their own Star Wars movie!

    I’ve never felt happier than watching the kids watch their own movies, patting their friends on the back, laughing and and being proud of their own work. Positive experiences like these are rewarding for children’s self-esteem and overall emotional growth.

    Andy posing with polar bear mount

    Although we will not be at Hogwarts or riding the Millennium Falcon, the Nature Museum offers a stimulating and interactive environment for children to explore. Who wouldn’t want to enter a beaver’s den or slide on down from a tree house? The easiest path to opening up and learning is through new experiences that are fun and educational. This is what will be going down at the Nature Museum on Monday, February 17 at 11 a.m. It’s science. I’ve watched the Ted Talk. Come prepared to help me tell stories, interact and have some laughs!

    Andy O      

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  • The Dreams of Martha

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    Tags: extinct, extant, ivory-billed woodpecker, carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon

    Created: 1/27/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    We’ve asked watercolor artist Kristina Knowski to tell us about her inspiration for depicting the beauty of birds. Currently, our exhibit, The Dreams of Martha, features Knowski’s artwork and connects us to the Nature Museum’s year of the Passenger Pigeon, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the extinction of what was once the most abundant bird in North America. Keep reading to learn more about Knowski’s creative process and her love for nature!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    There was always that unsettling footnote at the bottom of the books picturing some of my favorite bird species. My most memorable was just after I had fallen in love with the Ivory-Billed and what would have been the largest woodpecker in North America. It was a beautiful image: a rich black bird contrasting with large white primaries and a thin streak of feathers trailing from its chin to its back. To top it off, a long pointed crest streamlined its head, the male of its species wearing his in a brilliant crimson. Yet the footnote was there, the disclaimer at the bottom, stating that this species was most likely extinct.

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Since I have discovered my passion for birds, extinct species have always been a main focus for me as an artist. Birds represent something natural, fragile, and beautiful. Extinct birds represent those same things, but also something that has been lost. I enjoy creating work that questions our ideas of reality and sense of existence, and extinct birds have become a personal element in my work in conjunction with other nonexistent beings. The paintings included in The Dreams of Martha exhibit focus on both extinct and extant birds of North America, some which can be found in your backyard, while others haunt their old habitats with empty skies. I wanted to create for the viewer a sense of compassion for these animals. While the images are mostly identifiable with some level of detail, those details become more and more, faded like an old memory. The bird seems to vanish into the background, losing its sense of physicality and wholeness. Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers, Carolina Parakeets, Passenger Pigeons, Ryukyu Kingfishers, Bush Wrens, and other extinct birds are now inhabitants of my theoretical world where nonexistence reigns supreme and “nothing” is everywhere. 

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    September 1, 2014 marks 100 years since the death of the last recorded living Passenger Pigeon, Martha. While this is a tragic reminder of the destruction humanity is capable of, it is also a remembrance to a vast and unique species that we will never encounter again. This day should serve as a severe warning to not repeat history and to treasure the species we are still sharing this planet with. A seemingly limitless species, such as the Passenger Pigeon, can be wiped out within less than a century. I humbly paint to aim as a reminder of this tragedy and hope for a less tragic future.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    We hope you have a chance to see her exhibit, which is located on the Museum’s second floor south gallery. You can also view more of Kristina’s work at: kristinaknowski.com

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  • Year of the Passenger Pigeon

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    Tags: project passenger pigeon, year of the passenger pigeon, joel greenberg, passenger pigeon, extinct

    Created: 1/20/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    2014 is the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. It was almost three years ago that thirty or so people convened at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from around the country to discuss this poignant milestone. They represented a range of institutions including Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  We were there to formulate plans to mark the 2014 anniversary of the pigeon's extinction. What emerged was Project Passenger Pigeon (soon given the shorthand moniker “P3”)  with the 3 part mission of familiarizing people with the passenger pigeon as a species and a phenomenon, using that story as a portal into consideration as current issues related to extinction and humanity’s connections nature, and the need to create sustainable relations with other organisms.

    Project Passenger Pigeon Logo
    Project Passenger Pigeon Logo

    A lot has happened since that first meeting. Over 160 organizations have formally joined P3 with many contributing content to our website, passengerpigeon.org and planning for public activities throughout 2014. In addition to these institutional members, many individuals are planning commemorative activities. Joel Greenberg and Steve Sullivan have talked to a wide range of special interest and professional groups over the last year, ranging from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to the Illinois Science Teachers Association and many individuals in such groups have let us know that they intend to spread the message of P3 through their own activities like newsletters, art projects, and even library story time. 

    Passenger Pigeon Specimen
    Passenger Pigeon Specimen

    Other far-reaching P3 projects that are nearing completion include the documentary From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction directed by David Mrazek. This documentary will likely air on public TV stations across the US. In addition to a compelling depiction of the passenger pigeon story, it features some Academy passenger pigeon specimens. Also, Stan Temple has been working with students at the University of Wisconsin to digitize all known sightings of the passenger pigeon. This data set should be of interest both to people with a casual interest in extinct species as well as scientist looking to better understand how such a wide-ranging and numerous species could have gone extinct so quickly. School teachers will also be able to use these data in classroom lessons that use the interesting stories of biology to teach mathematical concepts.

     Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction book cover
    Joel Greenberg's new book

    At the Nature Museum we will begin the year’s activities on January 23 with a reception for the new book A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction. by renown Chicagoland author, Joel Greenberg. You can hear stories about his journey to gather information for the book and learn about his most important discovery—that of a  previously undocumented specimen of passenger pigeon. This specimen was right here in Illinois at Millikin University. We are fortunate to also have David Horn from Millikin to show this well-preserved specimen to the audience. Not only is it a beautifully preserved mount, it is now the last known wild bird. Following the brief presentation, visitors will be able to view the bird and Joel will sign his book. If you’ve never read a Greenberg book, don’t take our word for it that he’s a great writer, you can read reviews in places like The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Reader, and Maclean’s or listen to interviews ranging from local (The Mike Nowak Show) to international (the Diane Rehm Show) and international (Newstalk Ireland).

    Todd McGrain Passenger Pigeon Sculpture
    Todd McGrain Sculpture

    Later we will post details about some of our other P3 activities including a new exhibit  in March Nature’s Struggle:  Survival and Extinction, a large art installation by Todd McGrain, and a weekend symposium in May Why Prevent Extinction? that will feature exciting speakers like entomologist May Berenbaum and ecologist Joel Brown. In the meantime, stop by to see some beautiful watercolors by Kristina Knowski that depict passenger pigeons as well as ivory-billed woodpeckers and Carolina parakeets.


    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part III; 1958 - 2014

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founder's week, Archives, collections

    Created: 1/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1958
    Chicago native and ornithologist Dr. William Beecher becomes the Academy’s Director. He holds this position for 24 years.

    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama.
    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama. 
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    1960-1966
    Junior Academy of Sciences formed for middle and high school children, to provide additional learning opportunities for young people in science studies and research.

    1960s-1970s
    Beecher implements redesign of exhibit spaces, including opening of the third floor of the Laflin building to the public.

    1982
    Paul G. Heltne, PhD, zoologist and primatologist, is appointed Director of the Academy.  He holds this position until 1999.

    1983
    An Education Department is formally established at the Academy, although education has been a primary focus of the institution since the 1910s.

    1986
    Museum sponsors “Understanding Chimpanzees Symposium,” welcoming primatologists from all over the world, including well-known Jane Goodall, and providing public attendance to portions of the symposium as well.

    1988
    For the first time since 1951, the endangered Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrines, successfully produces eggs that hatch on a ledge of a downtown Chicago office building. Mary Hennen, Collections Manager/Assistant with the Academy, worked on the Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Program while at the Academy and conducted research. She took this project with her, when she left the Academy to work at the Field Museum of Natural History.

    Juvenile Peregrine falcon
    Juvenile Peregrine falcon

    1990
    Fall - Pilot programs for Science on the Go! began. This program, still active today, provides training and resources for kindergarten through eighth grade educators in teaching science through more hands-on lessons and cooperative learning. 

    1991
    Jon D. Miller, Vice President of the Academy, establishes the Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy under the auspices of the Academy.

    1994
    The Academy initiated plans for an addition at the Laflin building to expand and modify it to provide more room for exhibition, collections storage, and office space. The Chicago Park District who owns the land on which the Laflin building rests, disallowed expansion, citing the need to limit construction in park areas to ensure the continuation of park lands for future generations as dictated by their original charter. At the same time, the Lincoln Park Zoo also began looking to expand their operations. The Chicago Park District offered the Academy the opportunity to build a new museum building on the site of the Park District’s North Shops Maintenance Facilities in exchange for transferring the Academy’s Laflin building to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Today the Laflin Building is used by the Lincoln Park Zoo as administration offices.

    1995
    June 4 - Academy closed to the public to begin move out of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building at Armitage and Clark Street in Lincoln Park, where the institution had resided for 102 years. Staff offices, the museum collections, the archives, and the scientific library, were moved to another building on Clark Street owned at that time by the museum and to additional space on Ravenswood. The second facility is now the Ravenswood Collections Facility. To maintain a public face for the Academy during construction, the museum had a temporary facility on the third floor of North Pier on Illinois Street which was open to the public.

    1997
    The Chicago Academy of Sciences breaks ground for a new building in Lincoln Park. In recognition of the donation made to the Academy by Mr. and Mrs. Notebaert, the building was named the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, a citizen science program dedicated to “collecting quantitative data on butterfly populations” moved under the auspices of the Academy through Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Conservation and Research.

    1999
    Summer – Museum begins partnership with El Valor, a multi-cultural and multi-purpose organization whose, “…mission is to support and challenge urban families to achieve excellence and participate fully in community life,” through a summer camp for children.  The partnership has expanded today to programs for adults with disabilities, conductive education, family field trips to the Museum, after school programs, and professional development for Head Start teachers including visits to their classrooms.

    October - The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building opens to the public. The Academy’s collections and Collections Department staff offices remain at the Ravenswood Collections Facility, where they are still housed today.

    Education Department began onsite workshops.  To date this initiative has reached 20,000 students.

    Students working with museum educators

    2000
    Joe Schactner appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2001
    Butterfly Restoration Program started with funding from the BP Leaders Award. The Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, and Silver-bordered Fritillary, Bolaria selene, were the first imperiled species added to the program.

    Fall - Teacher Leadership Center opened at the Museum.

    2005
    Laureen Von Klan appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2006
    Education department revamps its Science Teaching Network (STN).  Started in the early 1990s the program provides training for teachers through an intensive summer institute that is followed by classroom support in the fall.  Since this year, 300 teachers have been through the program.

    2007
    Nature Museum Summer Camps began. 

    2008
    Summer – Museum opens its first self-curated exhibit, “Lawn Nation” since its move into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Collections Department begins to inventory all of the natural history holdings within the Academy’s collection with grant support from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences. The initiative took 5 years to complete and over 280,000 specimens and objects were verified.

    Museum began participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program, a conservation effort spearheaded by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to rear and release endangered Blanding’s Turtles, Emydoidea blandingii, into their natural environment. Sub-Adult Blanding’s Turtles put on display at the Museum. Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections, heads the museum effort.

    2009
    Butterfly Conservation Lab opened at the Museum, a permanent research lab for the Butterfly Restoration Program.

    An expanded version of Project Squirrel, a citizen-science program, moved under auspices of the Academy through Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology.  The program was created in 1997 by Joel Brown and Wendy Jackson both professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Collections Department begins two-year project to process about 250 linear feet of materials in their Manuscript Collection in the Archive with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.

    2009-2011
    Participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program expands.  Museum helps head start hatchlings for two years, release two year old head starters with radio transmitters in the fall, track them in the spring to replace radio transmitters, track females to see if they are gravid, collect females when they are, release them after they have laid, and track the head starters again in late summer to put on their winter transmitters.

    2010
    July 1 - Deborah Lahey appointed President and CEO of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. She had previously served on the Board of Trustees and then as Chief Operations Officer (Dec 2009 to June 2010).

    2011
    February – First meeting of what would become Project Passenger Pigeon (P3) occurred at Museum. Initial participants included representatives from Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  Project has expanded to include over 160 organizations from all over the United States and will culminate in various events throughout 2014.

    April 11 – Self-curated exhibit “Nature’s Architects” opened.

    Museum began head starting more Blanding’s Turtles.

    Working with Chicago Film Archives, Collections Department began assessment and re-housing of their motion picture film collection, about 1370 individual reels, with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.  Collection composed of original nature studies to some commercially produced reels. Project to be completed in early 2014.

    Motion picture film canisters  Film still of chameleon

    2012

    Museum became the home for the Chicago Conservation Corps.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Regal Fritillary, Speyeria idalia, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network takes a national leadership role serving as a model for similar programs in states all over the United States. A collective database for information from networks all over the country is developed to provide easier access to information.

    2013

    February 10 – First Annual Chicago Volunteer Expo held at Museum. Over 60 local nonprofit institutions participated, providing information on volunteer opportunities in one convenient location.

    March 23 – Self-curated exhibit “Food: The Nature of Eating” opened.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Project Squirrel released smartphone app.

    Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Lab constructed to accommodate the 42 hatchlings entrusted to the Museum for head starting as part of the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program.

               

    Aerial shot of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum



    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part II; 1895 - 1957

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Archives, photography, director, founder's week

    Created: 1/15/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1907
    The Academy re-emphasizes its commitment to education in the natural sciences.  Its programming is not only for young students, but also continuing education and certification for teachers that focuses on understanding and interpreting the natural sciences.  In addition the Academy starts offering regular free lectures on various scientific subjects to the public.

    CAS building circa 1915
    Laflin Memorial Building, Chicago Academy of Sciences, ca. 1915
    From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection, 8x10 Glass Plate Negatives

    1911

    Academy establishes a Children’s Library to “promote science education and engage young people in the study of the natural sciences.”

    Children reading in a library. B&W photo
    Children reading in the Children’s Library of the Chicago Academy of Sciences
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection

    May-June - Academy participates in city-wide Child-Welfare Exhibit, promoting education and highlighting institutions that already have programs established.


    1913

    Work starts on developing new exhibit displays to better represent the natural flora and fauna of the area.  Work completed by Frank C. Baker, Curator and Malacologist, and Frank Woodruff, Curator, Taxidermist, and Ornithologist, under initial guidance of Wallace Atwood, Acting Director and Secretary of the Board of Trustees. 

    June - The Atwood Celestial Sphere opens at the Academy. It is the first planetarium in the United States and was designed by Wallace W. Atwood, Acting Director of the Academy.  The Sphere is now a part of the Adler Planetarium’s collections.

    Atwood Sphere

    Wallace Atwood inside Atwood Sphere



    (left) Atwood Celestial Sphere as seen from the outside. (right) Atwood stands inside his completed Sphere. From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection


    1915
    Frank Woodruff made Director of the Academy and completed his first life-size diorama depicting the dunes ecosystem and the Calumet River.

    Photographic print of compiled image for Calumet River diorama background made up of four shots.Photographic print of compiled image for Calumet River diorama background made up of four shots. From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection, 8x10 Glass Plate Negatives.

    1927
    Alfred M. Bailey, Ornithologist, appointed Director of the Academy.

    1928-1933
    Bailey makes trips to Louisiana to conduct still and motion picture photography of birds migrating along the coast.  Bailey had worked at the Louisiana Academy of Sciences earlier in his career and had formed relationships with other ornithologists and bird enthusiasts in the area.

    Seguard and Bailey (with camera) filming birds in Louisiana.
    Seguard and Bailey (with camera) filming birds in Louisiana.
    Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection.

    1928-1933
    Bailey, working with collectors in Alaska, starts collecting birds and birds eggs, culminating in the publication in the Academy’s Program of Activities, “Birds of the region of Point Barrow, Alaska” in 1933.  Bailey had worked in southeastern Alaska from 1919-1921 on a survey for the Bureau of Biological Survey, so again had contacts and interest in the area before coming to the Academy.

    1931
    Academy, with University of Chicago, sends field team to Great Smoky Mountains where a new subspecies of rock vole, Microtus chrotorrhinus carolinensis is discovered

    1932-1934
    Academy co-sponsors further field research in Great Smoky Mountains in cooperation with the U.S. National Park Service.  Specimens from this survey still reside in Academy’s collections, and trip resulted in publication, “Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains,” part of the Bulletin series published by the Academy in 1938.

    A Northern Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda, collected during the Faunal Survey of the Great Smoky Mountains.
    A Northern Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda, collected during the Faunal Survey of the Great Smoky Mountains. Chicago Academy of Sciences Mammalogy Collection.

    1936
    Dr. Howard Gloyd appointed Director of the Academy.

    Howard K. Gloyd, standing in Arizona desert.
    Howard K. Gloyd, standing in Arizona desert.
    From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    Additional activities while Director of the Academy (1936-1957) were the expansion of the Academy’s scientific publications, the continued additions to the public lecture series historically offered by the Academy, and Gloyd’s personal research on snakes with an emphasis on rattlesnakes.

    1937-1946
    Dr. Gloyd, a rattlesnake expert, organizes expeditions to Arizona. The specimens he collected are still in the Academy’s scientific collections today. The first expedition was in 1937, the second in 1940, and the third in 1946.

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Then and Now - Re-Using Display Mounts

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    Tags: diorama, display mount, Chicago Academy of Sciences, taxidermy

    Created: 1/14/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    The display mounts on exhibit at the Nature Museum almost all come from previous exhibits and dioramas that were on display in the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building.  Good taxidermy creates specimens and display mounts that will last for years if care is taken. Mounts that have been displayed before often have evidence of that past use. The most obvious are shadows of things that were a part of another diorama or exhibit, like a fern leaf or a tree branch. The whole point of a diorama is to create a “realistic” situation and if you put a display mount in an area surrounded by greenery and trees, shadows should occur. In most cases, this is achieved using specialty lighting today, but that was not available in the 1890s, the 1910s or even the 1940s, so the Academy’s artists added them.  Here are some comparisons between display mounts in some of the dioramas exhibited in 1938 and how those mounts are displayed today.

    Then

    1938: Female cougar, Puma concolor, reclines in a rocky alcove with her two cubs.

    Female cougar mount in 1938
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

    Now

    Female cougar, Puma concolor, mounted to be free-standing, on display in “Hunters of the Prairie.”

    Female cougar mount in present day exhibit

    Then

    1938: Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands outside her den with her four pups.

    Female coyote and pups mounts in 1938
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

    Now

    Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands above her den with three pups. Part of the prairie diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

    Coyote and pups in present day exhibit

    Then

    1938: Bald eagle perches on rock in a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons.

    Bald Eagle mount in 1938 exhibit
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

    Now

    Bald eagle perches on a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons with a crow with an eye to the catch.  Part of the dunes diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

    Bald Eagle mount in present day exhibit 

    Then

    1938: Pair of lynx, Lynx canadensis, standing on log with river in background.

    Lynx pair in 1938 exhibit
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

    Now

    The lynx are now displayed individually, but are located near one another. The mount shown on the left is outside the savannah diorama in the “Wilderness Walk” and the mount shown on the right is in the display cabinets that surround the “Beecher Collections Laboratory”

    Lynx in present day exhibit    Lynx in present day exhibit 

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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