This past weekend, my friend Steve Huggins texted me a photo of an adult male Long-tailed Duck he had found off of Lake Michigan near North Avenue Beach. He knows I worked at the Field Museum, and said it was all mine if I wanted to pick it up.
The next day (Sunday, March 2nd), my mom and I headed over with an ice pick to get the duck out. I brought a trash bag as a mode of transport, and we set off into the winter wonderland. After wandering around, we finally found the duck, and it amazingly only took a few smacks into the ice to free the bird.
The scene here was amazing, as Lake Michigan is frozen to the horizon. My mom and I found ourselves walking on the lake on accident a few times, and made sure to get off as soon as possible.
Josh Engel of the Field Museum picked up the duck later that day, and brought it into work on Monday the 3rd. I texted him mid-morning to see how the thawing process was going, and he responded it was great except for a large chunk of ice at the ducks butt that wouldn’t melt.
From here, the duck underwent a transformation. Ben Marks, the Bird Divisions Collection Manager prepared this duck into a study skin, essentially by taking out all of the meat and bones and replacing it with cotton. By making a specimen of this duck, we are able to compare this bird to the many in the collections from past years, add to our tissue sample collection, and have a specimen of a Long-tailed Duck from Chicago for future generations. Perhaps someone in the future will be doing research on Long-tailed Ducks, and this specimen will be crucial to their work.
Ben did a fantastic job, and made an amazing skin from this individual:
Next time you find yourself with a dead bird in the field, consider salvaging it and donating it to a University or Museum in your area (though ask first if they have a bird collection). We can learn a lot from salvaged birds, so donating them can be very important, both in the present, and for the future.
Thanks again to Steve, Josh, and Ben, this duck underwent a superb transformation, and I hope it will be useful for years to come.