Thursday, May 9, 2013

Experiential Journal: A Day in the American Museum of Natural History

By Adriana Cappelli

I couldn’t wait to get there; the anticipation kept growing and growing as the time went by looking for parking in the heart of Manhattan.  This was my first time visiting the American Museum of Natural History and the experience went beyond my expectations. 

Since one of my favorite and most precious things in life are animals, I began my journey in the museum by visiting the exhibit of the Mammals of North America. 

The Hall of New York State Mammals introduced me to the diversity of local wildlife.  The exhibit presents a range of more than 50 land mammals--from shrews to bats; beavers to bobcats--and also shows comparisons of their distinctive external features, such as fur, claws, ears, body shape, and size.

Pressures on mammal populations in the state once included over-hunting and over-trapping.  Today, the greatest pressures stem from human population growth and urbanization, which have driven some large new York State mammals, including the bison, elk, wolverine, cougar, timber wolf, and woodland caribou, to local extinction.  As hunting and trapping have declined, other species are now on the increase, notably the white-tailed deer, fisher, and coyote.

After concluding my journey in The Hall of New York State Mammals, I went to The Hall of Birds of the World.   In this exhibit there are showcases distinct environment around the world and the birds unique to those locations.  The scenes reflect the enormous variety of birds that have adapted to the special circumstances of their habitat.  The grasslands and marshes of Argentina’s pampas, for example, host water birds, insect-eaters, and seed-eaters, while Australia’s diverse habitats are home to honeyeaters, kingfishers, and fruit-loving parrots and cockatoos.  The hall also depicts the birds of isolated regions such as the high Alps and the islands of Japan, and those subject to extreme conditions as in the Gobi Desert and the Canadian tundra.

During my trip I also visited The Hall of New York City Birds.  The hall features the most commonly occurring birds in the area, from tiny wrens and kinglets to large gulls and birds of prey.  The one that caught my attention the most was the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America but extinct since the early 20th century.  Other highlights include specimens of diving ducks; mounted specimens of two heron species, and a case displaying mounted and study skins of hawks and vultures.

After visiting most of the exhibits I ended my journey by visiting The Hall of New York State Environment.  This exhibit focuses on the village of Pine Plains and Stissing Mountain in New York’s Dutchess County, an area that includes mountains, natural lakes, forests, rock formations, and both wild and cultivated land.  

The hall’s exhibits highlight the changes in the landscape since Precambrian times, its seasonal and natural cycles, and its plant and animal life.Another series of exhibits describes the role of agriculture on the local ecology, with displays about crop rotation, the management of an apple orchard, natural fertilizers in the soil, and the cycles of nutrition and decay. 

During the entire time I was in the museum I was relating all the exhibits to my Environmental Writing class, especially those exhibits with animals and the environment.  Overall, it was a great experience and a learning lesson.  It was great to learn about all the animals from our county and those in extinction.  Also, it made me realize the importance of having a backyard wildlife habitat at home.

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