Thursday, April 27, 2017

Victoria's Riflebird: Around The World From 80 Countries

The kookaburra (subject of the last post) is probably the best-known of the many unusual birds found in Australia.  Our museum collection also contains a Victoria's Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae) which lives in a small section of Queensland along Australia's northeast coast.
Victoria's Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae)

The males are black with iridescent feathers on head and neck.  When they open their beaks, you can see the brilliant yellow color of their mouths.  They have an unusual courtship dance which involves raising their wings and pulling them forward until they nearly circle the head and then tilting their bodies from side to side.  You can see a video of this dance from Cornell's Ornithology lab at

You might wonder why Oregon's Benton County Museum has specimens of these Australian birds.  To answer that question takes a knowledge of the history of the Horner Museum collection which the Benton County Museum took over in 2008. It began in the early 1920s when Professor John Horner was asked to create a college museum by bringing together a number of collections held by various academic departments at what is now Oregon State University.  Some of the bird specimens come from the Zoology department where William T. Shaw, professor and amateur taxidermist, created a collection for use by students.  His large collection, which contained primarily specimens of Oregon birds, won a gold medal at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.
William Thomas Shaw reading his book on birds.
 Professor Horner also sought donations of Native American and pioneer artifacts as well as natural history specimens from people he knew around the state.  One of those people was Dr. J. Lindsey Hill, a collector who maintained a small museum in nearby Albany.  Professor Horner often took his history students there to view the pioneer objects.  After Dr. Hill died, his heirs donated much of the collection to the new museum in 1924.  The Hill collection contained over 1,000 items and provided a solid core for OSU's museum. The kookaburra and riflebird are from the Hill collection.
Portrait of Dr. J. Lindsey Hill by William Maurice Ball

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