Birding at the Museum: Dioramas and the Rise of Conservation

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Did you know that you can bird-"watch" inside the Museum? Four new videos on introduce viewers to the diversity of bird habitat groups, or dioramas, and the history of ornithology at the Museum. This post highlights the second video, which focuses on how dioramas helped raise awareness about the need to conserve bird species and habitats.

Ornithologist Frank M. Chapman worked at the Museum for more than 50 years—from 1888 to 1942.

Frank Chapman in Birding Video

Frank M. Chapman

Devoted to precisely re-creating habitats where birds lived, Chapman traveled an estimated 90,000 miles with artists and taxidermists to gather material for the first North American bird hall, which opened at the Museum in 1902. The hall would feature more than 30 dioramas, including a habitat group of exquisite white American Egrets that was completed in 1907.

American Egret Sanford Hall of North American Birds

American Egret diorama in the Sanford Hall of North American Birds

© AMNH/D. Finnin

At the time, their feathers were prized for use in women's hats, and the birds were widely hunted for that purpose. Chapman hoped to influence the practice and to protect bird rookeries from hunters.

Women with Plume Hats (Birding at the Museum)

Watch the video.