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Science & Technology

South Coast Museum Has One Of The Largest Collections Of Bird Eggs, Nests In The World

Scientists come from across the globe to the South Coast to conduct research on birds. A research center in Ventura County houses one of the largest collections of bird eggs, nests and skins in the world. It also serves to educate the community.

A group of about 30 kindergarteners to 11th graders from Valley Oak Charter School in Ojai paid a visit to the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo, also known as “The Bird Museum.”

“I really love birds. I love snowy owls. I love gray-horned owls. And I love hawks and bald eagles,” said Seven-year-old Sequoyah Knott, who got a close look at some of the hundreds of thousands of specimens inside a large warehouse.

This museum is like the Smithsonian for bird enthusiasts. The enormous bird collection boasts more than one million eggs, 56,000 skins and 20,000 nests – all from the early 1800s to today.

“The value of this for research is unprecedented anywhere else in the world. We’re really a national repository for egg collections here in Camarillo of all places. It’s lovely it’s here too for our local community,” said Dr. Linnea Hall, the museum’s executive director.

Eleven-year-old Bodhi Klaus says it’s overwhelming.

“I think it’s really cool the variety of species they have, like all the different eggs and nests.”

The Collections Manager, Rene Corado, led the kids on a tour. He showed them an elephant bird egg, which is the largest bird egg that ever existed.  The foot-long egg once weighed about six pounds and came from a 14-foot-tall bird.

“The elephant bird was from the island of Madagascar. He got extinct in 1649,” he said.

Corado maintains the collection and preserves the specimens. He gives samples to scientists doing bird research around the world. He also collaborates with other scientists on the conservation of threatened species by conducting bird and egg counts in places like the Channel Islands and the Santa Clara River.

"It is sad to see dead birds in here. But it’s so important that these dead birds are helping the live population. We, together, we can save the bird species,” he said.

Inside a classroom, the museum’s science education coordinator, Paul Grindrod, teaches students with a hands-on learning experience.

“It just gives them a much better feel for the world at large, that eggs aren’t just those white things that we eat hard boiled or scrambled every morning. They have an absolutely critical role in the reproduction of these animals. And if they can be more aware of the variety and the patterns and changes, I think it just makes them better thinkers,” he said.

Fifteen-year-old Amber Hodge said she’s learning to think like a scientist.

“We are comparing woodpecker eggs. And, even though they are the same kind of bird or egg, they have lots of differences.”

The greatest lesson on this field trip may come from Corado, a Guatemalan immigrant, who likes to tell students how he started as the museum’s gardener, but through schooling and hard work, he became a biologist in charge of this massive collection.

“You are going to achieve your dream through education. It’s the only way. That’s the only way I did it,” he said.

The public can tour the museum on the second Wednesday and last Friday of each month and by appointment.