They’re some of the most ostentatious, vibrant animals on the planet. Birds of paradise live deep in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea and in eastern Australia. There are more than 40 species of these beautiful birds, and each has their own amazing, colorful plumage and elaborate mating dances. They’re incredibly interesting, and have amazingly adapted and evolved to the environment around them. Now they’re in Chicago at the Peggy Notebaert Museum, teaching visitors more about how birds and other animals adapt to their environment and evolve to survive.
Just as Museum Week was kicking off in Chicago, the Notebaert was celebrating its 161st birthday and the opening of their newest special exhibit, Birds of Paradise – Amazing Avian Evolution, which includes an amazing live animal exhibit called The Bird House that features a rotating cast of local and exotic birds for visitors to meet, learn about and interact with.
The Peggy Notebaert Museum is uniquely prepared to this end. Says Marc Miller, the museum’s Vice President and Chief Development and Marketing Officer,”We have quite a living collection…from our turtles to our snakes to frogs and toads and other reptiles as well as the butterflies, and we bring parts of it out every day and let people get up close and personal and get to know them, so it was natural that we’d want to bring some birds in that would be connected and show the issues in the Midwest of evolution and adaptation.”
Birds of Paradise is a National Geographic exhibit that follows photographer Tim Laman and Ornithologist Edwin Scholes on 15 targeted exhibitions they embarked on to study the colorful birds of paradise, their habitat and their habits. The photographs are truly stunning, and the exhibit includes so much detail about the birds’ habitats and habits- some of which had never been seen before. There are pictures from within the rainforest canopy, beautifully preserved specimens to examine, a sort of steampunk feeling bird of paradise sculpture that displays some of the mating rituals, and an interactive game called “Dance Dance Evolution” that makes a game of learning the birds’ mating dances and performing them for onlookers. This, in fact is one Miller’s favorite parts of the exhibit. “It’s a chance for young and old to try out the dances- it’s fun to watch young adults learn and participate in how the birds dance.”
Miller also brings up a unique and interesting angle of the exhibit, which is its perspective. The birds are examined from the perspective of everything around them, including other animals, and the habitat they exist in, so that it can be better understood how they adapt to these surroundings and neighbors. “To read and think about how the photographers look at the bird from different perspectives- it really changed my view of some of these things.” Miller continues “Because we always look at animals head on, and they get a lot of things from the canopy above and below. So to look at the response of the other animals to the dances and the actions of their species is a really valuable lesson as we think about looking at nature and science.”
The Bird House, which is the live animal portion of the avian celebration at the Notebaert, houses live specimens and features daily shows where visitors can learn about different species. Some of the birds visitors will be able to see while the exhibit is active (through June 17th) include Blue-throated Macaws, Blue and Gold and Hyacinth Macaws as well as Serama Chickens, Aracaris and even a local species, the bobwhite quail. The quail in particular have a specific purpose – to connect back to our local environment and species. “It’s not a direct correlation” Marc says, “but it’s about our prairie lands and animals in this region-how they adapted and they survived in a changing environment with its own issues. Just like the birds of paradise that adapt to their location, these animals have those same adaptation skills as the prairie changes.”
It’s one of the things that’s always at the center of what the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum does. “It comes back to our goal – to foster curiosity about nature and instill in young and old a connection and sense of community with wildlife around us.” Miller says.
The whole museum has gone to the birds, and there are quite a few special events happening while this exhibit is in town, including a kids/young adult’s Valentine’s Day event, I Heart Birds, coming up on February 9th that features dinner, a dance and close-up interactions with some fine feathered friends. The dance kicks off a weekend of events that make up BirdFest Weekend, including a special showcase of Illinois Raptors that is a collaboration with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and a scavenger hunt inside the museum set for Sunday.
The Notebaert is a great place to be in the winter if you want to still feel connected to the world of wildlife around you, and Birds of Paradise is a great opportunity to learn about some of the animals we can’t see from day to day here at the same time we’re learning about the struggles and triumphs of animal life that is around us. You can see Birds of Paradise and visit The Bird House now through June 17th. If you’re planning a visit click here for more information on the exhibit and make sure you don’t miss a live bird show, which shouldn’t be hard, since they happen daily at 11:30 am.