Agricultural Sciences

Wild thing: Pasto Ag Museum to look at historical wildlife collection

Margaret Brittingham, professor of wildlife resources, will be at the Pasto Museum open house Nov. 16 to answer questions about Penn State's historic collection of birds and mammals. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The sixth in a series of fall open houses at Penn State's Pasto Agricultural Museum on Nov. 16 will feature a special exhibit from the Ecosystem Science and Management Department's bird and mammal collection.

From 1 to 4 p.m., parts of the historic collection will be on display, and Margaret Brittingham, professor of wildlife resources, will provide background information and answer questions, according to Rita Graef, Pasto Museum curator.

"We are excited to share this special research and teaching collection with the public," Graef said. "It includes mounted birds and research samples, and some of the specimens are from the 1800s."

Historically, she pointed out, samples have been preserved and mounted using chemicals and taxidermy methods. Today, specimens added to the teaching collection are freeze-dried to preserve them, keeping the original plumage coloring without using preservatives that might be hazardous to those handling samples.

The birds and mammals collection to be shown at the open house will include a large group of eggs. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Any new specimens are typically from window-kills, since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 limited the collecting of birds, eggs or nests, except when expressly permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is rare to see even a small part of a bird and egg collection such as this, Graef said.

Brittingham will bring teaching samples of furs and deer jawbones, Graef noted, as well as about a dozen types of furs and skins, including beaver and mink, that visitors may touch and compare. "And we will ask visitors to help us 'age' deer by comparing jawbone and tooth growth," she said.

The Penn State collection, which now is used solely for the teaching of bird identification in vertebrate and ornithology laboratories, also includes an extensive collection of bird wings and eggs.

Operated by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, the museum is welcoming visitors every Sunday afternoon during Penn State home football weekends as part of an initiative to increase public awareness of the museum's collection.

The last open house this fall, on Nov. 30, will be the annual celebration of the Pasto Museum, which will feature an ice cream social.

Graef explained that the open houses help the public appreciate the time when energy for work was supplied by the power of humans and animals.

"By seeing and touching tools and equipment used in early agriculture and rural life, people will better understand how early technological developments led to modern-day advancements," she said.

More information on the museum and its open houses is available at the website. To receive information and event reminders via email, send a message to Graef can be reached at 814-863-1383 or by email at

Located on the Ag Progress Days site at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs -- 9 miles southwest of State College on Route 45 -- the museum features hundreds of rare farm and home implements from the "muscle-power era," before the advent of electricity and gasoline-powered engines.

Last Updated November 11, 2014