The lives of some newborn Newell’s Shearwaters, a type of aquatic bird, often end quickly. When they launch themselves from high cliffs on the Hawaiian Island of Kaua`i for their first flights, they face many man-made obstacles that distract and disorient them, causing them to crash into electric wires, buildings and trees.

Though their lives ended permanently, their bodies are now being collected for research and study by the University’s Museum of Zoology.

The Museum recently received a shipment of 15 rare Newell’s Shearwaters from the Hawaiian division of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The bodies were found in 2004 by members of the public and brought to the wildlife service where they were frozen for preservation. Samples from the University’s recent acquisition will also be sent to other institutions for study, such as Michigan State University and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., for study.

Zoology Prof. Diarmaid Ó Foighil, director of the Museum of Zoology, said the shipment is important because there are not many Hawaiian Birds in the University’s collection, as compared to from other locations. He added the vast majority of extinctions have happened on the pacific islands, and studying the birds can help conservation efforts for Newell’s Shearwaters.

“The neat thing about these specimens is that you can get insights into all aspects of their biology,” Ó Foighil said.

Ó Foighil said the collections in the Museum of Zoology have a “global frame of reference,” despite its midwestern location. Two thirds of the world’s species of birds are represented in the collection, and the set has a large sampling of birds from South Asia, Africa and North America.

“We try and preserve a sample of everything that we can because you never know what somebody wants to study in the future,” Hinshaw said.

Newell’s Shearwaters spend most of their adult lives at sea, and only return to the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i to breed and incubate their eggs. The birds are currently listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, which aims to determine the conservation status of many species.

Bird Division Collection Manager Janet Hinshaw said the birds eat food in the ocean during the day and fly back to their burrows at night during egg incubation, noting they sometimes get distracted by the bright lights and end up crashing to their death.

Hinshaw said she specifically had to request the specimens from the FWS, since the service keeps useful specimens for only a limited amount of time before destroying them.

“The only way to keep (the specimens) alive for scholarly work indefinitely is through a research museum,” Ó Foighil said.

Ó Foighil noted that the museum has specimens that date back to the 1830s that allow for continued academic study.

“We don’t know what people are going to be doing in the future, so that’s why we try to save things in as many different forms as possible,” Hinshaw said.

Hinshaw said she preserved the specimens as both round skins and flat skins. In a round skin, the innards and the majority of the bird’s bones are taken out and the skin is dried and stuffed with cotton to allow study and measurement of the size, girth and length of the specimen. In a flat skin, the innards are also taken out, but the bones within one wing and one leg are left complete, and the bird is preserved with one wing stretched out. This allows the form and length of a specimen’s wing to be studied.

She added that the skull and most of the skeleton is also preserved for study, and that a small tissue sample for DNA analysis and wing clippings for isotope analysis were also taken from the specimens.

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