Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History: Nature Walk

About halfway down the west side of the Field Museum’s Stanley Field Hall, the three-story central atrium of the Museum, there is the beginning of a boardwalk with a sign announcing the “Nature Walk” (not to be confused with Lincoln Park Zoo’s Nature Board Walk, although there are some similarities). The entrance is between two dioramas depicting birds at the potholes that dot the Great Plains of North America (or used to: 90% of them are gone). On the right are white pelicans — and yes, pelicans do nest on the Plains, specifically at those potholes, where islands offer safety from predators. The diorama on the left presents a range of other birds that congregate around the potholes — ducks, geese, gulls and the like.

Then we have a look at the life in and around some Chicago-area marshes before we move on to more wetlands — this time in South America, where we get a first-hand look at jabirus, scarlet ibis, screamers, and other South American wetland inhabitants.

And now up into the mountains, where on the left we see a pair of California condors, with the somewhat sad note that they are no longer found in the wild, but only in captive populations. On the right a nesting pair of golden eagles; we are informed that they do not eat livestock, but much prefer rabbits.

Just to the right of the eagles is a small case with passenger pigeons, which went from literally uncounted millions to extinction in a matter of slightly over 50 years.

Then back to the American Midwest and prairies, featuring a display of sandhill and whooping cranes (both of which are making strong recoveries from being endangered not all that many years ago). Don’t miss the small side-display of prairie grasses and other plants, and how they conserve the fertile prairie soils. (This is one of several small side exhibits detailing various aspects of the habitats — keep your eyes peeled.)

We finish up with, on one side, flamingos on the mudflats of the Caribbean, one of their favorite nesting and feeding grounds, with a diorama showing flamingos with their nests, built of mud and raised above the tide mark. On the other side we have birds that inhabit the cliffs of the Alaskan coast — puffins, terns, and the like.

You may have noticed that the focus throughout is on birds. There’s a reason for this (although there actually are two small dioramas on the border, so to speak, featuring mammals — muskrats and woodchucks, respectively), and each diorama includes other animals — turtles, insects, snakes — in short, other critters that inhabit the same environments. At the end of the boardwalk is an exit that on one side leads out to the main hall, and on the other to the Ronald and Christina Gidwitz Hall of Birds, which is exactly what it claims to be: birds, in their infinite variety. (There is another exit, about halfway down, which leads to another hall and exhibition, Messages from the Wilderness, which treats of some of the successes and near disasters we’ve had with managing our wildlife.)

Each diorama has a general background sign, with observations on the type of habitat and something of its history, along with flip cards set in the railing that give detailed descriptions of the birds and other animals shown in the dioramas. There are also small triangular signs at each exhibition asking if you can find various animals — two snakes, a turtle, three butterflies, and the like. I suspect this is meant to appeal to the kids, but I don’t think adults will necessarily be immune to the challenge.

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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