Bird Dioramas / Serial Collection
Location: Upper Level
Hastings Museum is home to the largest serial collection of birds you can find in Nebraska – more than 200 in total – including sandhill cranes and whooping cranes (see below).
It’s a vast collection of birds that either live in Nebraska year round or that migrate through thanks to the great central flyway and rainwater basin. The serial collection, along outside walls, displays all the magnificent birds and many are accompanied by an egg, while the dioramas show selected birds in a real-life setting.
Of course there’s pheasant, turkey, geese and ducks, but also grouse, morning dove, owls, golden eagles and redwing blackbirds. You can even find an Eskimo curlew, an endangered bird that nests in open tundra and tidal marshes near the Arctic Ocean. They just pass through Nebraska, as their winter habitat is in Argentina.
You’ll also find several passenger pigeons, who numbered in the billions in the 19th Century before being driven to extinction in the early 20th Century.
Some non-Nebraska birds on display include herons, the extinct heath hen (a subspecies of the prairie chicken), tufted puffins, zone tailed hawk and the brown booby, a spectacular diving bird that plunges into the ocean at high speed.
Sandhill and Whooping Cranes
Some of Hastings Museum’s most famous birds are the sandhill cranes and the very rare whooping cranes.
Museum founder Albert Brooking made a point of collecting birds, with a goal of compiling a complete study – a serial collection. As a self taught taxidermist, Brooking was able to mount the birds he collected but he also bought, sold and traded for other specimens in order to complete the collection.
As part of his efforts, he collected many whooping and sandhill cranes that are now on display at Hastings Museum.
The diorama in which the cranes are now displayed was painted by Iris Daugherty Nunley as part of the Works Project Administration (WPA) in 1938. The life-like setting allows you to get an up close look at the cranes, especially whooping cranes, which are rarely spotted during their spring migration through Nebraska with 600,000 to 80,000 sandhill cranes and millions of other migratory birds.
If you’re lucky enough to come to the region in the spring, Hastings Museum is a great stop to view these birds before heading to the fields to see them in their traditional migratory layover area along the Platte River.
Whooping cranes, once facing extinction, remain on the endangered species list, although the population is on the rise. Because of this, Museum visitors frequently ask about the history of the 10 whooping cranes we have on display in the diorama.
Here is where those whooping cranes came from:
- Two whooping cranes collected near Grand Island, Nebraska, in the spring of 1899. The Museum acquired the cranes in 1927.
- Juvenile whooping crane collected on the Platte River near Grand Island in October 1907. The Museum acquired the crane in 1931.
- One adult whooping crane collected near Merriman, Nebraska, March 1929. The Museum acquired the crane in 1932.
- One adult whooping crane collected near Loup City, Nebraska, in April 1917. The Museum acquired the crane in October 1933.
- One adult whooping crane collected at Newark, Nebraska, in April 1914. The Museum acquired the crane in October 1934.
- Three whooping cranes obtained by Hastings Museum in June 1942. All three were collected in Buffalo County, Nebraska. They were collected from 1901 through 1928.
- One adult whooping crane collected in western Kansas. TheMuseum acquired the crane in 1943.