Booby prize

A string of unusual events lands a rare specimen in the Slater’s bird collection

The collections of the university’s James R. Slater Museum of Natural History grow by 1–2 percent a year, sometimes in unexpected ways. On Aug. 15, a motorist saw what he thought was an injured or sick bald eagle on the Oregon side of the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River. He reported it to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which sent an agent to pick it up. The bird was at first identified as a cormorant and taken to the Portland Audubon Society Wildlife Care Center, where it was correctly identified as a booby, a tropical seabird not normally seen in the Pacific Northwest. Since a blue-footed booby recently had been photographed in Washington, the Audubon staff thought this might be that bird or another of the same species.

The bird unfortunately died during an attempt at rehabilitation, and its body was frozen. Gary Shugart, collection manager at the museum, read about the booby on Tweeters, the local birding listserve, and immediately called to ask if the specimen might be donated to the museum. The director of the wildlife care center, Bob Sallinger, agreed, and Dennis Paulson, director emeritus of the museum, picked up the specimen.

On closer examination back in the museum, Paulson realized it was not a blue-footed booby but an immature masked booby, a much rarer species on the Pacific Coast of North America and never before been seen north of northern California. The nearest breeding colonies are off the west coast of Mexico, but the species occurs throughout the tropical Pacific and Caribbean. Tissue samples were taken from the specimen, which might help determine the colony it originated from.

The Slater Museum website (www.pugetsound.edu/slatermuseum) has more information on the newly acquired booby in a posting they titled “A Tale of Two Boobies.” (Who says scientists can’t be funny?)

The museum, by the way, is getting a new home as part of the $63 million science center project. It’s due to open by the beginning of fall term, 2007.