My brother, Jeremy Kirchman, is the Curator of Birds at the New York Sate Museum in Albany. He and I share a gene (undoubtedly inherited from our father) that gives us a passionate interest in natural history. Jeremy and I have built our vocations on this interest and have shaped it and applied it, specifically, to our respective careers in the museum field.
He's a scientist who studies the evolution and distribution of birds in the state of New York and across the islands of Oceania. He has focussed his research on a family of birds called Rails.
Rails look to me like a cross between a large sandpiper and a small chicken. Many museums have them in their collections and feature them in their exhibitions, as they are among the poster children (poster chickens?) for island biogeography, endemism and extinction. Although rails are, for the most part flightless, for years they literally flew by me in museums as my attention was seized by their more splendid cousins: hummingbirds, great auks and birds of paradise. When my brother introduced me to his study subjects, these drab birds became beautifully complex and meaningful to me. And I started noticing them.
I visit natural history museums all around the world and I now scan the collections and displays – birdwatching for rails. When I spot one, I snap a picture.
Cold Storage | Cleveland Museum of Natural History | June 2008
Boston Museum of Science | 2007
Fairbanks Museum | St. Johnsbury, Vermont | 2007