Our Natural History Collection: Guidelines for Giving

December 6, 2018

A high school student studies fox scat (in a jar!) and skulls.

The Harris Center’s natural history collection — which includes nests, skulls, bones, pelts, scat, and taxidermied animals (“mounts”), among other items — is a vital part of our education programming. These artifacts enable close study of form and function, anatomy and adaptation. They offer opportunities for tactile learning (what does a beaver’s fur feel like?), careful observation (how does the phoebe’s nest differ from the swallow’s?), and art. They allow children to look closely at animals who, in life, would scamper quickly out of range.

Although our naturalists are always on the lookout for fresh skulls and scat, many of the items in our collection were donated to us by friends of the Harris Center. We are grateful for these gifts!

If you come upon something that you think might be useful as a teaching tool, please consider the following guidelines:

Bird Nests

Nests are most useful if they’re still attached to a branch. (Simply cut or break the branch close to the nest.) It’s also helpful if you can provide some information about where the nest was found: was it on a building? on the ground? if it was in a tree or shrub, how high off the ground was it? what was the surrounding habitat? Different species favor different habitats, nest heights, and nesting substrates, so these are important clues for identifying what kind of nest you’ve brought us. If you watched birds in the nest during the breeding season and can tell us what species they were, even better! This probably goes without saying, but please do not remove any nests from the wild unless you are sure they are no longer being used by birds.

Roadkill, Window Strikes, and Other Carcasses

Girls look closely at taxidermied birds. (photo © Ben Conant)

Many of the taxidermied mounts in our teaching collection first came to us as roadkill (mammals and birds of prey) or victims of window strikes (songbirds and grouse). There’s a silver lining in turning such losses into teaching tools; however, we can only accept animals in good body condition. Due to limitations on storage space and funding for taxidermy, we can also only accept certain species. If you find a recently dead mammal or bird in good condition, please contact Polly Pattison to see if there is a current need for that particular critter. If it’s an animal we can use, she’ll tell you how to prepare it for storage in our freezer until we can take it to a taxidermist.

Skulls and Bones

Skulls and bones are both useful for our teaching programs. As with nests, it’s helpful if you can provide some information on were they where found (field? hardwood forest? streambank?) to aid in species identification.

Taxidermied Mounts

Due to the toxic chemicals historically used in taxidermy preparation, we generally do not accept mount donations. If you are looking for a new home for a newer mount that is in good shape, please contact Polly Pattison to see if it would be a fit for the Harris Center.

Thank You

A camper uses a field guide to identify a "mystery (taxidermied) animal."

Our natural history collection is an essential tool for cultivating wonder and deepening connection to wildlife and wild places. We’re grateful to the many friends who have contributed artifacts over the years. We can assure you that they’re put to good use!

The Fine Print

Migratory birds — including dead birds, bird parts (such as feathers), abandoned nests, and nonviable eggs — are federally protected, and a permit is required to take any of these items from the wild. The Harris Center holds both federal (USFWS) and state (NHFG) permits, which allow us to accept wild specimens for use in conservation education.

Contact Us

If you  have questions about donating natural history artifacts to the Harris Center’s teaching collection, please contact Polly Pattison by email.