Not every high school has a museum on campus. Fewer still have a collection as extensive as the Hall of Ornithology at Eureka High School -- with 1,000 birds and 2,000 bird eggs, some dating back 100 years, there's a whole world of nature for students to explore in their own backyard.
Specimens of a wide variety of birds, ranging from brightly colored exotic beauties to raptors to all manner of perching, wading and soaring birds -- including the California condor that died on Iaqua Butte in Kneeland in 1885 -- stand preserved in locked glass casing. Blue, pink and speckled bird eggs, including the extinct passenger pigeon, are also displayed in the museum.
Most of the species are from the United States, but one of the exotic cases is filled with birds from South America and Australia.
”It's kind of one of the best kept secrets in Eureka,” EHS Principal Rick Jordan said. “I've never been at another school that has this type of a scientific collection.”
Over the years, Humboldt County elementary schools have come to visit the museum, which currently isn't open to the public.
”They do a self-guided tour,” Jordan said. “It directs them to look for certain things just to give them an overview of what's housed in the collection.”
The tour raises awareness, and shows students what existed at some time, or still does today.
”People are amazed that it's there,” Jordan said. “It starts off as a natural curiosity, and then it's just this amazing thing that exists here at the school.”
While a teacher at EHS, Dennis Cahill would incorporate the birds into lessons, labs and on field trips.
”We have a wonderful resource to reinforce what goes on in the classroom,” Cahill said. “It's great for the science teachers and the students.”
It also allows students to see something they don't get to every day.
”With all the budget cuts that schools suffer today, a lot of schools have no budgets to go on field trips, so for a school to have a museum in their high school is just incredible,” Clarke Historical Museum Director and Curator Ben Brown said.
The school has been fortunate to have connections and friendships that led to the donations.
According to school records, the specimens come from three collections: the Charles Fiebig Collection, donated to Eureka City Schools in 1896; the Joseph Bagley Collection, purchased by the school board in 1923 and the Dr. B.M. Marshall Collection, presented to the schools in 1951.
The birds have been display at EHS since 1978 when the collection was returned from loan to the Clarke Museum. A year later, the school received a $5,000 grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation to clean and repair the specimens.
”It really is a community treasure,” Brown said. “I really don't know of any other high school that has a museum, especially of that size and scope. It really seems like it was a unique thing for Eureka High School to boast such an impressive collection.”
Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.