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A History of Conservation: A Bird’s Eye View

Closes Feb. 10, 2019

From Egyptian hieroglyphics painted more than 2,000 years ago to the founding of the Florida Audubon Society in 1900, humankind has been captivated by the beauty and fragility of birds.

Today, birds are a reminder that nature is always with us, recognized as indicators of the health of ecosystems.

The History Center and Audubon Florida’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries have teamed up to present “A History of Conservation: A Bird’s Eye View,” a new exhibit highlighting birdlife in Florida and the conservation movement in the Tampa Bay area.

Artifacts featured in the new exhibit trace both humankind’s reverence for and decimation of Florida’s avifauna, along with the evolution of conservation efforts in Tampa Bay.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, naturalists such as Mark Catesby and John James Audubon traversed Florida, carefully drawing accurate portraits of spoonbills, herons and other birds . Catesby’s “The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands,” published in 1731, is on view, as well as additional historic ornithological prints provided by local artist John Costin.

Meanwhile, unregulated fads such as collecting bird eggs or “plume hunting,” where hunters often killed nesting adult birds to provide colorful feathers for women’s hats, threatened to wipe out some Florida species. The exhibit features Victorian domed taxidermy birds, a collection of rare egret feathers and a rare egg  collection on loan from the Florida Museum of Natural History. Bird specimens collected by Princeton Ornithologist W. E. D. Scott in Clearwater Harbor and lower Tampa Bay in 1880 are on loan from the University.  Inclusion of these specimens was made possible by the Founders’ Garden Circle.

“Florida’s environment has been a draw for naturalists and artists for centuries,” said Rodney Kite-Powell, the Tampa Bay History Center’s curator of history.  “That incredible diversity of plant and animal species, especially birds, also enticed those who would do harm to the environment, particularly the bird plume hunters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Also on view is a “cartonnage” fragment dating back to 1070 B.C. featuring a hieroglyph depicting a heron, a symbol ancient Egyptians associated with creation and rebirth.  This rare artifact and several others are on loan from the Tampa Museum of Art.

“A Bird’s-Eye View” also looks at Florida’s role in the birth of Florida’s and the nation’s modern conservation movement, including the founding of the Florida Audubon Society with President Theodore Roosevelt’s participation as an honorary board member and his role in creating Federal Bird Reservations, including Tampa Bay’s Passage Key, and the beginning of what is now the National Wildlife Refuge system.

The exhibit details the establishment of Audubon’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries including the uniforms and equipment used by Florida’s early game wardens, as well as the local entities and agencies involved in Tampa Bay’s wildlife and water quality recovery and protection.

“People from this part of Florida have played remarkable roles as conservation heroes and heroines,” says Ann Paul, Audubon Florida’s regional coordinator. “When you consider what they accomplished before the days of the internet and email communication, and the adversities of their day, they were incredible.  With this exhibit, we share their inspiring stories to inspire the conservation heroes of tomorrow.”

“A History of Conservation: A Bird’s Eye View” is on exhibit at the History Center from Aug. 25, 2018 through February 10, 2019.

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801 Old Water Street, Tampa, FL 33602