By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Blackfoot Albatross chick in "sweater", Kure Atoll (undated). Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 9, Envelope 1. SIA2013-07687.
Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 000245, Box 222, Folder 9, Folder 1. SIA2013-07688.
Field photography can sometimes be the most interesting and intriguing of the field notes we catalog. A photograph can be surprisingly useful: images of terrain give a viewer a snapshot in time of an environment’s composition, level of development, and types of vegetation once common. Photographs of specimens can be important for knowing original appearance since organisms sometimes change in appearance after death.
As informative as these photographs are, they can be also the source of delightful surprises. They may record details that one simply wouldn’t expect to find in field photography. We discovered our own ornithological mystery recently in Record Unit 000245 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program.
As I was cataloging one collection of photographs, I came across a photograph with an entertaining caption, “Albatross chick in a sweater.” One of the joys of this project has been discovering the lighter side of field work documented in field books. Scientific field work is a serious business to be sure, involving long hours, difficult locations, and limited time. However it can be a source of humor, comradery, and unexpected inspiration (and unexpected photographs). I began to check with colleagues for input on the photograph. We were able to develop a decent conjecture as to the composition of the sweater. As to why the bird is in a sweater, we are still working on that.
In our search to discover why, we’ve found some interesting facts regarding birds in sweaters. In 2011 there was a call out to knitters to provide penguins in New Zealand with sweaters after an oil spill to prevent them from ingesting oil on their feathers during preening. In 2010, there was a call put out across England for sweaters to keep balding hens warm.
These are the earliest references to bird clothing we have found. So why were POBSP participants addressing the clothing needs of their feathered friends so much earlier? It’s still a mystery yet to be solved. If you have ideas or input as to the reason for this photograph, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
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