Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



The Nebraska Bird Review Vol. 88 No. 3, pp 112-123.


Published by the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, Inc.


The autumn of 1894 was fortuitous for Nebraska ornithology because it is when Robert Henry Wolcott accepted an assistantship at the University of Nebraska, moving to Lincoln from the University of Michigan (Swenk 1935). Wolcott, from that point onward, made significant contributions to our knowledge of Nebraska birds (Bruner et al. 1903, Wolcott 1909, 1919), was a founding member of the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union (NOU), and was editor for the first three Proceedings of the NOU from 1899-1902. His work expanded beyond local focus and he eventually authored a text on animal biology (Wolcott 1933). The topic of this paper, however, is not Robert Wolcott’s talent for writing and editing, but his ability to make drawings. Museums never discard original information pertaining to an object, since it may help answer future questions. One such set of original information in the Zoology Division of the University of Nebraska State Museum (UNSM) is the hand-written bird nest and egg cards completed by the collectors at the time of collection in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Zoology Division currently holds approximately 1,450 egg sets and 50 nests and is notable among museum institutions (Kiff and Hough 1985). The collecting of nests and eggs was popular in the 1800s and early 1900s until it became illegal in 1918 with passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and subsequent legislation. Very little egg and nest collecting has occurred since that time, and that has been under strictly regulated permit situations. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and isolation I scanned the original nest and egg cards associated with the museum collections. I was surprised to find how many of Robert Wolcott’s collection cards, from both Michigan and Nebraska in the 1890s, had miniature drawings of the nest (Figures 2, 3, 8), nest site (Figures 1, 4, 5, 6, 10), or location maps (Figures 7, 9). No other collectors were noted to have made drawings on the cards in the UNSM collections. While data from these cards has been available to researchers for many years I thought it appropriate to bring some of these images to light for modern audiences to see 120+ years later.