Southern Vermont Eagles at the Natural History Museum
As I moved my fingertips along the smooth scales of an albino king snake that my guide Mike was holding in front of me at the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum, I wondered how I could have missed this not-so-tiny museum on Hogback Mountain after driving past it my entire life.
I suppose the unassuming exterior is overshadowed by the beautiful view off of the top of Hogback Mountain. Or perhaps the gift shop is more enticing, with its offerings of Vermont specialty foods that catch the eye more easily than the tiny museum which seems to be half the size of the gift shop.
But since Edward Metcalfe founded the museum several decades ago, the entrance to the multi-level museum was moved inside the gift shop and offers visitors several floors of full of taxidermied specimens, local minerals, a dinosaur display, interactive activities for kids and live animals which are all related to the natural history of Southern Vermont.
Taxidermist and Naturalist, Luman Ranger Nelson (1874-1966), had a fascination with birds and created many of his taxidermy specimens during the 1920s and 1930’s. After his death, he left his work to the museum to display for others to see.
These days, the museum draws in all sorts of visitors.
Kids love the interactive activities.
Geologists and biologists love the mineral and taxidermied displays.
Bird watchers enjoy visiting to get an up-close look at the native species of Southern Vermont and checking out the “Bald Eagle Spotting Map” which is a map that shows all of the locations where Wilmington’s bald eagles have been spotted in the area.
Additionally, the museum displays the highest number of mammals and birds that are native to Southern Vermont; more than any other museum in the state.
The collection also Includes some specimens like the Passenger Pigeon, which became extinct decades ago but before extinction had a very high population in the Southern Vermont area.
Of course, most visitors are usually most excited about seeing the live reptiles and birds of prey.
Mike was happy to give me a close-up look at the animals that have made their home at the museum.
First, he disappeared behind a door before reappearing with Piper, a red-tailed-hawk that sat calmly on his arm. She didn’t seem to mind the flash of my camera or that I was gushing about how beautiful she was.
After a few minutes, Mike returned Piper to her room. We passed several owls on our way to a second room which housed the two bald eagles that had also made their home at the museum.
I cautiously followed Mike into the bald eagle room, while the birds sat on a perch 20 feet away from me.
One of the two bald eagles is named Molly Stark and is fully grown, with the traditional white head and dark brown feathers. Her roommate, Stormy, is younger and still has the light brown feathers of a bald eagle that has not fully matured.
It is important to note that these animals arrive at the museum because they are in need of a home, because their owner was unable to keep it, or because they were injured and could no longer survive in the wild.
I had never been so close to bald eagles or red-tailed hawks before in my life, which made the experience very special for me.
And this is the beauty of the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum. It is setup to make the experience as interactive and intimate as possible.
Visitors walk out with an appreciation of both the past and an excitement and awareness about the current and future wildlife of Southern Vermont.
You should expect to spend about an hour or two at the museum. It is a good idea to call ahead because the museum is primarily run by volunteers, so even though they are open every day, it is best to make sure someone is around if you want an up-close look at the animals.
An adult entrance fee is $5, making this a fun and reasonably priced way to spend an afternoon. (Admission is even less for seniors and kids under 12!)
Go the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum for more information.