Popular Science

These dirty birds show why we need natural history museums

Those who forget the past are doomed to re-breathe it.
field sparrows

Field Sparrows from 1906 (top) and 1996 (bottom), The Field Museum.

Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay

As the male field sparrow soared through the smoke-laden Illinois sky on May 6, 1906, it had no idea that the end was near. It also had no idea that its feathers were collecting scientific data—information that would prove invaluable to researchers more than a century later.

The field sparrow was soon captured, killed, and carefully tagged with the location of its , the date, and a reference number. It was sent to

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