A Library for the Birds

A heads up for our readers…in addition to eggs and nests, this post contains multiple images of bird taxidermy, which some may find unsettling. If you do, no problem! Skip this particular post, and we’ll see you on the blog next Tuesday!

Deep within Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, there is a plain door with a fairly innocuous sign mounted nearby:

Behind that plain door, however, is an amazing treasure trove of natural history. It’s the Princeton Bird Collection, which contains a taxidermy catalog of over 6,000 bird specimens, some of which are over 150 years old! Many were collected by William Earl Dodge Scott, who was appointed Curator of the Department of Ornithology in 1879.

Princeton’s bird room contains a multitude of hulking gray metal cabinets. While I’m used to our library’s special collections cataloged and ordered on regular bookshelves, the bird room’s cabinets open to reveal horizontal wooden drawers containing various specimens. These collections are available for teaching and research, including the Stoddard Lab’s research on avian coloration and morphology.

The drawers also contain nests and eggs, which are similarly laid out for researchers:

There are larger nests as well, including this amazing one that I’m pretty much ready to curl up and take a nap inside:

Beyond the drawers are a fantastic assortment of standing taxidermy, both large and small. Below are just a few the staff unwrapped for me to photograph…from top left to bottom…an emu, ground hornbill, kiwi, barn owl, macaw, snowy owl, and golden eagle.

And check out this! It’s a quetzal, which hails from Central America. It was was considered sacred by the Ancient Mayas and Aztecs. The photo really doesn’t do it justice. The coloring on the bird is simply exquisite.

The bird collection also contains the documents and journals of Charles Roger, a professor of ornithology at Princeton from 1920-1977. The journals, which he began as an eager boy of eleven and continued until he was eighty-four are a fascinating and informative body of work. You can read more about the digitization of his works, and find some awesome coloring pages from our special collections here (as well as a couple fun bird projects!).


A very special thank you to Cassie Stoddard, Assistant Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, for arranging for me to photograph the bird room, and answering my questions about ducks!

C is for Cotsen

C is for Canoe 4

From African A.B.C. by Norah Senior. Pan-African Books. ; West African Publishing Co., 1959. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

It’s time for the annual #ColorOurCollections, hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine! Each year libraries, archives, and cultural institutions around the world share free coloring sheets based on their collections. You might recall the Coloring Feathers post we did in 2021…but this year, we went alphabetical with “C is for Cotsen,” celebrating some of the cool alphabet books we have in our special collections vaults!

Our coloring pages consist of seven images spanning 1805-1959, including this hilarious one from 1840, “C is for Collision.” It was so completely random for an alphabet book, Katie and I had a good laugh over it

C is for Collision 2

R. Cruikshank’s Comic Alphabet by Robert Cruikshank. Darton and Clark (Holborn Hill), c1840. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library.

You can see our complete coloring pages here. In addition to the coloring activity, we thought it would be fun to revisit some of our fun alphabet posts. Here there are, in no particular order, starting with some tabletop topiary letters:

so very verdant

A story time where we rounded up some letters on the ranch!

hey uA popular DIY keychain project we designed for a community event table:

red letter day Our review of some awesome spelling straws:

sip n spellWe discover the cutest alphabet tactile toys, ever:

alphabet playtime

A gorgeous letter art activity for teens and tweens:

We test out some amazing vanishing paper for some free floating fun:

laserjet-testAnnnnnnd there was that time we filled our library with 130 giant inflatable alphabet letters:

balloons in entry 3

A Piranesi-Inspired Picnic

No need for a basket, this little picnic folds right up into a book! Unfurl your picnic blanket, pull your food from the built-in pockets, and you have yourself a feast with friends!

The inspiration for this project comes from a rather unusual source – a Princeton University Library Special Collections exhibit entitled “Piranesi on the Page.” It details the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the foremost printmaker in 18th-century Europe. Originally seeking to be an architect, Piranesi eventually turned to printmaking and experimented with the architecture of books, innovating on the concept of what a book can be.

An example of this is Ichographia, Campo Marzio dell’antica Roma, created in Rome in 1762. Below you can see a huge map of the Campo Marzio, the ancient district of Rome used as a military training ground.

But what you can’t see at first glance is that this map is also part of a book! The photo was difficult to capture what we me crouching, the low lighting, and a highly reflective case, but hopefully you can see the open book below and how the map extends from it!

Amazing, right? It got me thinking of a huge page unfolding from a book…maps…the great outdoors…picnics…picnic blankets…aha! Today, we bring you…the picnic book!

You’ll need:

  • 1 sheet of posterboard
  • Wrapping paper
  • 1 craft tie or pipe cleaner
  • A set of picnic set templates, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ cardstock
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

First, prepare the cover of your book. Fold an 11″ x 36″ piece of posterboard in half to create a cover, then tape or glue two, 4.5″ x 7.5″ pockets to the inside.

Now for the picnic blanket page! Begin with a 25″ x 31.5″ piece of wrapping paper, laid out flat, design side up…

Fold the right and left sides of the wrapping paper inwards, meeting in the center (apologies for the masking tape rolls…the wrapping paper wouldn’t stay flat for the photo!).

Next fold the top and bottom upwards and downwards, meeting in the center.

Finally, fold the wrapping paper in half, to the right, so it fits inside the book’s cover like a page…

To attach the page to the book cover, use scissors to cut 2 small slits, each about 1″ from the top and bottom of the cover. Make sure to cut through both the cover and the pages!

Now unfold the picnic page, located the slits, and thread the ends of a craft tie or pipe cleaner through both.

Refold the picnic page, close the cover, and locate the two ends of the craft tie. Tab them sharply to the spine of the book cover, and reinforce the connection with tape.

Print as many picnic place settings as you would like from the template, then color and cut them out. Slide them into the pockets of your book.

Add a title to the front of your book, tuck it under you arm, and head out for a picnic with your favorite friends or stuffed animals!

If you’re feeling extra creative and Piranesi-inspired, instead of having a picnic blanket with a wrapping paper design, flip it over to the blank side and draw a map leading to your favorite picnic spot or literary landscape!