A thief swiped a stuffed bird from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln State Museum.
Museum workers prepping Morrill Hall for construction noticed that a taxidermied Red-necked Phalarope was gone, Associate Director Mark Harris said.
They alerted university police to the theft late last week but don’t know when it disappeared, he said. Workers regularly sweep the exhibits to make sure everything’s there, but the Phalarope, about the size of a sparrow, was easy to miss.
“It’s very unnoticed,” he said. “It was very obscure to our staff.”
Part of a fossil exhibit, the bird gave museum patrons an idea of the wildlife roaming the Great Plains 11,000 years ago during the Ice Age.
Crews getting ready to put an acoustical treatment on the ceiling had to take out a 3- to 4-foot glass barrier separating patrons from the pair of Phalarope, Harris said.
“That's when we said, ‘Hey, wait a minute; that doesn’t look right.’”
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The Phalarope were not encased in glass, Harris said, but the thief still had to hop the glass barrier and pull the affixed bird off its display.
“It wasn’t just sitting there. Whoever took it had to give it a good hard yank to get it off of there.”
The neo-tropical birds no longer live in Nebraska, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but migrate from breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle to warm coastal water where they eat invertebrates, including the west coast of South America up through and across Canada. Experts estimate there are about 3.5 million of them in the world.
The last time a thief hit the museum was some 13 years ago, when a middle school student nearly toppled a display that wasn’t screwed down properly to nab a handmade steel blade, Harris said.
Police never caught that thief, except on camera, he said.
“This is a very rare occurrence where we have any sort of theft,” Harris said.
University police are just launching their investigation and have no suspects, Assistant Chief Charlotte Evans said.