Chained to the Sky: The Science of Birds, Past & Future

Linda Hall Library to Host Free Ornithology Exhibition, Chained to the Sky: The Science of Birds, Past & Future

For millennia, birds have fascinated the minds of scientists around the world. Today, birds face growing challenges of climate change and habitat destruction, creating a need for new research and climate action planning. On November 10, the Linda Hall Library opens “Chained to the Sky: The Science of Birds, Past & Future,” a free three-part ornithology exhibition featuring rare books from the Library’s collection and items on loan from Chicago’s Field Museum that tells the story of ornithology throughout history and poses new questions about the future of our bird populations.

“Those who study birds actively are warning about the dire state of North American birds. Bird populations on our continent have declined by more than 3 billion in the last 50 years, causing dramatic changes in our natural animal and plant ecosystems,” said Dr. Eric Dorfman, President of Linda Hall Library. “‘Chained to the Sky’ celebrates groundbreaking ornithology throughout history and shows how we can make a difference in our own backyards and neighborhoods. The exhibition aims to inspire visitors to learn from the past, raise concern for our dwindling bird populations and promote further study and conservation.”

The historic books from the Library and the specimens from the Field Museum combine to give visitors one of the most comprehensive histories of ornithology assembled in North America. The exhibition consists of three focus areas that are intended to be viewed in any order.

  • The Study of Birds Throughout Time: The West Gallery explores the history of ornithology, featuring rare books from the 16th through 19th centuries by Ulisse Aldrovandi, Francis Willughby, Mark Catesby, Alexander Wilson and John and Elizabeth Gould, among others. This gallery also highlights birds lost to history, presenting extinct and nearly extinct bird study skins from the Field Museum, including the extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet, as well as the Snowy Egret, nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century for its plumes in the millinery trade.
  • Conservation at Home: The East Gallery highlights practical tips to create bird-friendly habitats in your own backyard and explores how recent initiatives in Missouri have enhanced bird conservation, such as the Brown-headed Nuthatch, which was recently reintroduced in the Ozarks after becoming extinct in the state 100 years ago.
  • Audubon and Darwin: This gallery shows the advancement of evolutionary theory in bird study, featuring Charles Darwin’s books On the Origin of Species and The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle and John James Audubon’s The Birds of America.

In addition to the exhibition, Linda Hall Library’s 14-acre arboretum is an example of bird conservation strategies in Kansas City. More than 20 unique bird species can be found using the arboretum for feeding and nesting. Visitors are encouraged to spend time in the arboretum observing our native species using the same methods pioneered by the likes of Darwin and Audubon.

The “Chained to the Sky: The Science of Birds, Past & Future” exhibition will be open Nov. 10, 2023, through July 13, 2024. The exhibition is free and will be open Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. CST and 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. the second Saturday of each month at the Library, located at 5109 Cherry Street in Kansas City, Missouri. Parking is free in the Library parking lot.