(truck horn blares) – Oh yeah. Yeah, we’re in New York. [music]
– [Jason] When I was 14, I spotted a peregrine
falcon eating a pigeon on my windowsill in the Bronx. I never looked back. I’m Jason Ward. This is Birds of North America. – There’s the hermit
thrush down on the rock in the stream. – Oh yeah. – Bobbing his tail. – [Jason] This is Paul Sweet,
a man with a double life. If you saw him with his binoculars, you just assume he’s
another Central Park birder out to see what the day brought him and meditate on the beauty of nature. But just across the
street, Paul has an office. A big office. A place I know and love from countless field trips of my youth. See, behind locked doors on six floors of the American Museum of Natural History, Paul is the caretaker of the largest, most taxonomically-diverse collection of bird specimens in the world. – So, this is one of our collection rooms. – [Jason] What do I mean? 800,000 study skins representing
over 99.9% of known birds. It’s enormous. Paul and I met on
Twitter a few years back. Today, he was kind enough to show me some highlights of the collection. – You’re a big peregrine fan, right? – These are my guys. – Right, so.
– These are. – [Paul] So peregrines are
found all over the world. – The wandering falcon. – Yeah, this bird was
collected in Labrador, Canada in October of 1878. So we’re talking about 150 years ago. So these specimens, for 150 years old. This is in pretty… – Of course. – Pretty good shape. – Is there something special
about the room that we’re in or the drawers that they’re
in that helps preserve them? – The most important
thing is to keep them dry and away from insect pests and away from extremes of temperature and that’s pretty much it. Feathers and skin are pretty durable as long as they’re kept
in those conditions. So what got you started with birdwatching? – [Jason] So, all right, so my fascination with animals period,
started with dinosaurs. – Cool.
– As a kid. – [Paul] Birds. – Exactly. I purchased my first pair
of binoculars five years ago and decided to join an
Atlanta Audubon bird walk, and about eight months later, I was leading that bird walk. – That’s great, that’s a quick transition. So down here is one of
my favorite families. These are kingfishers, this particular group are
called the paradise kingfishers, so these kingfishers have racquet tails which are really cool. – [Jason] I never knew that existed. – [Paul] Yep. – Other than scientists, who
accesses this collection? – Artists use our collection, particularly artists who are working on illustrating field guides. Almost every field guide that’s out there is based on scientific collections. So that means no feet. These are chimney swifts. – Those are my guys. – Mm-hmm.
– Yes. – So if you look at them carefully, you can see almost… – Where, what? – They’re tiny. – That is almost non-existent. These are cigars with wings, pretty much. – The other thing that’s
cool about swifts, they have a spiny tail. – Yeah, yeah, that’s rigid, wow.
– Right, so yeah. They all–
– Modified feathers. – That’s how they cling on, and they’ll use those spines
on their tail for roosting. [upbeat music] – Oh, goodness. (both laughing) I’ve seen so many different illustrations and photos of passenger pigeons. Being really close to one, that is a really handsome bird. – Right, the male has all
this real nice iridescence. So these are… – [Jason] The legend itself. – [Paul] A pair of
ivory-billed woodpeckers. – It’s amazing being
this close to any bird and holding a bird, however, it’s sad holding something
that used to be so abundant, especially in the region
that I live in currently, and knowing that it’s gone. It’s gone, there’s no coming
back for a bird like this, and it really brings home the message that there’s so much more that we can do to prevent things like this
from happening in the future to birds that we know and love today. Had to do some damage to
the side of someone’s house. – Oh yeah. (Jason laughs) – [Paul] Hi. Are people looking at the barred owl? – [Woman] Not that I know of. – Not that you know of, oh, okay. (Jason laughs) See who has the eagle eyes. (chuckles) Or owl eyes. Did they say tupelo tree or tupelo meadow? – [Jason] Mmm, well, two hours ago, it says tupelo meadow. Is that the same species and leaf? – [Paul] It looks like it. – Yeah there’s a picture just
taken two hours ago of it. Got him, let’s, we found it. Jeffrey’s going to be so mad at me that he’s not getting
to see this right now. He was just telling me
about the owl yesterday, but he’s at work. Oh my goodness, yes. – [Paul] Which branch is it on, can… – The very thin one right straight through the hole.
– Oh yeah, I got it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just next to a little
log there in that hole. – Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah, that’s a beauty. Yep, 100% barred. – Here we have a barred owl. – What? Look at that, that is engineering there. Flight feathers there, this allows them to cut right
through the wind at night. His disc-shaped face there
like a satellite dish. Those inner ears that are here somewhere. – And slightly, one’s
higher than the other so they can… – Triangulate.
– Triangulate, yeah. – [Paul] With sound, yeah. (gentle string music) – I’ve seen a lot of North American birds but they’re hundreds of feet away from me, so to actually be this close to them and pick up little minute details… this is a treat. This is an amusement
park for someone like me. This has been a rollercoaster. Paul, I appreciate it, thank you so much. – It’s been my pleasure.
– For having me here. – Absolutely. – I’ll be back. – Okay. Just as long as we’re cool with that. I will be back.