Last Look

Over easy

An extraordinary egg collection at the Peabody.

Mark Morosse

Mark Morosse

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Iowa farmer Ralph Handsaker (1886–1969) had a thing for eggs. The self-taught oologist gathered his first eggs at the age of 12, from the nest of a house wren. By the time he stopped collecting and trading in 1963, he had amassed more than 3,600 eggs of 467 species, all carefully emptied and meticulously catalogued. The largest one shown here came from an emu; the brownish-olive egg below it from a common loon; and the pear-shaped egg just above it from a thick-billed murre. Inside the cigar boxes are the eggs of various shorebirds, woodpeckers, and songbirds.

Handsaker's family donated the collection to the Peabody in 2006, and the eggs are now out of their cigar boxes and in the museum's state-of-the-art storage facility. They are a one-of-a-kind historical record of ecosystems lost, says ornithologist Kristof Zyskowski, vertebrate zoology collections manager: "Many of Handsaker's collecting sites are now shopping malls and housing developments."

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