ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Waterfowl fascination to taxidermy museum

ORTONVILLE (AP) -- Out on the western fringes of Minnesota, a small but remarkable natural history museum has opened to the public, a monument to one farmer's fascination with waterfowl and other exotic birds of the world.

We are part of The Trust Project.

ORTONVILLE (AP) -- Out on the western fringes of Minnesota, a small but remarkable natural history museum has opened to the public, a monument to one farmer's fascination with waterfowl and other exotic birds of the world.
In the 1960s, Charles Hanson took up taxidermy as a hobby because he wanted to collect some of the species of ducks he hunted near his family's farm on waterfowl-rich Artichoke Lake. He was enamored of the graceful lines of pintails, the colorful plumage of wood ducks and regal stature of canvasbacks.
''I thought, how tremendous that these works of art could be preserved by taxidermy,'' recalled the 63-year-old retired farmer and amateur naturalist who lives in nearby Correll. ''I was determined that if I was going to hunt, I would try to collect as many birds as I could.''
His collection grew. Friends and acquaintances began sending bird skins from Europe, and Hanson combed Minnesota game farms for unusual species native to Asia, Australia and South America. He hunted throughout the Midwest and Alaska.
Once his collection increased to more than 500 species, Hanson decided it was time to let more than his friends and neighbors view it. So he donated the collection to the Big Stone County Historical Society, which moved the birds and a historical building in which Hanson kept them to their museum grounds on the corner of Minnesota Highways 75 and 12, overlooking the Minnesota River Valley.
The collection is housed in the Artichoke Lake Trading Post, which was built in 1927 and owned by Hanson's uncle. The one-room museum, which has no admission charge, opened to the public in April.
The collection is far from the size and breadth of that at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, but Hanson's exhibition is a fascinating tour for lovers of waterfowl and upland game birds. More remarkable is the fact all the birds were painstakingly assembled and preserved by one man in his spare time.
At the museum, you'll find all of North America's colorfully plumed sea ducks. There are the numerous examples of the large and magnificent eiders, as well as numerous scoters, old squaw and harlequin ducks that are native to the West Coast.
Most of Hanson's sea ducks were skins given to him by Eskimos he visited during seven trips to the Bering Sea, Kodiak Island and the St. Lawrence Islands.
From outside of North America, there's an example of a European black scoter; several diminutive African pygmy geese; the unusual and beautiful Hottentot and Lake Baikal teal; and the striking Mandarin duck, the Asiatic version of the North American wood duck.
''We probably have only one-fourth of the world's waterfowl, but all of the North American species are represented,'' Hanson said. All of North America's upland birds are here, too. So is the world's largest grouse, the capercaille, a native of northern Europe that bears a close resemblance to our wild turkey; the Himalayan snow cock, another extraordinarily large game bird; and more species of Asian pheasants than anyone would care to remember.
Hanson has a fondness for native birds of Minnesota, and he built a diorama depicting a prairie scene featuring prairie chickens in their native grasslands. He hopes to build more dioramas and add more exotic birds, but the current building is filled to capacity. ''Maybe we expand someday,'' he said.
The free museum is becoming a favorite roadside attraction for hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts passing through western Minnesota. Hanson still gives personal tours of his collection to just about anyone who calls ahead and makes a reservation.

What to read next
The Central Lakes College Raiders traveled to Rochester for a non-divisional game Friday, Dec. 2.
The Central Lakes College Raiders faced Rochester Friday, Dec. 2.