Bird skin collections

Study skins of green broadbill

Study skins of green broadbill, Calyptomena viridis, held in the Museum's bird collection

The Museum's avian skin collection is the second largest of its kind in the world, with almost 750,000 specimens representing about 95 per cent of the world’s extant bird species.

750,000                   8,000                       

Specimens                           Type specimens                     


The bird skin collection contains the largest number of bird type specimens in the world, relating to more than 8,000 named taxa. The collection also houses a significant number of extinct and endangered species, most of which were obtained while the species were still relatively common.

Specimens are still being added to our huge collection today, but the majority date from the early 1800s through to the late 1900s. Some of the oldest skins date back to Captain James Cook’s epic voyages of discovery in the 1770s.

Research using the collection

The extent of the collection means it is one of the most heavily used of the Museum’s  zoological collections. Every year it is visited by nearly 400 researchers from around the world.

Researchers visit the collections to examine the specimens’ skin and plumage, analyse the data on when and where they were collected, and remove tiny samples from them for molecular analysis.

The avian skin collection is housed in the Museum at Tring along with the rest of the Museum's bird collections.

Major collections

The collection contains skins collected during expeditions, including:

  • the Antarctic voyages of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror (1839-1843) under James Clark Ross
  • the voyage of HMS Rattlesnake to northern Australia and New Guinea (1846-1850) under Captain Owen Stanley
  • the Zambezi expedition (1858-1864) of David Livingstone
  • the voyage of the Southern Cross, the first expedition to overwinter on the Antarctic continent, under Carsten Borchgrevink (1898-1900).

Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.