Bird skin collections
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 bird species.
The bird skin collection contains the largest number of bird type specimens in the world, at over 8,000.
The collection also houses a significant number of extinct and endangered species, most of which were obtained when 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.
Remarkable collectors have contributed specimens to the Museum's bird skin collection and include prominent historic figures such as John James Audubon (1785-1851), John Gould (1804-1881), Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913).
Many lesser-known people have also contributed significantly to the collection, such as Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1912), Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877) and Alfred Everett (1848-1898).
The collection also contains skins collected during historic expeditions, such as
- 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).
Looking for a specific specimen?
The Bird collection is being digitised
Search or browse bird type specimens and access catalogue data on holotypes, syntypes, lectotypes and neotypes.
Explore the electronic Bulletin board for European avian curators, an online community of European bird curators and associates.
Find what you're looking for with our comprehensive lists of ornithological references, and choose from a range of related websites.
Accessing the collections
Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.