Anatomical collections

The anatomical collections represent around 35% of the world’s bird species. They include skeleton and spirit collections, together totalling around 33,600 specimens.

Specimens in the collection span the entire history of the Natural History Museum, from hornbill skulls dating from the foundation of the British Museum in 1753 and whole preserved birds from Captain Cook’s last voyage between 1776-1779, to material registered in the last few weeks.

Every year the collections are used by visitors from around the world for projects such as:

  • identifying ancient bird remains from archaeological sites
  • studying the evolution of modern birds and their adaptations
  • understanding how birds function
  • examining the relationships between different groups of birds
  • constructing computer-generated birds for films
  • Specimens of great bittern, Botaurus stellaris.
    Skeleton collection

    With over 16,000 specimens, the avian skeleton collection is the largest of its kind in the UK. Explore the collection and learn more about how we prepare new specimens.

  • Eurasian curlew specimens.
    Spirit collection

    The avian spirit collection represents around 38% of the world's species. Learn more about the the collection and its uniquely important specimens.