Who uses the collection?

The skeleton collection is used by a wide range of visitors interested in examining the structure and history of birds.

Skeleton collection visitors come from many fields of research, from archaeologists and palaeontologists to engineers and computer animators. We never know quite what the next visitor may be interested in. 

Unravelling the past

Archaeologists and palaeontologists use modern specimens to help identify ancient bird remains. These studies highlight changes in the distribution of bird species over time, which can reveal how birds responded  to climate change in the past.

Researchers sometimes discover formerly unknown extinct birds, and use comparison with modern specimens to help them describe the new species. 

Physiology

Examining skeletons is also vital for understanding how birds function. For example, studying a bird’s skeleton reveals a great deal about adaptations for flight or indeed flightlessness. 

Many of our skeletons show evidence of injuries or diseases that have left their traces on bones. We also hold many examples of skeletons from domestic breeds of poultry and wildfowl that are very different to their wild ancestors. 

Sternum of a stone curlew, Burhinus oedicnemus.

Sternum of a stone curlew, Burhinus oedicnemus, badly affected by bone cancer.

These pathological and domestic specimens are very useful for researchers studying archaeological evidence of domestication or aviculture (the keeping and breeding of birds).

Skeletons are also valuable in evolutionary studies of birds, where studying the features of bones, known as characters, helps to trace the relationships between different orders and families of bird.

Inspiration from nature

The bird skeleton collections have been used by engineers looking for inspiration from the natural world, and have even been consulted by computer animators working on a new creature for a film.