Who uses the spirit collection?

Researchers use our spirit collection to study the anatomical morphology, growth and development of birds. Specimens are examined using a range of non-invasive and destructive techniques.

The principle use of the spirit collection is to study aspects of anatomical morphology such as musculature. Such analysis may contribute to research into:

  • how birds function
  • the evolutionary development of birds, for example the evolution of flightlessness
  • the relationships between different bird groups.
Dissection of a rock dove, Columba livia.

Dissection of a rock dove, Columba livia. Dye added to highlight blood vessels.

Another important use is in studies of growth and development, as extremely young chicks and embryos are best preserved in spirit. 

Techniques and access

Spirit specimens can be examined using non-invasive techniques, such as measurements and photography or increasingly with CT scanning.  

Dissection is the traditional method associated with spirit specimens. As this is a destructive technique, a proposal is required from researchers interested in dissecting specimens with a full explanation of their proposed work. 

Proposals are reviewed on a case by case basis by at least two curators, and the appropriate recommendations made.  

Access to specimens is determined by:

  • quality of the proposal
  • availability of suitable material of the required species (alternatives may be suggested)
  • nature of the proposed dissection
  • experience of the researcher involved.