Bird spirit collections

Eurasian curlew specimens

Specimens of Eurasian curlew, Numenius arquata, preserved in spirit

With around 17,000 fluid-preserved specimens, the avian spirit collection represents about 38 per cent of the world's species.


The collection is one of the five largest of its kind in the world, representing around 38% of the world's species.

Specimens include whole adult birds, chicks, embryos, eggs and dissected body parts, as well as associated material such as stomach contents.

Many specimens in the spirit collection have connections to other parts of our collections, so that material from the same individual bird may also be preserved in the skin or skeleton collection.

For some species, our spirit collection contains the only known spirit specimens anywhere in the world. For example, we have specimens of the Fijian bar-winged rail (Nesoclopeus poecilopterus) and the South Island piopio (Turnagra crassirostris), both extinct.

Major collections

Famous contributions

Several important Antarctic expeditions are represented in the bird spirit collection, including:

  • the Discovery (1901-1904) and Terra Nova (1910-1912) expeditions led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912)
  • the Shackleton-Rowett expedition (1921-1922) under Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) and later Frank Wild (1873-1939)

The collection also includes specimens from Captain James Cook's voyages of discovery, including an I'iwi Vestiaria coccinea, collected in Hawaii between 1778 and 1779.

Looking for a specimen?

The bird spirit collections are being digitised

Senior Curator

Dr Joanne Cooper

Any questions?

If you would like to use any specimens for research, please get in touch

Contact the curator


Type specimen catalogue

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.

Useful references

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.

Collections management

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