The size, appearance, behaviour and abundance of birds make them one of the most studied and popular groups of animals alive today. Having evolved from feathered dinosaurs, their adaptation for flight has enabled them to exploit new ecological niches and migrate across all continents.
This has also made them popular with collectors and RAMM has a collection of about 8,500 specimens. The collections at RAMM are made up of many different birds from across the world. Bird specimens have been preserved in various ways for both aesthetic and scientific purposes.
Taxidermy specimens have been mounted in life-like positions to represent behaviour and study skins are prepared so that they can be easily stored in cabinets and organised taxonomically.
The study of birds is called ornithology and has given us many insights into processes underlying evolution and sensory ecology, especially sexual selection. The iridescent plumage of male birds, such as peacocks, has been the subject of much research and is also what makes bird specimens such attractive objects for display.
There is also an extensive egg collection which illustrates how birds’ eggs differ in shape, texture and colour. Birds’ eggs can also give us an insight into the complex patterns of natural selection, for example cuckoo’s eggs have evolved to look like the eggs of the species that they parasitise.
On the 5th of January 1955 this sparrow-sized bird was seen in the garden of the School House in Newton St. Cyres, Devon. It stayed there for a few weeks until it was found dead on the 10th of February 1955 after a frosty night.
The specimen was identified as a male yellow rumped warbler (Dendroica coronata) and is the first example of this species to be recorded in Europe. There were a further 16 recorded sightings of yellowed rumped warblers in Britain and Ireland between 1955 and 1989, and there are likely to have been several more sightings since then. During the winter months he would normally have been found overwintering in the southern United States and parts of Mexico. From there, yellow rumped warblers migrate to the northern United States and Canada to breed in the summer.
Yellow rumped warblers feed mainly on small insects, but in winter they will also eat wax-myrtle berries, which give this bird its other common name of ‘myrtle warbler’.
The little bird was presented to the Museum the day after he was found dead, and was preserved as a skin in our collection. He was later mounted in a life-like pose.
Joey the Crane
Joey the Stanley crane was born in South Africa. In 1914 he was brought to England and kept as a captive bird at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in Surrey where he lived until his death in 1935. In 1940 Joey was presented to the Museum by conservationist, author and plant expert John S. L. Gilmour who was the Assistant Director of Kew at the time.
The Stanley crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) is also known as the blue or paradise crane and is the national bird of South Africa. It is a symbol of peace and resolution, and forms an important part of tribal belief for the Xhosa who call it ‘indwe’. These striking birds live in large flocks and have complex mating displays that involve running, jumping, flapping and twig-tossing.
Whilst the Stanley crane is still common in many areas of its original range, the IUCN has this bird listed as vulnerable to extinction. Stanley crane often feed on crops, and since the 1970s their numbers have declined rapidly due to intentional and accidental poisoning from agricultural chemicals. They are also losing the grasslands they require for breeding to mining, afforestation, agriculture and development, and they are frequently killed by collisions with power lines. Thankfully efforts are being made to protect this beautiful bird and stricter legal protection, combined with habitat management, have slowed its decline.
Come and meet Joey in the In Fine Feather gallery.
The Right Honourable Earl of Portsmouth presented this truly magnificent eagle owl to the Museum on the 24 April 1933. The owl was shot by his head gamekeeper Mr Ernest Isles when it was seen killing hen pheasants at Morchard Bishop, near Crediton, in Devon.
The Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo) is one of the largest species of owl in the world. The females are larger than the males and can weigh over 3kg and have a wing span of around 1.75m. With their mesmerising flame-orange eyes and quirky ear tufts they are spectacular birds. Using their keen eyesight and powerful talons eagles owls are able to catch even large birds, including pheasants and ducks, which they rip apart with their sharp beaks.
Eagle owls can be found across mainland Europe and Asia, and a few pairs are known to breed in the UK. However, those found here are quite likely to be the offspring of owls that escaped from captivity, as opposed to having crossed the Channel from France.
Come and meet this beautiful specimen in the In Fine Feather gallery.