RAMM has a large and diverse collection of birds. The ‘In Fine Feather‘ gallery shows as stunning selection of over 140 birds from the collection. Specimens are also displayed in ‘Finder’s Keepers?‘ and ‘Making History‘. Look closely and you’ll find bird feathers used in costume, textiles objects and ethnographic objects all over the museum.
Explore RAMM’s bird collection online.
The size, appearance, behaviour and abundance of birds make them one of the most studied and popular groups of animals alive today. Birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs. Fossils such as Archaeopteryx show intermediate forms. Birds’ ability to fly allows them to exploit new ecological niches and migrate across all continents.
Ornithology is the scientific name for the study of birds. It gives insights into evolution, ecology and reproductive behaviour. Many birds show sexual dimorphism where males and females of the same species look very different. The iridescent plumage of male birds, such as peacocks, has been the subject of much research and is also why bird specimens are such attractive objects for display.
Birds were especially popular with Victorian collectors. RAMM has a collection of over 12,000 taxidermy mounts, skins, skeletons, eggs and nests from all around the world. Many are very rare in the wild and some are even extinct.
There are several ways to preserve specimens – the method you choose depends on what you want the bird for. Taxidermy mounts are made when a specimen is for display. In the past taxidermists made mounts by stuffing the skin with wood wool, cotton wool or sawdust. This is why some people call them ‘stuffed animals’. Today taxidermists carve bodies out of wood or buy pre-shaped foam forms. Watch taxidermist Jazmine Miles-Long preparing a sora rail specimen for RAMM in this short video.
Taxidermy mounts are expensive because they require someone very skilled to make them. They also take up a lot of space. So specimens for scientific study only are made into a ‘cabinet skins’. Some skins are completely flat. Others are contain stuffing material for a rounded shape. The person preparing the skin tucks the feet and wings in so that the specimen takes up as little space as possible. Cabinet skins, as the name suggests, are stored in drawers in cabinets.
RAMM also has an extensive egg collection. It illustrates how birds’ eggs differ in shape, texture and colour. They can also give an insight into the complex patterns of natural selection, for example how cuckoo’s eggs have evolved to look like the eggs of the species they parasitise.