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Auks, Darwin's finches and a mummified falcon: Inside NHM bird archive

By David Stock

The , UK, is home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, boasting more than 1 million specimens including bird skins, skeletons, eggs and nests. “We’re probably the largest and arguably the most complete bird collection in the world,” says Alex Bond, principal curator in charge of birds at NHM Tring. “We’ve got a million specimens […] that represent 95 per cent of avian diversity across the planet.”

Bond and the curator team at NHM Tring gave 鶹Ƶ a unique peek inside this vast, globally important collection, explaining its role in improving scientists’ understanding of the evolution of avian biodiversity, which will help protect bird species in the future from challenges such as climate change and pollution.

We saw rare items from the collection, including one of Charles Darwin’s finches, collected in the Galapagos Islands during his Beagle expedition. We explored the vast egg and nest collection, seeing one of just a handful of great auk eggs, a now-extinct flightless seabird species, and peeked inside the anatomical collection to see a 2000-year-old mummified falcon. New technologies, including artificial intelligence, scanning tech and chemical analysis, may soon help unlock the collection in novel and exciting ways.

opens at the Natural History Museum in London on 24 May and runs until 5 January 2025

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