Finding dead birds

The Australian Museum welcomes donations by the public of birds found dead. This is a major source of specimen acquisition by the Museum. Almost any dead bird is of value to the Museum's activities, particularly when it has data (the date, place of collection and collector's name) with it. Even common species are valuable contributions, but fresh undamaged carcasses, uncommon species and specimens from non-urban areas are particularly welcome. Staff in the Bird Section always prefer the option of making the decision to keep or discard the bird after they have received it.

Field label for Magpie-lark (BF 2227)

Jaynia Sladek © Australian Museum

The Museum holds the necessary permits to possess protected native birds (and other wildlife). Although technically members of the public should have a licence to have in their possession native birds or any parts thereof, this is permitted in New South Wales as long as the specimen is being passed to the Museum.

It is illegal to retain the specimen or parts of it (including feathers) without the appropriate permission from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Dead birds found interstate should be taken to the local state museum - it is illegal to carry these across state borders without the appropriate permits.

What to do

Preserving

Dead birds should be placed it in a sealed plastic bag. If the Museum will receive them within a few hours, the birds can be kept cool in a refrigerator. If this is not be possible, birds should be frozen until arrangements can made to get them to the Museum. Birds stored in this manner can be safely kept for extended periods without becoming unsuitable for specimens. Even carcasses that are 'going off' are still valuable; they are ideal for the production of skeletons.

Documentation

The importance of proper documentation cannot be overly stressed; a specimen without it has limited scientific value.Include a note in the bag indicating where the bird was found, when it was found and, if you wish your name to be perpetuated in the Museum records, who found it.

It is preferable to use a pencil where possible, as ink from pens often smudges or washes away completely when the specimen is unfrozen. This means that vital information is lost. As soft part colours (iris, bill, legs) may change with age, these should be noted if possible. Any other relevant information can be added, such as suspected cause of death. Also give contact details if you want to have an identification confirmed.

Getting specimens to the Museum

Specimens can be delivered to the Museum at any time. Staff of the Bird Section are generally available from Monday to Friday during working hours. In their absence or on weekends and public holidays, specimens can be given to staff in Search & Discover, the Museum's enquiry and information centre, who will keep it frozen until they can forward it to the Bird Section. After hours, Security staff at the William Street entrance will ensure that specimens are placed in a freezer and the Bird Section staff notified.

Some National Parks offices have freezers in which they keep dead birds that have been found or brought in. Periodically, Museum staff visit the offices to clear the freezers and return the specimens to the Museum. If you contact the Bird Section, your nearest such drop off point can be identified.

For particularly rare or valuable specimens found in the Sydney area, a Museum staff member may be able to pick the specimen up from your home or business.

For parts of the state that lack a convenient drop off point, other arrangements may be made. Contact the Museum to discuss the possibilities.

Uses

There are many uses to which such specimens may be put. Depending upon the state of the body when it arrives and whether it has data with it, it may be added to the collection of study skins. Study skins form the bulk of the bird collection and are an invaluable research tool used by scientists, students and other researchers from all over the world to study various aspects of birds. However, they are primarily for research purposes so are not very suitable for display. 

If the specimen is in good condition but not required as a study skin, it may become a mounted specimen.  Mounts are prepared in lifelike poses and are well suited for display. A major use for mounts is in public programs, such as public galleries, Search & Discover, teaching collections or traveling exhibits. They are also used for research, both as part of the Museum's collections and in exchange programs with other institutions. 

Alternatively,the bird may become part of the skeleton collection, which is the fastest-growing part of the bird collection and is of primary importance to scientists, students, artists and other researchers for studying avian anatomy.  If the specimen is fairly damaged, sometimes just a wing or foot will be prepared instead of the whole bird.  Almost all specimens with data will have tissue samples taken to add to the DNA tissue library. 


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Tags birds, dead, collecting, specimens, preservation,