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Living birds are warm-blooded vertebrate animals that have:
- forelimbs modified as wings
- scales on their legs and feet
- a bill without teeth
- lay hard-shelled eggs
The Australian Museum has one of the largest ornithological collections in the Southern Hemisphere. A recent count puts the total specimen count for the bird collection at 90,000 registered specimens, including 360 Type specimens, all of which are stores both onsite at the museum in the Sydney CBD and at the Castle Hill Discovery Centre. The collection contains a large variety of bird skins, mounts, skeletons, eggs, nests, spirit specimens and tissue samples, representing approximately 95 percent of the world's bird families and 75 percent of all living bird species.
While the main emphasis is on species from New South Wales, almost all species that breed in Australia are well represented. The collection also contains around 3,500 non-Australian species, many of which hail from New Guinea, New Zealand, the south-west Pacific. The collection has great historical and scientific significance. It contains many rare, endangered and extinct species plus a significant number of Type specimens, primarily from Australia and the Pacific Islands. As many specimens date from the mid-1860s, some even earlier, the collection affords us an insight into avian biology, morphology, anatomy and geographical distributions over time. The Australian Museum’s egg collection is very large, rivalling other large world collections like the American Museum of Natural History.
The collection is historic and dates back to the inception of the AM. Important collectors or figures associated with the collection include G. Krefft, AJ North, G. Masters, EP Ramsay (Dobroyde Collection), E. Troughton and FG Waterhouse; notable Scientific officers and Collection staff include T. Iredale, JA. Keast, KA Hindwood, J. Disney and WE Boles.