Birds are part of the theropod dinosaur group. While birds have many special characteristics such as a keratinised beak, feathers and the ability to lay eggs, it is their front limbs (the wings) that have traditionally been the feature that has caught people’s imagination. Although rather similar morphologically, their behaviours and habitats are highly diversified.
The bird collection comprises around 130,000 study skins, including 2,500 types, 600 of which have been confirmed, and about 400 specimens from a hundred of extinct or endangered species. There are 30,000 mounted specimens, 6,000 skeletons and small collections of fluid specimens, nests and eggs.
A collection of tissues (a few thousand samples), gut content and intestinal parasites is linked to most of the recently prepared specimens. These tissues are mainly used for research purposes by the MNHN staff (researchers, thesis or master’s students) but are also loaned for research projects from other institutions (French or international). The collection holds specimens from about 75% of the extant recognized species worldwilde (out of the 10,000 recognised to date).
Catalogues of the type specimens are periodically published in systematic order. 28,500 specimens can be viewed online, but only studt skins from France and the skeleton collection have been systematically databased.
The collections are the result of many expedition carried out since the end of the 18th century. Buffon and P. Sonnerat are among the first historical contributors. Many ornithologists and explorers further added to the collection.
Three main collections were donated to the Muséum: Verreaux brothers, Dr Marmottan and A. Boucard. In the early 19th century, some importantt collections were were made from South America by Delalande, Alcide d’Orbigny and De Castelnau. Later in the century, important collections were sent by Armand David (Asia), A. Marche (Africa, Philippines and Marianas Islands) and L.-R. Germain ("Cochinchina", New Caledonia), and in the 20th century by G. Babault (India and equatorial Africa), R. Malbrant (Africa) and J. Delacour (Indochina and Madagascar) in particular.
The collections brought back by the great French expeditions in the first half of the 19th century, like those of the "Naturaliste" and the "Géographe" (Captain N. Baudin), "L’Uranie" (L. de Freycinet,), "La Coquille" (I. Duperrey), "La Thétys" and "L’Espérance" (H. de Bougainville) and "L’Astrolabe" (J. Dumont d’Urville) are among the largest contributions.
The bird collections are mostly used for scientific research or public exhibits. The mounted specimens are used for in-house exhibitions but are also loaned to other institutions. The study bird collections are used for taxonomic studies (description of new species, species limits), morphological studies (including plumage variation), and etho-ecological studies (coloration patterns, plumage reflectance).
The skeletons are used for comparative work or as a reference for the identification of remains found in archaeological sites. Tissue samples and specimens are a source of DNA for phylogenetic/phylogeographic and population genetics studies. The collection is growing regularly (seized items, rescue centres, zoos, field expeditions).