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Bird corpses, bits of birds and ornithological research

Wiki_dead sparrow_Bourg-Saint-Maurice_-_dead_birdCorpses of birds, and bits of birds, have a usefulness that is often insufficiently appreciated by those who find them. Specimens that survive can continue to provide new information for tens, or hundreds, of years (e.g. British Birds 93: 61-73, 2001).

Although the finders of some rarities are keen to retain them in their possession, the plumage may fade very quickly (due to light exposure) lessening their scientific value. Such specimens are also prone to damage or total destruction by insect pests such as moths or beetles, or they may rot away as the fat in the skin decomposes. In any case, personally held specimens are not accessible to other researchers. Characteristically, few such specimens survive longer than a couple of decades and ultimately they are lost to science. During the most recent review of Grey-cheeked Thrushes Catharus minimus in the British Isles, it was discovered that only 4 of the 9 dead birds were traceable (British Birds 89: 1-9, 1996).

Give your finds to a museum

Fresh corpses should preferably be passed to a museum where the specimen will be preserved. Research use is likely to go beyond identification. Depending on circumstances, other material may also be preserved, e.g. whole or part carcass, tissue or blood samples, external and internal parasites, stomach contents and skeleton. It is usually possible to salvage parts with valid research potential even if the specimen is fragmentary – perhaps only a wing or a few feathers – or is partially decayed. In some cases, single feathers may be significant.

The BOU strongly encourages finders of rare bird corpses, and also of birds in less well-known plumages or with plumage aberrations, to deposit them with a collection where they will be preserved and made available for research. Skin collections at national museums are generally recognised as the most suitable depositories for rarities.

In the UK, these museums are –

The Natural History Museum (Tring)

National Museums of Scotland (Edinburgh)

National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside (Liverpool)

National Museums & Galleries of Wales (Cardiff)

Ulster Museum (Belfast)

In addition to national museums, the following are formally recognised by UK Government as having bird collections of national and international significance: 

Great North Museum

Manchester Museum

Booth Museum (Brighton)

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Wiltshire Heritage

Leeds Museums and Galleries

You may wish to deposit your specimen with a local natural history collection near your. See here

Some museums, both national and local, are also keen to receive good specimens of commoner birds, but this should always be checked with them before supplying specimens.

Project Splatter – report roadkill corpses online

Also, there is now Project Splatter to which you can report road kill corpses to online (they don’t need the corpse). Its tun by Cardiff University and they turn your sighting into a grid reference and then use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to map where the roadkill is across the UK, which they can then report back to citizen scientists.

You can also find them on Twitter as @ProjectSplatter

Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme

One of the vital monitoring programmes that the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme (PBMS) operates is to measure the levels of second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) in predatory birds. The Health and Safety Executive, the body responsible for regulation of rodenticide use in the UK, has identified PBMS monitoring of SGARs in barn owls as a way of monitoring the impacts of changes in SGAR usage regulations.

SGARs are widely used to control pest rodent populations but can be toxic to all mammals and birds. Predators that feed upon rodents are particularly likely to be exposed.

More information on PBMS

Found a ringed bird?

Millions of birds are ringed/banded annually around the world. If you find a bird with a ring/band on then report it as per the instructions on the ring, providing date, time, location, how it died (if known) and the species (if known).

Many ringing/banding schemes have an online reporting service such as EURING for birds ringed in Europe.

Image credit

Top right: dead House Sparrow © Tiia Monto via Wikimedia Commons

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