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Bird Corpses Aid Scientific Research

From time to time you may stumble across the corpse of a bird. This may be of use in scientific research. Common birds would not be of interest to scientists but rare birds and those with unusual plumage or aberrations in their plumage certainly would be.

Finders of rare specimens are often keen to keep them for themselves but the plumage can quickly fade. Specimens which are simply left where they are will rot or will be destroyed by insects. Few corpses survive intact for very long unless donated quickly and preserved by experts and so are lost to science. For example, a recent review of grey-checked thrushes in the UK revealed that just four of the nine known corpses are now traceable.

Where should you take a bird corpse?

If you find the fresh corpse of a bird which may be of interest to science, it is best if this is handed to a suitable museum as quickly as possible. The bird can then be properly preserved. The plumage, tissues, blood, skeleton, stomach contents and any parasites present may all be of value to researchers. Even parts of a corpse and single feathers could be worth donating to the right establishment. Skin collections at national museums are the most suitable places to deposit your finds.

In the UK, the museums with skin collections 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)

The following museums are recognised as having bird collections of national or international significance and may also be interested in a corpse:

  • Great North Museum
  • Manchester Museum
  • Booth Museum (Brighton)
  • Oxford University Museum of Natural History
  • Wiltshire Heritage
  • Leeds Museums and Galleries

Some establishments may even be interested in receiving the corpses of more common birds, but you should check with them before attempting to deposit a find.

Project Splatter

This enterprise is being run by Cardiff University. They don’t need to see the corpses of dead birds but they are inviting everyone to report sightings of avian roadkill. You can do this online and the researchers will then translate your find into a grid reference to enable them to update a map of roadkill across the country. This is to be used in scientific research.

The project also welcomes reports of mammals, amphibians and reptiles which have been killed on the road. It is hoped that the information collected will enable scientists to assess the impact of the roads on our native wildlife. It will be possible to learn which species are most vulnerable and to evolve ways to reduce the number of deaths.

Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme

Chemicals called second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) are used to control rodent populations but are also poisonous to other wildlife. Clearly any species which feed on rodents are likely to be exposed to the poison. The Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme (PBMS) is measuring the level of toxins in predatory birds. The organisation welcomes samples of any dead birds of prey which you may find.


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