Birds collection 

Fossil birds

Containing 40,000 specimens from throughout New Zealand, most of these remains are recent fossils less than 10,000 years old, but there are also good collections spanning the last 25,000 years.

This is one of the most important parts of the collection. It contains 40,000 specimens from throughout New Zealand.

Most are recent fossils less than 10,000 years old, but there are now also good collections for the last 25,000 years. Most of the collection consists of very incomplete skeletons from swamp deposits, but there is also important material, particularly of smaller birds, from caves near Takaka and the Oparara Valley, northwest Nelson. Much of this material has been collected recently by the renowned Te Papa Research Associate Trevor Worthy, who uses the collection for his well-known books and scientific papers.

Recent advances in the extraction of ancient DNA from fossils has also made this collection a great resource for researchers into the origins and relationships of New Zealand birds. Currently Te Papa has active collaboration with teams from several university genetic laboratories.

Important fossil bird collections from Niue, Fiji, and Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean are also held.

Bird skins and spread wings

Te Papa has over 20,000 skins and spread wings stored on trays in metal cabinets. The room containing the cabinets has a controlled environment and high levels of chemicals to discourage insect attack. This is the reference collection most frequently used to identify specimens, and is often used by artists.

All living New Zealand bird species and most living South Pacific bird species are represented, with strong collections from Fiji and Niue. There are also many specimens of related species from the Southern Oceans, Antarctica, and elsewhere in the world. The collection contains important specimens from Walter Buller, Andreas Reischek, Henry Travers, and Charles Fleming. The oldest specimens date back to the 1850s.

Skeletons of Recent Birds

This collection was only established in 1963, but has grown rapidly. It is intensively used to identify fossil bird remains, and also fragmentary specimens from beaches and other areas.

Mounted Birds

Our collection has several hundred mounted specimens of most New Zealand birds, as well as a few species from other countries. Mounted birds are displayed at Te Papa and are loaned to other New Zealand museums. The remainder are kept for future exhibitions or loans. These fragile specimens are carefully stored in cupboards and frames. 

Other bird specimens

In this category are casts of fossil birds, like Archaeopteryx, elephant bird eggs, and many moa ‘products’, such as mummified tissue, feathers, fossilised droppings, gastroliths (stones swallowed to aid digestion), eggshell fragments, and fossil footprints.

Bird Eggs and Nests

Eggs and nests are rarely studied today. However, some valuable collections are kept at Te Papa. These include parts of the collection of New Zealand bird eggs made by Captain Bollons, master of the government supply ships. Bollons visited subantarctic islands and remote lighthouses in the late nineteenth century. There is also Roy Bell’s collection. Bell was born on Raoul Island (Kermadec Is) and lived in later years on Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. Along with this collection is that of his correspondent W R B Oliver, later Director of the Dominion Museum.

There are also many eggs from private collections made in the nineteenth century in Australia, America, and Europe, but few complete clutches.