Wardrobe drawer containg bird eggs from the William Gibbs collection. Photograph by George Serras. National Museum of Australia.

What bird (egg) is that?

How many species of birds can you identify just by looking at the size, shape and colour of their eggs? For me, the answer is probably one or two, so I recently asked collection donor Bill Gibbs and ornithologist Dick Schodde to visit the Museum to help describe the species represented in some 276 bird eggs. For me, engaging with these beautiful eggs provoked complicated thoughts of loss and appreciation.

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A dead shearwater on Tathra beach, New South Wales. November 2013. Photograph: Daniel Oakman

Wrecks on the South Coast

Not what you were expecting?

When I walked the beaches of the far south coast a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting it either. The usually empty stretches of sand were littered with the dead and dying bodies of hundreds upon hundreds of short-tail shearwaters, commonly called mutton-birds. These events are called ‘wrecks’. They occur when these migratory birds return to Australia to breed after a journey of some 15,000 kilometres from the Bering Sea near eastern Russia, Canada and Alaska. If they are unable to feed or rest in calm water, they can perish in their thousands. They then wash up on the beach, exhausted, emaciated and half drowned.

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Bob Pitt with his award winning bantam at the Longford Show, Longford Tasmania

A winning chicken

Australians seem to be falling in love with chooks. Poultry keeping and showing is booming around the country, and the Museum is building its own flock.

The Museum recently acquired an oil painting, believed to be by S.Thomson, of ‘Robert’, a striking black-red, hard feathered, Modern Game Bantam. This magnificent rooster won the Waugh Cup for ‘best bird’ at the Old Goulburn Poultry, Pigeon and Canary Club’s annual show in 1921. Continue reading

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Australia’s favourite birds

Have you seen a pennantian parrot lately? Do wattled bee-eaters live in your backyard? What about the crested goatsucker or the white vented crow?

This week is BirdLife Australia’s annual Bird Week, and, to celebrate, the conservation organisation is inviting Australians to vote for their favourite bird. This avian election prompted my colleague Martha Sear and I to wonder which species the first British settlers in Australia might have selected as their favourite local bird, so we looked at the National Museum’s copy of Surgeon-General John White’s Journal of a Voyage to new South Wales to see how he might have voted in the Bird Week survey.

It turns out that White was fascinated by a number of different birds that he found in the Sydney area, buts it’s tricky to figure out exactly which species caught his interest. His journal features birds with quite unusual names, like the pennantian parrot and the crested goatsucker, that I’ve certainly never heard of before.

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