Durban Natural Science Museum

Wednesday 17 JULY 2019

A wonderful turnout of 21 people for a Wednesday morning at the Museum.  David Allan, the curator of birds was very happy as the Honorary President, to invite BirdLife Port Natal, to once again spend a morning with him to see what work in the museum entails. Durban Natural Science Museum, housing over 40 000 skins, and many type specimens collected by imminent collectors, is one of the most important bird collections in Africa.  The skins at the museum serve a valuable function by being available to ornithologists, students, authors and artists of bird books to study, sample and compare.   

David focused his discussion on the recently acquired Amur Falcons (Falco amurensis) collected following the hailstorms in Mooi River and Newcastle.  This took place in the dying days of summer just before they were to embark on their northward migration and significantly affected the birds in their roosts.  Dedicated rescuers at Free Me in Howick in particular, but also elsewhere, worked hard to save those still alive and rehabilitate them with many birds being released to fly once again.  The downside was that many died from cold and injury.  

David went through the heart-breaking process of collecting the birds that didn’t survive, then began the long hard job of preparing the birds so that their skins are preserved.  We met David’s assistant and the interns assisting her in the preparation room where they were hard at work on some of the skins.  Removing the innards of the birds, and very delicately scraping them clean to have the best possible result is a laborious task but very necessary and these dedicated members of the team certainly deserve a round of applause for a job well done.  

One or two of the birds had been preserved with one wing fully extended, so that it was possible to look at how they fly and how agile they are as they go about catching their main diet, which is mainly insects.

A good morning was spent learning about the museum with an opportunity to know more about these amazing small raptors.  Thanks to David for his patience, commitment and humour – always a pleasure for the members.

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