Bird Egg Collection:  The squiggly black pattern on the eggs of the African jacana (Actophilornis africanus) is very distinctive, these are specimens from the bird egg collection.


Bird Study Skin Collection: There are several species of kingfishers, this drawer from the bird study skin collection, contains striped (Halcyon chelicuti) and brown-hooded kingfisher (Halcyon albiventris) specimens.


Birds are one of the most perplexing evolutionary puzzles. Especially since palaeontologists made– at the time – the controversial claim that birds were directly descended from an unlikely source: dinosaurs. In 1861, in Germany a 150-million-year-old fossil named Archaeopteryx was discovered. It was believed to belong to a group of dinosaurs that bridged the evolutionary divide between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds. Archaeopteryx’s three toes with its claws and strong legs suggested that it certainly walked like birds, while its jaws, nose and bony tail was clearly reptilian. But the features on the fossil that clinched the claim were the wings and remnants of feathers on both sides of its tail bones. Even Charles Darwin would comment on the find in the fourth edition of his famous On the Origin of Species: “Hardly any recent discovery shows more forcibly than this how little we as yet know of the former inhabitants of the world.” During the 1990s fossil discoveries in China provided further proof for the dinosaur-to-bird hypothesis. Currently scientists are slowly piecing together a complete picture of the species’ evolution. During the Cretaceous Period (145-65 million years ago) birds diversified and their anatomy evolved for increased flight efficiency. There’s no doubt that birds’ mastery of the skies has allowed them to spread throughout the world, making a significant contribution to Earth’s biodiversity.

The Iziko Collections

Bird Study Skin Collection

The bird study skin collection focuses on South African species, but includes species from other parts of Africa as well as other regions of the world. It is one of the South African Museums oldest collection with specimens dating back to the 1800’s.

Bird Egg Collection

The bird egg collection includes species primarily from southern Africa.

Bird Osteology Collection

The bird comparative osteology collection includes complete skeletons representative of a large proportion of the southern African marine and terrestrial species. There is also some material from other African regions and elsewhere in the world, including important bones from the extinct dodo..


  • Biodiversity: A measure of the variety of organisms in different ecosystems.

  • Charles Darwin: The English naturalist (the study of organisms in their natural environment) and geologist (the study of earth science) who is considered the father of evolutionary thought, although he was inspired by the works of other scientists before him.

  • Dodo: A flightless bird that went extinct towards the end of the 17th century, although that date is still hotly debated.

  • Marine: Relating to the sea.

  • On the Origins of Species: The book, published in 1859, in which Charles Darwin introduced the theory that populations had evolved over time through a process called natural selection.

  • Osteology: The study of the structure and function of the skeleton and bony structures.

  • Terrestrial: Relating to the Earth, and in this case referring animals that live primarily or mostly on land.


Denise Hamerton
Email: dhamerton@iziko.org.za
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 481 3870