Curator's Choice: Aberdeen University Zoology Museum

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The Independent Culture
The Zoology department at Aberdeen University still has a large museum. Established in the 1840s by the then Regius Professor of Natural History, William MacGillivray, it is primarily a collection representing the whole of the animal kingdom but it also has records and specimens that relate to research activities.

Organised bird ringing began in Britain in 1909. The first scheme was the Aberdeen University Bird Migration Inquiry, established in April. It was set up by Arthur Landsborough Thomson, an assistant in the Department, and the first birds were ringed on 8th May 1909. In the early days of the scheme, volunteers marked birds in a non-selective way but later on they began to concentrate on particular species, on lapwing, song thrush, blackbird, starling, mallard, and woodcock. Large numbers of young lapwings were ringed during the inquiry and the specimen now in the museum was ringed on Foveran Links, near the mouth of the River Ythan, about ten miles north of Aberdeen, on 4th July 1915. It was shot near Oporto in Portugal on 24th November the same year.

Presumably the person who shot it was impressed by the presence of the ring on its leg and the bird was given to a local British resident. When he died it was sent to the ornithologist Harry Forbes Witherby. In 1931, sixteen years after the bird flew south, Witherby sent the skin back to Aberdeen, where it has pride of place today as probably the oldest specimen of a ringed bird in Britain.

Dr Robert Ralph is Curator of Aberdeen University's Zoology Department Museum.

The Museum is open Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4.30pm, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen (0224 272850)