A mountain of bird eggs: Unpacking the collection

I dedicated much of my year as a Biology Curatorial Trainee working on the bird egg collection at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre after it had been left packed up following the move from the old store. You can read an introduction to this project in my previous post. My first task was to unpack the specimens to improve their storage and see what we had.

A lot of the eggs had been removed from cabinet drawers and individually bagged up and put in cardboard boxes. I also discovered recently bagged up specimens still in their original makeshift containers, such as shoe boxes, cocoa boxes and cigar cases, including one with late 19th century newspaper as padding (see image). 

Removing them from these tight confines dramatically improved the storage of these specimens and reduced the risk of damage. There were also specimens that hadn’t yet been removed from partitioned cabinet drawers, often lined with deteriorating, highly acidic (sometimes pink) cotton wool. I individually bagged up these specimens so they were no longer in contact with the acidic lining and could be separated out when later rearranging the collection. I kept any data with the newly bagged specimens. 

Some specimens didn’t need unpacking as they were stored in individual glass-topped boxes, which offered the best possible storage for the collection. The specimens were laid into the drawers within the racking (see right).

As I unpacked these boxes and drawers, I stumbled across lots more boxes of specimens that I knew would require a bit more work. It was at this point that I realised what I had let myself in for and was glad I enjoyed pair matching games. The boxes contained large poly bags each filled with an assortment of eggs. I could tell by collector marks on the eggs that some of them belonged together.

I spent many days matching up specimens (see left) including some that had been in separate bags and could well have been stored separately for years. These specimens were also laid into the drawers.

I really enjoyed the unpacking phase, even when having to match up mountains of mixed eggs. It was actually quite therapeutic and satisfying being able to unite specimens and reinstate clutches of eggs. 

Being the first person to look over the collection as a whole was quite a privilege. I got to see all of the great specimens we have including the largest egg, from an elephant bird, to eggs from endangered and extinct species, such as the Passenger Pigeon. I was also able to uncover the quirky specimens and reveal for the first time the unique stories behind them.

By Kirsty Garrod, Biology Curatorial Trainee

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