New nests for Museum's eggs

Monday 06 April 2020

A project to catalogue, digitise and improve the storage of the Museum's egg collection has been underway since February.

The egg collection is largely made up of New Zealand bird eggs and numbers around 2,500 objects. A clutch is considered one object and a single clutch can range from one to over ten eggs.

The project’s aim is to improve the collections storage and data standards, which are fairly dated and in some cases incomplete. This involves cataloguing the entire collection, including photographing each egg so the images can be accessed online. At the end of the project every object will be repacked into custom-ordered clear Perspex boxes and taxonomically organised into drawers, with fully verified records on the Museum's database. As a result, accessing these fragile and valuable objects will be safer and easier.

Pre-project egg storage

Pre-project egg storage

Egg drawers

Improved egg storage

Egg collecting or oology has been undertaken by naturalists and hobbyists alike for almost 350 years. Egg collecting went through a hugely popular period in the 1800s but by the mid-1900s it had slowed down as it was seen less as a respectable scientific discipline and more as a fashionable hobby.

However, views changed again with the increase in knowledge around the need for wildlife conservation. New Zealand legislative changes in the early twentieth century increased the protection of wild birds, which included their eggs. Today’s protection has further improved with most native birds and their eggs protected under the Wildlife Act 1953 making collection illegal without Department of Conservation approval. Fortunately many historical collections were donated or held by museums. Historical egg collections can provide researchers an insight into past bird populations and egg evolution over time. This information can help in the conservation efforts of today’s struggling bird populations.

eggs combined

Sooty Tern eggs. Canterbury Museum AV3753/AV23738

Above is an example of photos we have been taking for the digitisation of the collection. Pictured is a Sooty Tern, Onychoprion fuscatus egg. Sooty Terns in New Zealand only breed within the Kermadec Islands as they are a tropical/subtropical species. In the 1960s estimated breeding pairs on the Kermadecs were at 80,000, however the introduction of cats and rats saw the population drastically drop to just 2000 pairs by 1995. This decrease is not surprising as sooty terns only breed once a year with single-egg clutches. Thanks to conservation efforts cats and rats have been eradicated from the Kermadec Islands since 2004. Encouraging estimates from 2009 showed the Sooty Tern population to be between 7000 and 10,000 pairs, so it appears these birds are recovering.

Thumbnail image: White-fronted Tern eggs. Canterbury Museum AV23946

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