Ornithology – Is the name given to the study of birds. Ornithology is derived from the ancient Greek ornis meaning bird and logos meaning explanation.
The department of Ornithology boasts of a very comprehensive collection of birds and is the largest collection of bird skins in Africa and the fourth largest biggest in the world after those at The British Museum in Tring, The Museum of Central Africa in Belgium and the American Museum of Natural History. It comprises about 100 000 study skins, 2 000 skeletons, 8 000 egg clutches, a few nests, a small anatomical collection as well as 40 types specimens. The bird collection dates back to the early 1900s and by 1947 the collection was well organised and large additions were made to it by way of Museum expeditions both locally and to neighbouring Botswana. When Michael P.S. Irwin(see past curators) became Curator of Ornithology, he did extensive collecting locally as well as Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia and later Tanzania and Kenya. Specimens from the rest of Africa were obtained mainly by exchange. Today the collection has a 90% coverage of the Ethiopian Region. The egg collection has been built entirely by way of donations from egg collectors within and without the borders. The department also holds the biggest database for the Nest Record Cards (+40 000) relating to most of the solitary breeders in Zimbabwe. The scheme was established in 1951 by the then Rhodesia Ornithological Society under the auspices of the South African Ornithological society and in 1981 it was handed over to Museums to administer. This is an ongoing exercise that has grown over the years as a result of the voluntary work of dedicated bird watchers.
The size and comprehensive nature of this collection makes it a valuable database for research to resolve various taxonomic and systematic issues. The department has worked closely with Birdlife Zimbabwe on the Important Bird Areas Project and Southern African Bird Atlas. The collection was also very useful in the production of the Birds of Zimbabwe by M.P.S. Irwin in the early 1980s.
Current and Future Research Projects
The Present Curator, Mrs Viola Makazava is currently computerising the collection as well as undergoing research on the Southern Ground Hornbill.