History of the Section

First ornithological entries

The stuffed skins of birds were in the collections of the Cabinet of Natural History from its very beginning in 1791. All of them were unfortunately perished in the Moscow Fire of 1812. However, 422 bird specimens were listed by G. Fischer in his catalogue of renewed Cabinet in 1822. All of them were still stuffed skins made quite roughly and sometime in unnatural postures; in addition, they lack information on origin of the specimens which diminished their scientific significance.

Several specimens of that old collection still exist in the Museum. The stuffed skin of Knipolegus nigerrimus obtained from Brazil in 1819 is the oldest of them. The specimen of Podoces panderi collected by E. Eversmann in Kyzyl Kum Desert in 1820 (or in 1821) is also to be mentioned as it became the type of the above species.

Of great value was an extensive collection of South American birds collected in Brazil in 1821-1828 by famous naturalist and ethnographer G. Langsdorff. A specimen of toucan Pteroglossus aracari brought also from Brazil to the Museum in 1838 is still displayed in the exhibition. There not few other bird stuffed skins of so called "old museum collection" are presrved in the Museum but absence of the original labels does not allow to trace back their history of origin.


Turning to the purposeful collecting

Acquisitions of bird specimens by the Museum became more regular and more extensive since the 1840s. They were now provided with the labels containing some information about both their origin (place and date) origin and about their collectors. Some interesting gatherings were brought to the Museum at those times by G.S. Karelin from Siberia, Dzhungaria and Caspian Sea, by A. Nordmann from Ukraine, Bessarabia and Caucasus, by A. Romanovsky and I. Kuprianov from Russian America, as well as by K. Roullier from Central Russia.

Explorations in Russian avifauna were activated in the second half of XIX century. Many geographical and zoological expeditions were arranged by Russian Geographical Society, such as those of A.N. Severtsov, N.M. Przhevalsky, A.P. Fedtchenko etc., which collected very rich and important ornithological materials. The specimens collected came to this Museum or to the museum in St.Petersburg. The most interesting of them were the following.

I.N. Shatilov donated 405 bird specimens collected by himself during 1854-1868 in Crimea. This collection was serving the only source of the data on the birds of that region for a long time. Its significance is illustrated, among other things, by the fact that it contains a downy nestling of the big curlew which is the only evidence of former nesting of that species in Crimea.

Severtsov's collection contains several hundreds of bird specimens he had obtained in Middle Asia. Although most of the materials brought by N.M. Przhevalsky from Inner Asia came to St.Petersburg, he retained several hundred specimens for himself, and they were donated after his death to this Museum by his brother. Both famous Asian collections contain type specimens of newly described species and constituted the factual basis of zoogeographical explorations of respective regions.

Many bird specimens came from acknowledged preparator K. Lorenz. M.A. Menzbier was donating interesting birds for several years. Small, but interesting collections were obtained from A.P. Fedchenko's expedition to Mountain Turkestan, from A.N. Kharuzin's trips to the “Kyrgyz Steppes”, from M.V. Pevzov's expedition to Western China. V.I. Isaev collected birds while participated in the round-the-world voyage of the ship “Admiral Nakhimov” in 1888-1890. A sample of humming birds were acquired from Reichenbach, and representatives of Madagascar fauna were bought from Paris Museum.

Of more late entries, B.M. Zhitkov's collection from Yamal Peninsula was of importance. Well known traveler V.K. Arseniev donated some bird specimens from Ussuri Region. Of special value was a gift of the birds of Paradise from a merchant A.S. Khomyakov.

In total, ornithological collection of this Museum contained nearly 11.000 specimens in 1917.


The post-revolution period

Acquisitions of ornithological collections to the Museum increased drastically after 1917. One of the causes of that growth was delivering of many private collections to the Museum as a state institution. One of the most important entries appeared to be 6.420 specimens of famous amateur ornithologist S.A. Buturlin gathered by him in north-eastern Yakutia. This collection contains a lot of type specimens of new taxa described by Buturlin. He prepared a monograph of birds of that region on the basis of his collection but the manuscript has been lost during revolutionary events and was not restored lately.

The excellent collection of 7.540 bird specimens owned by G.I. Polyakov was another very important acquisition. Moscow Society of Naturalists donated collection of 5.540 birds in 1936 which included unique gatherings of V.N. Bostanzhoglo in Northern Caspian steppes, those of P.V. Serebrovsky in Transcaucasia, and of E.S. Ptushenko from various parts of Soviet Union.

The other cause was deployment of active field works in various parts of Russia in the 1930s. Expedition of S.I. Ognev and K.A. Vorob'ev to Voronezh Government in 1919-1921 appeared to be one of most important and brought about 2.500 birds to the Museum. Such field explorations involving bird collecting became quite regular after 1932 when the Division of Ornithology was established. Regions of Middle Asia, Caucasus, Western Siberia were exploring most actively in these times.

During the War, new entries of bird specimens became evidently less numerous. G.P. Dementiev was studying Turkmenian avifauna in details and brought significant collections to Moscow.


The post-war period

Recommencement of faunistic investigations after the War was initiated by the Academy of Sciences and lead to growth of ornithological collections, though certainly not so rapid as during the 1930s. During the 1950s, most noticeable were collections obtained from famous geneticist N.P. Dubinin (Ural River), A.I. Gizenko (Sakhalin and Kuril Ills), E.E. Syroechkovsky (Antarctica), V.S. Zaletaev (Mangyshlak), etc.

In the 1960s, when ecological studies became predominating in ornithology, new bird collection entries reduced noticeably. So much the more significant appeared to be donations of old gatherings from various sources. The most noteworthy was a unique collection of M.M. Berezovsky from China originally obtained in 1884-1887 during G.N. Potanin's expedition and kept in Irkutsk regional museum. Of excellent quality were collections of V.A. Khahlov, K.A. Vorob'ev, A.A. Kishinsky, V.E. Flint from various parts of the USSR; collections of more than 700 birds of Baikal region obtained from Barguzin Reserve also was of great importance. Complex Soviet-Mongolian Biological expedition became an important source of new entries of bird of Central Asia since the 1970s.


The latest entries

Within the last decades, the largest collections of birds came to the Museum from ornithologists of Institute of Evolutionary Morphology and Ecology (now Inst. of Problems of Ecology and Evolution) of Acad. Sci., including big sample of Arctic birds (about 1.000 specimens); from V.E. Fomin from Southern Ural Mts. (840 specimens); from V.A. Ostapenko from Kamchatka and Kurils (440 specimens); from A.Yu. and Yu.Yu. Blokhins from various sites (more than 800 specimens). Of special importance are "foreign" entries, namely from Vietnam (more than 1.000 specimens) due to long-term work of expedition managed by Russian-Vietnamese Tropical Center, from western territories of North America (about 400 specimens).

In general, the most recent developments in ornithology lead to gradual lost of native tradition of faunistic bird collecting. Due to this, the rate of collection growth decreases. It does not mean, however, decrease of scientific significance of collections which constitue the factual basis of studies in biodiversity. That is why the Section welcomes both professional and amateur zoologists who use to collect (without crippling natural populations) and bring to the Museum birds for their subsequent service to the ornithological science.



The first curator of the Section, when it was established as a separate unit, was G.P. Dementiev, he remained in this position till 1947. Later on, the heads were sequently N.A. Gladkov (1947–1954), A.M. Sudilovskaya ((1954–1975), and P.S. Tomkovich (sine 1977). Dr. V.E. Flint was scientific curator of the Section sicne 1976.