Over South Yorkshire Skylines

Apr 16 2015

Over South Yorkshire Skylines’ at Weston Park Museum showcases the vast number and variety of birds that breed in and around Sheffield. Natural Sciences Curatorial Intern, Hannah Allum talks about creating her first museum display.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way natural history exhibitions can give new purpose, a sort of afterlife, to the animals on display. I hope I’ve managed to do just that with my very first attempt, Over South Yorkshire Skylines.

During my first week of joining Museums Sheffield as Natural Sciences Curatorial Intern I was told I’d be responsible for creating a display containing more than 130 birds! I was a tad daunted but couldn’t wait to get started.

The display is based on a book; Breeding Birds of the Sheffield Area including the North-East Peak District, which lists every species that was found calling for a mate, nesting or brooding eggs in the area. It was produced by the Sheffield Bird Study Group (SBSG) and shows the results of two major surveys from 1975-1980 and 2003-2008. Comparing results from both surveys allows us to see what has changed over time and consider the reasons for those changes. This is a crucially important part of protecting and conserving birds and other wildlife. In the last thirty years the number of bird species that breed in our region has increased. Unfortunately, the total number of individual birds is much lower than it used to be.

Curator installing bird displaySelecting the best specimens for display was a great way to become familiar with just a small portion of the thousands of Natural History specimens in the city’s collection. I worked my way through the long alleys of cabinets choosing the best taxidermy for my SBSG list. By the time I’d finished I had selected a beautiful bevy of species and had learned more Latin names and identification tips than I’d ever achieved with a pair of binoculars.

One species eluded me though, the tiny firecrest. Though it has only a few confirmed breeding records in South Yorkshire I was determined to represent it. Unfortunately, there were no specimens available for loan, and some offers from other museums actually turned out to be the very similar goldcrest. As such, the solution to representing the firecrest in our display is a picture of John Gould’s stunning hand-coloured lithograph which resides in the Ruskin collection here at Museums Sheffield.

You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the simple and rewarding pastime of gazing at swirling starlings or a swooping peregrine. By exhibiting so many birds from the collection I’m providing a sort of 3D bird identification guide. I hope people use this opportunity to get better acquainted with the local feathered wildlife then head outdoors to see them in their natural habitat. From wetland to woodland and urban to upland this region has a fantastic range of birdwatching hotspots.

Over South Yorkshire Skylines is open at Weston Park Museum now – entry to the museum is free.


Top:  (From left to right) jay (Garrulus glandarius), buzzard (Buteo buteo), tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) © Museums Sheffield 

Middle: Natural Sciences Curatorial Intern, Hannah Allum with a green woodpecker, (Picus viridis) © Museums Sheffield


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