Flocks, Charms and Lamentations – a Look at the Hidden Birds in our Collections

The theme of this year’s Heritage Open Days is Hidden Nature. We’re taking a look at the birds scattered around the Royal Pavilion.

Duck for cover

Enter the Music Room and your eyes will rest on many a stunning detail, however, there are more obscure details that may go unnoticed. In amongst the wading birds on the walls there is one bird more hidden than the others. You may be thinking it is peeping out of the reeds and grasses but this bird is probably the most hidden bird in the whole of the Pavilion.

The outline of a duck hides on a wall, perhaps not quite in plain sight and is surprisingly hard to find. You really have to visit to see what I mean.

A fowl feast

Speaking of ducks, it seems obvious now but the kitchen wasn’t the first place that sprang to mind when thinking of birds. There are taxidermy ducks, pheasants and swans in the Great Kitchen. The menu features a fascinating range of birds: terrine of larks, ducklings Luxembourg, consommé with chicken quenelles, tart of thrushes au gratin and braised ducklings with lettuce these are just a few of the dishes.

An ostentation of peacocks

We will sweep past the ostentatious peacock in Queen Victoria’s Apartments, as it is the least likely bird to be hidden and they appear everywhere – on clocks, wallpaper and barometers.

There are many birds that appear on the wallpaper in Queen Victoria’s apartments. The list includes, cranes, parakeets, lovebirds, wading birds, common pheasants, golden pheasants and many more.

Some of the species are harder to identify than others. In an attempt to discover the species that are represented, I embarked on some bird detective work.

Hidden identity

One that I was fairly happy to identify was the blue magpie, seen here:

However, it took a lot more work to identify these:

These birds have fairly clear colours and patterns, but I went for another detail when trying to find out what they are.

You can see in the picture below that there are whisker-like details that have been painted around the bird’s beak.

These are known as rictal bristles and appear on birds across very wide ranging species, from nightjars to kiwis. They were thought to aid birds in catching airborne prey. However, it is now thought that they serve to inform the bird of their speed and orientation in the air. And in the case of the kiwi, they help it forage for prey at night.

Digressions aside, knowing that I was looking for birds with rictal bristles I narrowed down the geographical range that fits with the Royal Pavilion. Adding a little bit of bird knowledge, the likely candidates were Asian barbets. Here’s one from our hidden collections (behind the scenes) at the Booth Museum:

Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to narrow it down to a single species so its identity remains hidden. Do share if you think you may know what it is.

If you want to discover more birds from our collections, you can piece together this jigsaw of a bird illustration that appears in a book at the Booth Museum.

Discover more

Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant

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