The ornithology collection of the Zoological Museum Hamburg (as part of CeNak) comprises approximately 30,000 bird skins and mounted birds, representing approximately 3,500 species. Futher specimens include 4,000 skeletons, 2,000 wet specimens (ethanol), 15,000 eggs, and 20,000 feather accounts. Among these specimens, a substantial part is considered historically valuable, such as the ornithological collection of the Museum Godeffroy from the South Pacific (Fiji Islands, Samoa).
Geographic coverage of the the collection is vast and includes, for example: Germany, Sao Tomé, East Russia, China, Angola, East Africa, India, Pacific realm, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Phillipines, New Guinea, Australia, and Bismarck Archipelago.
The collection suffered from substantial losses during World War II. Catalogues were destroyed. 1945–1967 the collection increased substantially (9,000 specimens). The Hamburg Indian Expedition and Hamburg Angola Expedition contributed much to the growth of the collection during that time. Further integration of other collections increased the quality and quantity of the collection, first and foremost Gomez (1957; Ecuador, 1,700 specimens), Oelckers (1958; worldwide; 2,400) and Zeidler (1962; worldwide; 1.600). Smaller contributions included various collections and donations (F. Dörries, G.A. Fischer, G. Hartmann, G. Heidemann, G. Heinrich Heinze et al., D. von Holst, H. Kelm, G.A. von Maydell, J.C. Godeffroy, Amalie Dietrich, A. Garrett, E. Gräffe, Capt. Heinsohn, F. Hübner, Th. Kleinschmidt, J.S. Kubary, A. Tetens, H. Möschler, D.S. Rabor, Prof. Rockstroh, H. Schubotz, A. Schultze, W. Schulz, G. Siemssen, W. Trense, K. Weiß, P. Wyrwich). Since 1968, the Hamburg ornithology collection doubled its size. Finally, a number of specimens has been transferred from the Altonaer Museum to the Zoological Museum Hamburg.
A noteworthy specialty of the collection are 2,000 magpies (Coll.Kelm) from all over Europe that which document the morphological variation in that species. Other from this exception, however, there is no dominating taxonomic group in the collections, yet there are relatively higher numbers of specimens belonging to Trochilidae and Columbidae. This explains why the representation of species (approx. 3,500) is high compared to the total number of specimens.
More than 100 specimens represent type material. The latest printed type catalogue was from 1898. Currently no printed type catalogue exists, but the type material was digitally registered with the GBIF database. The digital database was initiated by Dr. Hoerschelmann and has been adjusted and expanded since then, however, full coverage of the collection in the electronic database has not been achieved yet.
The bird collection regularly accepts birds that were found dead in the region by naturalists and organizations. Tropical birds are accepted from zoological Gardens as well. Currently, the Zoological Museum Hamburg does not actively pursue any bird collecting.
The bird collection with its specimens, data, and expertise gets many requests from external researchers, interested laymen and the general public. The unit is active in loans for scientific purposes, with an increasing percentage of genetic materials for DNA analyses.
Curators and acting curators of the bird collection:
- Georg Christoph Gottlieb Thorey (1843- 1846)
- Dr. med. Barthold Gaedechens (1846-1855)
- Dr. med. Moses Paul Friedrich Phillipp Schmidt (1855-1861)
- Dr. Herrmann Adolf Ruete (1861-1867, auch Säugetiere) [first catalogue]
- Dr. Carl Herrman Dorner (1868-1875)
- Dr. Heinrich Bolau (1875-1882)
- Dr. Georg Pfeffer
- Dr. Nicolaus Peters sen. (1928-1949) [also curator of mammalogy department]
- Dr. Werner Ladiges (1936-1939) [acting curator]
- Prof. Anton Reichenow [acting curator] until 1941
- Prof. Wilhelm Meise (1956-1971)
- Dr. Heinrich Hoerschelmann (1971-1997)
- Prof. Dr. Alexander Haas (2003-2019 [acting curator; also curator
- Dr. Dieter Thomas Tietze since 2019