Birds: Brilliant & Bizarre, Natural History Museum, 2024
Photo: Trustees of the Natural History Museum
  • Things to do, Exhibitions
  • Natural History Museum, South Kensington
  • Recommended


Birds: Brilliant & Bizarre

4 out of 5 stars

This enjoyable new exhibition tells the story of our feathered friends via slick tech and the NHM’s vast collection of stuffed birds

Andrzej Lukowski

Time Out says

While its permanent collections are showing their age now – that age being approximately 163 years – the Natural History Museum’s temporary exhibits are a world apart. Modern, witty, spacious and hi-tech: they’re a window into what might be if the NHM was refounded in the twenty-first century.

‘Birds: Brilliant & Bizarre’ doesn’t have an especially incisive story to tell beyond ‘birds are great!’ (It would be weird if it was ‘birds are terrible!’) but it is is, nonetheless, a beautifully put together journey through the story of our avian pals that mixes slick techy stuff with a thoughtful delve into the museum’s vast taxidermy vaults (if your archive includes an entire family of stuffed hummingbirds – including the nesting babies – you might as well give it a public airing occasionally).

One great thing for younger audiences is that our feathered friends are an offshoot of dinosaurs - hence licence for the first quarter or so of ‘Birds’ to concern itself with their prehistoric ancestors, with particular attention paid to dino-bird crossover creature archaeopteryx.

After that it’s an entertaining grab bag, a nicely laid out mix of… bird stuff, with a striking early piece being the gigantic stuffed albatross suspended from the ceiling with its gigantic fluffy chick under it. We’re told the mother was killed by a fishing trawler, which sets up the eco undertones of the rest of the exhibit. It’s not just about wacky bird facts, but the sense that these creatures’ lives are in our hands: a simulated murmuration of starlings is paired with information about their dramatic decline over the last three decades and the decreased chance of actually seeing one in the wild now. 

There are wacky bird facts. Witness a stork that was shot by an arrow in Africa in the nineteenth century, survived to fly to Germany, where it was killed, stuffed and shipped off to Britain - not a dignified life, but it helped prove scientific theories of migration. Feel vaguely nauseous at the stories of a Hungarian blue tit colony that have learned to eat the brains of sleeping bats. Smile at the dodo-like, surely extinct great bustard then double take when it is divulged that there are a load living in Salisbury.

There is fun digital stuff like the murmuration and a video game for kids in which they play a jay trying to make it through winter. But the heart of the show certainly lies in smart use of the NHM’s vast stock of archival stuffed birds, paired with catchy facts and a conservationist message. 

It doesn’t quite have a climactic show stopper like the patagotitan in last year’s ‘Titanosaur’ exhibition (the equivalent here is a big video installation imagining a carbon neutral Britain of 2050 in which bird populations have rebounded). It could probably tell more of a ‘story’. But it is great fun and it’s hard to understate how incredible it is to visit an exhibit at a British museum that actually feels like it’s from the present day (or perhaps even the future). 


Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
Tube: South Kensington
£16.50, children £9.95

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