The Bird Collection comprises approximately 200,000 specimens and is the largest in Germany. Due to its diversity of species, approximately 5,000 type specimens, specimens from famous collectors and unique historic reference specimens, it is one of the most significant bird collections in the world.
The collection contains 140,000 feathered bird skins and approximately 10,000 mounted birds as well as 7,000 skeletons, 4,000 ethanol preparations, 40,000 eggs, 1,500 nests and 700 wing taxidermies.
Depending on which systematic approach is applied, the range of species owned by the Museum covers between 76 % and almost 90 % of recent bird species on Earth. The geographical foci lie on the birds of Brandenburg, early South American collections and colonial collections (Africa, South East Asia, New Guinea) and other large Asian collections.
The collection’s history was shaped in particular by curators Martin H. C. Lichtenstein (1780-1857), Jean L. Cabanis (1816-1906), Anton Reichenow (1847-1941) and Erwin Stresemann (1889-1972), who researched the collection over long periods of time and were responsible for their enlargement. It was under the auspices of Jean L. Cabanis and Erwin Stresemann that the collection became the heart of ornithological research in Germany. In 1853, Cabanis founded the "Journal für Ornithologie", which became the official publication of the Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft (German Society of Ornithologists, DO-G). Erwin Stresemann was one of the most important ornithologists in the 20th century. His merit lay in moving ornithology from a mainly faunistic-systematic approach to an integral part of modern biology. He built up a comprehensive ornithological library at the Museum für Naturkunde, integrating the library of the DO-G.
As the Museum für Naturkunde received comprehensive collections from the German colonies, Africa became a geographical focus. It was especially due to Erwin Stresemann’s efforts, who instigated and organised many expeditions during the first half of the 20th century, that comprehensive Asian collections were added. The Second World War left a trail of destruction and damage. Mounted birds were particularly affected, and to this day, the damage could not be completely repaired.