A declaration that birds are dinosaurs is how an exhibition about birds in a museum famous for its dinosaurs opens, as it tells the story of avian evolution from the dinosaurs into your Christmas lunch.

The common idea that dinosaurs died out when an asteroid hit the earth has become considerably more complicated in just the past few decades. Recent discoveries have shown that dinosaurs were already evolving into birds when the asteroid hit, and the impact opened the door for that evolution to take flight.

In its new exhibition, the Natural History Museum is examining that transition, showing some of the oldest dinosaur fossils with feathers to the feathered friends we know today and the risk they face today of a new extinction-level event.

The exhibition also opens with a bit of a surprise, assuming, as I did, that birds breathe like the rest of us do. Because they don’t, and it was that difference that helped uncover the link between the T-Rex and the Turkey.

Leaving dinosaurs behind, one of the oldest birds, as we would recognise it, is here—the wonderfully nicknamed “wonderchicken.” Much of the rest of the exhibition looks at how birds have evolved further to fill the vast number of ecological niches in existence today.

However, that specialisation now threatens the survival of birds, largely due to mankind’s efforts to warm the planet and destroy native habitats. As one display board shows, the UK has lost over 70 million birds over the past 50 years, with some once-familiar favourites becoming increasingly rare.

In an exhibition filled with display cases of dead birds, one case is quite a sad sight. All the others are of the birds in poses as if they are alive, but one case shows them flat, dead, on their backs, having been killed by impacts with skyscrapers.

The exhibition isn’t entirely gloomy, though. It offers examples of how people are changing their behaviours to arrest and eventually reverse the decline. Even skyscraper designs can be improved. The exhibition ends with a video concept showing what the UK of the 2050s could look like with rewilding and thriving birdlife.

In the darkest days of the pandemic lockdown, one of the few uplifting outcomes was that nature became more vibrant for a while as humanity’s noise was silenced. Many of us wondered how we could change society to be kinder to nature as a result.

This exhibition shows that we can prevent the second extinction of the dinosaurs – by saving the birds.

As an exhibition, it’s quite eye-opening. I would bet many people raised on the asteroid extinction story and unaware of recent discoveries will be very surprised at how it opens. Another nice thing about the exhibition is how touchable it is—from resin models of bird skulls to an ancient dinosaur egg and several video screens set up similarly to Victorian peepshow displays.

It’s also nice to end with an uplifting message—showing that, yes, we can change things for the better.

The exhibition, Birds: Brilliant and Bizarre, is at the Natural History Museum until next January.

Adult: £16.50 | Child (4-16): £9.95 | Concessions: £13.20

  • Family (1 Adult, 2 Children): £29
  • Family (1 Adult, 3 Children): £36.95
  • Family (2 Adults, 1 Child): £34.25
  • Family (2 Adults, 2 Children): £42.25
  • Family (2 Adults, 3 Children): £50.25

There are also special prices for Art Fund and RSPB members.

Tickets can be booked in advance from here.


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One comment
  1. Susan says:

    Thank you for writing about this exhibit! It really got someone’s attention and added one more reason to visit London this year.

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