Treasure of the Month: The Greater Adjutant

Our treasure of the month is now part of the ornithological collection at the Museum of Nature Hamburg. © LIB, F. Steinkröger


A large bird that became a big surprise for our taxidermists and bird experts. The Greater Adjutant is our treasure this month, which we present from our scientific collections. It was not initially clear that it was this rare bird…

Specimens find their way into our scientific collections through various means: Animals like spiders, insects, or frogs are typically captured by researchers in the field, while mammals are more often presented to us as carcasses or already prepared specimens. These may come from private individuals, other museums, or, as in the case of one large bird, from a school in Hamburg.

Not all Marabou storks are the same – while all birds of this genus are notably large, there are differences in their plumage and distribution. When a specimen from a school in Hamburg arrived at our museum, our experts initially thought it was an African Marabou (Leptoptilos crumeniferus). Matthias Preuß was tasked with restoring the specimen: “It’s common for very old objects to be contaminated or damaged,” says the head of preparation at the Museum of Nature Hamburg.

The Marabou has entirely white undertail feathers, whereas this birds were grey: “It didn’t make sense to me, so I started researching. That’s when I noticed that the wing coverts didn’t match those of a Marabou but instead belonged to a Greater Adjutant.” Bird expert Dr Nicholas Friedman, head of the Ornithology section at the Museum of Nature Hamburg, was consulted and confirmed Matthias Preuß’s suspicion that it was a much rarer species than initially assumed: a Greater Adjutant. This prompted an extensive restoration of the specimen. The incorrectly coloured eyes were replaced, missing air sacs in the neck were modelled, and the skin was recoloured.

Currently, there are only about 1,000 Greater Adjutants left in the wild in South Asia. Once again, humans are the reason why the species is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): destruction of breeding and feeding habitats due to wetland drainage, pesticide use, as well as hunting and egg collection have led to a rapid decline in the population.

“All credit for this should go to Matthias, who first washed the bird and then noticed the discrepancy between the specimen and what it was supposed to look like. This is a very special and rare bird, and I hope we get a chance to show it to visitors sometime soon.” summarizes Friedman about their discovery. The approximately one and a half meter tall bird complements the stork collection at the Museum of Nature Hamburg. It now totals 17 specimens of the genus Leptoptilos, with 14 of them being Marabou storks.


The treasure was cleaned as follows:

Here we see our treasure before our preparators really got started. © LIB, M. Preuß
The damages are being recorded for later restoration. They need to be repaired, and the faded skin needs to be recolored. © LIB, M. Preuß
The completely dusty bird had to be completely washed. © LIB, M. Preuß
After cleaning with an aqueous cleanser, it needs to be done quickly so that the skin does not soften: The bird is immediately dried with cloths…© LIB, M. Preuß
…before it hangs upside down like a bat and is completely dried with drying powder. After this treatment, the hoped-for success did not materialize. The white undertail feathers typical of the Marabou remained gray. Subsequently, the investigation began. © LIB, M. Preuß


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