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Hebridean song thrushes

Bob McGowan

Bob McGowan
Senior Curator of Birds
Specific responsibility: Curation of bird collections, including skins, eggs and skeletons.
Research interests/expertise: His main interests lie in the history of collections, bird egg collections and the comprehensive archives of the Scottish naturalist J.A. Harvie-Brown (1844-1916).

Bob McGowan is Senior Curator of Vertebrates and specialises in birds.

Bob McGowan has a BSc Hons in zoology from the University of Edinburgh and joined the bird section at National Museums Scotland in 1978.

Access to the museum’s comprehensive skin collection led to an on-going appointment as museum consultant to Scottish Birds Records Committee (SBRC) in 1990. He was a member of the British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee (BOURC) from 2001 to 2010, and BOURC Chairman for the last four. He was an editor and author for The Birds of Scotland (2007). His interest in historical ornithology and documentation led to his appointment to the Archives sub-committee of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) Library in 2008, and he is currently an elected member of the SOC Council.

His main interests lie in the history of collections, bird egg collections and the comprehensive archives of the Scottish naturalist J. A. Harvie-Brown (1844-1916), which are held in the National Museums Scotland Library.

Between 1979 and 1996 the bird section prepared several hundred specimens from casualities of three oil spill incidents (Esso BerniciaBraer and Sea Empress) which boosted the museum’s contemporary holdings of several seabird species. Current collection interest centres on the use of new techniques (DNA and stable isotopes) to help answer questions on taxonomy and faunistics. He currently collaborates with Dr Chris McInerny (University of Glasgow) in compiling the annual SBRC report on rare birds in Scotland, and Prof Martin Collinson (University of Aberdeen) on ad hoc genetics-related projects. During 2014-15 the bird collections were installed in a new building which greatly facilitates ongoing curation and collection access.

McInerny, C.J. & McGowan, R.Y. 2021. Scottish Birds Records Committee report on rare birds in Scotland, 2019. Scottish Birds 41: 99-120.

McInerny, C.J. & McGowan, R.Y. 2021. ‘Mandt’s Black Guillemot’ in Lincolnshire: the BOURC assessment of the first British record. British Birds 114: 167-171.

Marini, M.A., Hall, L., Bates, J., Steinheimer, F.D., McGowan, R., Silveira, L.F., Lijtmaer, D.A., Tubaro, P.L., Córdoba-Córdoba, S., Gamauf, A., Greeney, H.F., Schweizer, M., Kamminga, P., Cibois, A., Vallotton, L., Russell, D., Robinson, S.K., Sweet, P.R., Frahnert, S., Corado, R. and Heming, N.M. 2020. The five million bird eggs in the world’s museum collections are an invaluable and underused resource. The Auk 137:

Shannon, T.J., Senfeld, T., Collinson, J.M., McGowan, R.Y., Hudson, N. & Porter, R. 2020. Genetic analysis of the Avoch 'Slender-billed Curlew'. British Birds 113: 421-424.

McGowan, R.Y. & McInerny, C.J. 2020. The first British record of "Continental Cormorant". British Birds 113: 418-421.

McInerny, C.J. & McGowan, R.Y. 2018. The polaris subspecies of Little Auk Alle alle on the British List. Scottish Birds 38: 297-303.

Jones, C.G., Jackson, H.A., McGowan, R.Y., Hume, J.P, Forshaw, J.M., Tatayah, V., Winters, R.  & Groombridge, J.J. 2018. A parakeet specimen held at National Museums Scotland is a unique skin of the extinct Reunion Parakeet Psittacula eques eques: a reply to Cheke and Jansen (2016). Ibis:

Swinney, G.N. & McGowan, R.Y. 2018. The Janitor and his museum: John Wilson (1775-1832) and the teaching of ‘practical zoology’ in early nineteenth-century Edinburgh. Museum History Journal:

McGowan, R.Y. on behalf of BOURC. 2015. The BOURC review of the 1869 specimen of American Goshawk from Perthshire. Scottish Birds 35 (4): 300-310.

McGowan, R.Y. and Stenhouse, I.J. 2010. “An outstanding man among Scottish ornithologists”: Surgeon Rear-Admiral John Hutton Stenhouse (1865–1931). Archives of natural history 37: 227-234.

For further publications see the National Museums Scotland Research Repository.

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Explore the bird collections with our Senior Curator of Vertebrates, Bob McGowan.

Blog posts by Bob McGowan

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