The taxidermy specimens at the Museum of Nature and Man bear witness to the diversity and beauty, but also vulnerability, of nature. They are traditionally used for education and outreach projects to elucidate nature and the various interrelationships within it. The regional focus of the natural history collection is supplemented and selectively expanded by comparative specimens of non-native animals. A substantial donation in 2016 greatly augmented the museum's zoological collection. Discover some of the zoological treasures of the Donsbach Collection.

Why do some birds moult twice a year?

Feathers wear out over time. That is why it is important to renew them regularly through a process called moulting. Most birds moult once a year: the old feathers are shed and new feathers grow. However, some species moult twice a year: many ducks, sandpipers and sparrows adorn themselves with a showy plumage during the mating season to impress potential mates and deter rivals. It is usually the males that court a mate. Females prefer males with contrasting, colourful feathers. Bird specimens in their magnificent plumage are popular hunting trophies on account of their beauty.


The impressive collar is only extant during the mating season. It can be white, brownish-red or even dark brown.
Ruffs belong to the family of sandpipers. Outside the mating season, males and femals look alike.

Why are drakes not seen in summer?

During the moult between May and July, drakes – male ducks – lose their breeding plumage. They change to an inconspicuous, often brown-grey patterned plain plumage, which provides camouflage in their habitat. This camouflage is vital, as the two large flight feathers also fall out within a few days, preventing the birds from flying and fleeing danger. During the summer and autumn, drakes resemble the females, so both sexes can be confused with one another.


This male duck tries to impress femals with its dark brown head, white neck and long tail feathers.
Female ducks also moult during the mating season – however, there is little difference between their breeding and the so-called eclipse plumage.

How can you tell what a bird eats?

Birds developed a variety of beak shapes depending on available food and habitat: short or long, narrow or strong, curved or straight. The beak is the most important tool when foraging for food. A glossy ibis, for example, uses its long tweezer-like beak to track down invertebrates in the mud. The red-breasted merganser uses its pointed, serrated bill to hold slippery prey, such as fish and frogs. In contrast, a little owl can catch insects on the wing with its small, pointed beak.


How can you recognise grouse?

Grouse are plump and stocky in stature, with short, pointed beaks and strong legs. They are adapted to life on the ground and are excellent runners. When in danger, the birds rely on their camouflage and crouch motionless on the ground. If the threat comes too close, they initially flee on foot. Only in extreme situations do they take flight. These energy-sapping flights just above the ground come to an end after a few metres. Their feathered legs are an adaptation to cope with cold, snowy winters: the feathers reach down to the toes and protect against cold and sinking into the snow.


Where do sandpipers live?

Sandpipers are well adapted to living on shorelines, coastal areas and wetlands. Long legs and beaks are suitable for reaching prey in shallow water while keeping the plumage as dry as possible. The tip of the beak is endowed with a dense network of nerves. This is used to detect snails, crustaceans, worms, tadpoles, mussels or insect larvae. Many species breed in northern Europe and Siberia. In the rest of Europe, they can only be found in dense swarms during the migratory season and in winter.


When is a mouse not a mouse?

Harvest mouse, the greater white-toothed shrew, the hazel dormouse: all these species appear similar at first glance – "mouse-sized" bodies, an elongated nose lodged between black button eyes, brown or grey fur, strong teeth. But not all of them belong zoologically to the mouse genus! Shrews are more closely related to moles and hedgehogs. The hazel dormouse belongs to the dormouse family – together with the garden dormouse and edible dormouse.


How do animals survive the winter?

Winter is a tough challenge for all living things. It is cold and food is scarce. Dark, camouflaged fur now stands out clearly on snow-covered ground. Animals developed amazing tactics to survive: ermine and willow ptarmigan camouflage themselves with white fur or plumage respectively.

Marmots and lemmings have different strategies to adapt to the cold and the snow.

The mountain lemming digs tunnels under the snow cover to remain invisible to predators.
The marmot sleeps through the winter to conserve energy.

What are "hemerophiles"?

Humans are changing their environment and the ecosystems around them. For some species, this is beneficial. Species that choose to live near human settlements are called hemerophiles. On extensively-exploited (!) agricultural areas, such as meadow orchards or structurally rich farmland, dormice and partridges find sufficient food and opportunities for refuge. Kestrels and long-eared owls use buildings as "artificial rocks" for their nests. The best-known hemerophiles in our country are the house mouse and the brown rat: they find sufficient food and shelter in human dwellings.


About the collector

Johann Karl-Wilhelm Donsbach (1899-1988) was a passionate collector and amateur taxidermist. In his private museum in Uckersdorf (Hesse), he presented birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects in an area measuring 120 m². His main concern was to sensitise and inspire people for and about local and native biodiversity. His museum closed in 1988 and was not open to the public for over thirty years. In 2016, the Donsbach family donated more than 600 specimens and models to the Museum Natur und Mensch. The collection focuses particularly on European bird species, which are inspirational in terms of their sheer diversity. The donation included species that have become rare and are now subject to strict international conservation laws.