Every year, the Royal B.C. Museum collects and preserves many species of animals and birds — not for display, but for research.

The animals are stuffed for long-term storage in drawers to be used by researchers studying everything from chemicals to eating habits to food supply.

According to the museum's website, the ornithology collection "contains over 101,861 vertebrate specimens, in a wide range of life history stages from eggs, eggshells, bird nests, preserved embryos and newly hatched or neonate animals to fully adult individuals." 

CBC News got a special behind-the-scenes look at how the museum prepares the birds — in this case, a male snowy owl. 

The process

The museum says the owl died naturally in 2012 on the coast of B.C., north of Tofino.

A snowy owl in mid preparation

Only the skin and feathers need preservation as it is not going on display. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

First the owl's innards are removed so the skin and feathers can be used for many years. 

The tissue is then saved for DNA and other purposes.

The feathers must be cleaned prior to storage

Insects, lice and dirt are removed so the feathers can be cleaned properly (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The spots on the wings denote the owl's young age at death.

The right wing spread out

The bird's feathers allow for a detailed inspection unavailable when using guide books or viewing in the field. (MIke McArthur)

Cleaning is a simple process — in this case involving just soap and water.

A gentle wash to clean the bird

Dish soap and a bucket are all that's required to get the feathers white again. (Mike McArthur)

Museum staff have to ensure the feathers are dry before the specimens are stuffed. 


The owl is dried with a hairdryer before being stuffed with cotton batting and sewn up. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The museum's collection of specimens is a body of research more than 100 years old. 

About 450 species of birds are represented in its collection, with more added every year.

A 96 year old specimen

This owl from 1921 was provided by the provincial police of the day in Victoria. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The specimens are loaned out for a variety of study and research purposes.

Royal B.C. Museum owls

The Royal B.C. Museum has more than 100,000 specimens as part of its collection, including about 450 species of birds. (Royal B.C. Museum)