Prof Nick Davies, Professor of Behavioural Ecology in the Department of Zoology, writes:
The highlight of the Museum’s collections for me is the warbler finch from the Galapagos Islands. In 1835, when Darwin collected specimens of the famous finches of the Galapagos during the voyage of the Beagle, he had no idea that they all belonged to one family of birds. He labelled those with large beaks as “grosbeaks or true finches”, those with pointed beaks as “orioles, or American blackbirds”, and he thought that the smallest of all, with a tiny thin bill, was a “wren”. On Darwin’s return to England, the ornithologist John Gould examined the anatomy of these birds and announced to Darwin’s astonishment that they were all finches, and closely related. We now know from analysis of their DNA that all fourteen species of Darwin’s finches have evolved from one common ancestor, that colonised the Galapagos from mainland South America some 2.3 million years ago. In Darwin’s day, many people accepted that selective breeding could produce distinctive varieties of a species, varieties of pigeon from a rock dove ancestor for example. But surely only a Creator could produce a new species. After all, no-one has ever bred a cuckoo from a pigeon! But here on the Galapagos, a finch ancestor has given rise to a bird that is so different that it appears just like a warbler. Not only is its bill warbler-like, it even flicks its wings, just like warblers do, to disturb its insect prey from the vegetation. This specimen thrills me as an example of the transforming power of natural selection.