Smithsonian Bird Collection

Smithsonian Bird Collection

May 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History’s Division of Birds features more than 640,000 specimens and is considered to be the world’s third largest bird collection. Identified by the acronym USNM (United States National Museum), the National Collection represents up to eighty percent of the world’s known avifauna species, of which there are around 9,600. The collection is specifically available for scientific research by both resident staff and visiting scientists, with the National Museum of Natural History hosting between 200 and 400 such visitors each year. While the collection is not open to the public, the searchable online database maintained by the USNM contains information on more than 400,000 of the collection’s specimens.

The Bird Division Hall of Fame pays tribute to men who have significantly contributed to the study of birds and the collection since its inception in the mid-1800s. Among the Hall of Famers is Spencer F. Baird (1823-1887) who was the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1850 to 1878. His donation of more than 3,600 birds formed the foundation of the collection, and he was also a founding member of the American Ornithologists Union and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another founding member of the American Ornithologists Union was Elliott Coues (1842-1899). Coues was an army physician, naturalist and field collector, as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His various publications on field ornithology and identifying North American Birds were invaluable to ornithologists in those early days and remain valuable as reference works to this day.

Robert Ridgway (1850-1929) served as the first Curator of Birds at the USNM in 1881. He was an artist, a founding member of the American Ornithologist Union, member of the National Academy of Sciences and publisher of the first eight volumes of The Birds of North and Middle America – a reference work still in use today.

As a field naturalist and taxidermist for the USNM, William Palmer (1856-1921) collected specimens from Pribilof Islands, Funk Island, Cuba and Java, among other destinations. Assistant Curator of Birds between 1881 and 1889 Leonhard Stejneger (1851-1943) carried out pioneering ornithological fieldwork on the Commander Islands, Kamchatka, the Alps, Southwestern UK, Puerto Rico and Japan. Pierre L. Jouy (1856-1894) was a field collector who collected specimens primarily in Korea, Japan and China. He also made extensive contributions to the ethnological and zoological collections at Smithsonian.

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