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  • American Museum of Natural History

    Melanie Colón

    The Department of Ornithology maintains one of the largest collections of bird specimens in the world. The research collections of the Department number nearly one million specimens; these include skins, skeletons, alcoholic preparations, eggs, nests, and tissue samples for molecular biochemical studies. A large number of type specimens and rare or extinct species are also found in its collections. The specimens represent all continents and oceans and nearly 99 percent of all species. The Department has an ornithology library for research use and maintains laboratories for specimen preparation, skeletal and anatomical analyses and dissections, and a modern molecular laboratory for DNA sequencing (the Cullman Molecular Laboratory).


    Research interests include higher level phylogenetics of birds, studies of speciation and species status, and the description of patterns of geographic variation. These investigations are based on skin measurements, plumage color analysis, skeletal measurements and analyses, anatomical dissections, and molecular studies. Additional research involves biogeography of remote areas and life history studies of poorly known taxa. Staff members organize expeditions annually to areas throughout the world; recent expeditions include trips to Bolivia, Africa, and Vietnam.


    The Department of Ornithology has a combined collection in excess of one million specimens. The majority of our holdings are in the form of skins (flat and round), supplemented by skeletons, fluid-preserved, egg shells and tissue samples.


    The Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History is currently in the process of databasing our collections. Our online database currently includes records for our entire tissue collection, approximately one-third of our skin collection and subsets of our skeleton and fluid collections.


    The records in this database were transcribed verbatim from our handwritten catalogs and have not yet been proofed for errors or verified against the collection. Many of the scientific names currently recorded in the database are outdated. We intend to standardize scientific names in accordance with the Howard and Moore Checklist Third Edition. This standardization is a work in progress, and for the time being many specimens are listed under synonyms of their current names. Also, many outdated names have not yet been assigned to higher taxonomic ranks in this database. Similarly, locality data have not yet been standardized, and many records currently have outdated geographic names or partial information.


    Search results obtained herein are intended to provide individual researchers with information about our available holdings in the areas of their interest. Such information should not be used as a primary data source and should not be incorporated into institutional databases. It is incumbent upon the researcher to verify the data and identifications associated with specimens.

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