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  • National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian

    Melanie Colón

    National Bird Collection

    The Division of Birds, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, houses and maintains the third largest bird collection in the world with over 640,000 specimens. Our National Collection, known in the ornithological literature by the acronym USNM (referring to our old name of United States National Museum), has representatives of about 80% of the approximately 9,600 known species in the world's avifauna. While the majority of these specimens consists of study skins, we also manage skeletal and anatomical (alcohol preserved) collections that are the largest in the world. Additional collections include egg sets, nests, and mounted skins. We are continuing to add about 1,500 specimens a year, many of them skeletons and fluid preserved anatomicals. In recent years tissues frozen in liquid nitrogen have also been preserved and are stored at the Molecular Systematics Laboratory. The Division of Birds also holds almost 4,000 type specimens upon which original taxonomic descriptions were based.This collection supports scientific research by resident staff and associates, as well as numerous visting scientists. Specimens are made available to researchers worldwide through collections visits, loans, and through our online database.


    The geographic coverage of our collection is worldwide, but some areas are obviously better represented than others. We have major holdings from North America, Central America, northern South America, eastern Africa, and southeast Asia. Regions that are insufficiently represented include southern South America, western Africa, Europe, northern Asia, and Australia.

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