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  • The Field Museum

    Melanie Colón

    The Division of Birds houses the third largest scientific bird collection in the United States. The main collection contains over 480,000 specimens, including 600 holotypes, 70,000 skeletons, and 7,000 fluid specimens. In addition, the division houses 21,000 egg sets and 200 nests. The scope of the collection is world-wide; all bird families but one are represented, as are 90% of the world's genera and species. Included among its many historically and scientifically valuable individual collections are the H. B. Conover Game Bird Collection, Good's and Van Someren's African collections, C. B. Cory's West Indian collection, the Bishop Collection of North American birds, a large portion of W. Koelz's material from India and the Middle East, and many separate collections from South America, Africa (Hoogstraal from Egypt) and the Philippines (Rabor).


    As priorities and staffing of educational institutions shift, teaching and research collections can often become orphaned. In recent years, the Division of Birds has incorporated several such collections (from Northern Illinois University, Princeton University, University of Miami, and the G. E. Woolfenden Collection). In addition, the Bird Division has aquired the Canda Goose collection of Harold Hanson, formerly housed at the Illinois Natural History Survey.


    Geographic Strengths-The collection is strongest in North American (including all species and virtually all subspecies), Neotropical and African material (about 95% of species in both areas), the Philippines and India. Over the last fifteen years, Field Museum has developed excellent collection strengths in Madagascar. Significant additional holdings exist from all regions of the world except Micronesia. Even in areas of relative weakness, however, large-scale exchange programs with other museums have resulted in at least synoptic representation.


    Skin Collection-The Bird Division's skin collection ranks third in absolute size among the North American collections, and is fourth largest in the world. In systematic and geographic breadth, the ranking is roughly the same. In addition, certain of its holdings are as extensive and complete as any in the world (e.g., Conover game Bird Collection, Van Someren and Good central African collections).


    Eggs-The egg collection, which includes a portion of the massive and renowned R. M. Barnes collection, ranks sixth in size in North America (with 21,000 sets).


    Skeletal and Fluid Preserved Material-The Field Museum holdings in skeletal and fluid-preserved specimens have expanded tremendously over the last twenty years with significant enhancement of our skeletal collection, which now has roughly 70,000 specimens. This effort to expand the anatomical holdings is expected to continue in the next several decades.


    Frozen Tissues-In recognition of the increasing importance of genetic and genomic approaches in evolutionary biology, a collection of frozen tissues has been established within the Bird Division. Virtually all specimens collected in our programs are accompanied by a tissue sample. The collection currently represents more than one-quarter of the world's bird species. This collection now receives the majority of our loan requests.


    Salvage Program-In addition, the Bird Division operates a salvage program that adds between 2,000 and 5,000 specimens per year to its collection, chiefly anatomical specimens of local and migratory North American Birds.

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