The Academy maintains an ornithological collection of nearly 200,000 study skins and 15,000 tissue samples. Of great historical importance, specimens in the collection predate the founding of the Academy in 1812 and include important early bird collections from such famous collectors as Alexander Wilson, John Audubon, and John Gould. Large series of data rich specimens have recently been added from the Andes in South American, southeastern Asia, and Australia. The Academy’s ornithology department is actively adding specimens, locally and internationally, at a rate of 1000 specimens per year.
In terms of specimen numbers, the Ornithology Department's collection is one of the 10 largest and taxonomically most complete bird collections in the world. Accessioned into the collection are nearly 200,000 study skins, representing over 7000 species, and over 10,000 tissue samples.
Major series of birds in the collection come from South America (60,000 skins), North America (40,000 skins), Asia (20,000 skins), and Africa (20,000 skins), with additional significant holdings from Central America and Australia. An extensive type collection (ca. 1500 specimens) and skins of extinct and endangered species (ca. 2500 specimens) are part of the collection. Series that are of particular importance include numerous data-rich specimens, many with associated tissue samples, collected within the last 15 years in Ecuador (11,000 skins), Australia (3500), Guyana (2500 skins), and central Africa (1000), and Panama (1600 skins). The collection has significant holdings from around the world, including the most complete series of Andean birds in any ornithological collection, and particularly extensive collections from throughout South America as well as Southeast Asia.
Large portions of the Academy’s bird collection database are now searchable online. The database can be found at clade.ansp.org/ornithology. Please contact the Collection Manager if you have specific questions about the collection or database.
Due to the long history of the Academy’s bird collection we have an extensive type collection and numerous specimens that represent extinct and endangered species. Clem Fisher (National Museums Liverpool) and Andrew Ingersoll (former ANSP collection manager) have assembled a type catalog for the Ornithology Collection. This is a preliminary version of the catalog (to be formally published in the Academy’s Proceedings) and the authors welcome constructive comments of the manuscript.
In the 19th Century, the Academy of Natural Sciences purchased a number of large, important European collections of birds. In 1848, Thomas B. Wilson, an Academy trustee, purchased 1500 Australian bird skins from John Gould. The Gould Collection is exceptionally rich in type specimens.