Research on birds by staff and associates at the Natural History Museum has been varied and global over the history of the institution. Curator George Willett was known for his collections and studies of birds in coastal Alaska, the leeward Hawaii Islands, and the California Channel Islands (in addition to important collections-based research in Malacology). Curator Kenneth Stager made extensive collections on five continents and was a pioneer in the study of the sense of smell in Turkey Vultures and other birds. During the 1960s and early 1970s Stager, along with Museum Director Herbert Friedmann and other collaborators, conducted a series of collection-based avifaunal studies of important forest habitats in Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, and elsewhere. In the 1970s and 1980s Curator Ralph Schreiber conducted long-term studies of behavior, molt, reproduction, and conservation of the Brown Pelican as well as research on a variety of seabirds such as boobies, tropicbirds , and frigatebirds in the tropical Pacific Ocean; his research provided early and important insights into the effects of DDT on marine birds and on the impacts of El Niño, Southern Oscillation events on seabird communities.
Present Curator Ken Campbell has continued the work of earlier Museum avian paleontologists (most notably Hildegarde Howard) on the Pleistocene avifauna of Rancho La Brea and other sites in addition to pursuing several lines of research on avian functional morphology, Cenozoic birds, early bird evolution, and the geology, biogeography and paleofauna of the South American continent. Research by other staff members and Research Associates has spanned such diverse topics as speciation in Amazonian birds, breeding biology of colonial terns and skimmers, importance of nonnative birds in urban bird communities, biology of the lone endemic landbird on Christmas Atoll (Kiritimati) in the Pacific Ocean, and impacts of desert solar and wind energy development on migratory birds. Museum ornithology staff have also taken the lead on multidisciplinary studies of the biota of important open spaces in the Los Angeles region, including the Ballona Wetlands near Marina del Rey, the Los Angeles River, and the Baldwin Hills.