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View the Ornithology Collections

The bird collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County consist of some 115,000 specimens, prepared as skins, skeletons, fluid-preserved specimens, and taxidermy mounts; many also have associated frozen tissue samples. These specimens represent over 5,400 of the world’s 10,000 plus bird species. We also maintain ancillary collections of photographs and field notes and a small synoptic collection of bird eggs. We use the abbreviation LACM (Los Angeles County Museum) for our collections.

Geographical Representation

Our collections are global in scope, but the most extensive coverage is for North America (including over 23,000 specimens from California), South America (including 13,686 from Argentina and 10,862 from Brazil), and Africa (including 10,097 from Kenya and 9,460 from Uganda); we also house over 5,500 specimens from the Pacific Ocean islands and pelagic waters. 

Taxonomic Representation

Some of the major groups of birds that are particularly well-represented in the collections are: 

Family Name Common Name Number of Specimens
Procellariidae petrels and shearwaters 1897
Hydrobatidae storm-petrels 1088
Pelecanidae pelicans 483
Charadriidae plovers 2066
Scolopacidae sandpipers 2744
Laridae gulls and terns 2982
Columbidae pigeons and doves 2065
Psittaciformes parrots 2695
Trochilidae hummingbirds 3330
Furnariidae ovenbirds, woodcreepers 2968
Formicariidae sensu lato antbirds 2385
Tyrannidae tyrant flycatchers 6829
Nectariniidae sunbirds 4092
  New World nine-primaried songbirds 21125
Estrildidae estrildid finches 2028
Ploceidae weavers 2740

Specimen Preparations

Study Skins

Study skins (~97,000) are traditional “stuffed” bird skins, prepared for ease of storage, examination, and comparison. Many have additional partial (body) skeletons and/or frozen tissue samples.

Flat Skins

Flat skins (~2000) are skins (“pelts”) of birds that are stored open rather than stuffed; nearly all have an associated complete skeleton. Flat skins are ideal for the study of molt, feather tracts, and spread wings.

Skeletons

Skeletons (~12,300 complete, 2000 partial) are generally disarticulated and stored in boxes; they are invaluable for work on fossils and on bird remains from archaeological sites, as well as for studies of taxonomy and functional morphology.

Frozen Tissues

Since the mid-1980s we have routinely preserved samples of tissues (usually breast muscle, liver, and heart muscle) from specimens that we prepare; these tissues (~3,300) are stored in cryogenic tubes in freezers and are available for subsampling for studies of DNA or other molecular work.

Taxidermy Mounts

Taxidermy mounts(~2000) are prepared to look lifelike, and are especially useful for education and exhibit purposes. Many older mounts (such as many of our endemic Hawaiian bird specimens) have complete associated data and are important for research. Over 600 bird mounts are currently on exhibit in the Ralph W. Schreiber Hall of Birds.

Eggs

Many systematic collections of birds have important collections of bird eggs, generally preserved and stored as empty complete egg shells. The Natural History Museum’s collection of bird eggs, originally from the Hancock Foundation at the University of Southern California, has been transferred to the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo. We presently maintain only a small comparative collection of bird eggs.

Fluid-preserved Specimens

Fluid-preserved specimens or “alcoholic” specimens (~2950) are birds preserved whole in fluid, usually “fixed” with formalin then stored in 70% ethanol. They are used primarily for the study of soft tissues (muscles, tendons, organs).

Search the Collections Database

The LACM collections database is accessible through ORNIS (ORNithological Information System), a distributed database with over 40 searchable data providers. To search our collection database, visit: http://www.ornisnet.org

When searching our database in ORNIS, keep in mind that data in some fields have not been verified and that identifications, particularly at the level of subspecies, are often tentative. For queries about data quality, confirmation of identifications and label data, and other details, please contact the Collections Manager.


Ornithology Collections Policies

View PDF of Ornithology Collections Policies >

General Information for Collection Users

The ornithology collections of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County should be acknowledged in any publications resulting from the use our specimens, tissues, and associated data. We ask that researchers provide us with a reprint or PDF of any publications that result in any part from the use of our specimens and associated data. The standard abbreviation for our collections is “LACM.”

Collection Visits

To visit the ornithological research collections, please make an appointment with the Collections Manager. The collections are open to all qualified researchers, including amateur ornithologists, bird artists, and others who need to refer to museum collections for their work. However, because of our need to conserve the collections for future use, we must strictly control collection access. With advance notice collection visits can usually be accommodated during normal weekday business hours, but must be arranged around the schedule of the single collections staff person.

Specimen Loans

Loans of specimens from the research collections are made to qualified researchers at other museums, academic institutions and governmental agency collections that have the facilities to properly store loaned specimens. Although the loaned specimens are for the use of individual researchers, the loans themselves are made to the institution where they will be housed. We cannot make loans to individuals, commercial organizations, or studios. We do not maintain a teaching collection; educators who may need mounted bird specimens for classroom use may consider the Museum’s Member Loan Services.

Loan requests should be made in writing to the Collections Manager and are subject to the approval of the Curator. Loans for undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students must be cosigned by the requester’s major professor.

Loans are made for a period of one year, subject to renewal. Additional loan conditions are outlined on the Specimen Invoice accompanying each loan; the Specimen Invoice is to be signed and returned upon receipt of the loan material

We generally do not make loans of holotypes or of specimens from taxa for which we house fewer than five specimens; the latter may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. If a request is made for a loan of all of our specimens of a given taxon, we will make the loan in installments, with the second (and subsequent) installments sent upon successful return of previous installments.

We generally will not make specimen loans to institutions outside of the United States because of frequent changes and increasing complexities in requirements of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and United States Department of Agriculture. If international loans are approved, they may incur inspection fees that will be the responsibility of the borrower.

Tissue Grants

Requests for grants of small amounts of tissue from the samples in our avian tissue collection must be made in writing to the Collections Manager and are subject to approval by the Curator. Such requests should outline clearly the proposed study, demonstrate the ability of the requesting individual’s laboratory to successfully perform the needed analyses, and justify why the requested tissues from our collection are required for the study. 

Tissue collections accompanied by museum specimen vouchers are costly and labor intensive to make, store, and conserve. We therefore request that the requesting researchers demonstrate their active participation in the building of systematic collections of bird specimens, including tissue collections; for those requesters who cannot demonstrate this, we reserve the right to deny tissue grants or to request the payment of fees to cover our costs.

Destructive Sampling

On a case by case basis, the Museum may grant permission to researchers to take small samples of skin, toe pads, or feathers from study skins or bone from skeletal specimens for specific research projects on genetics, molecular systematics, stable isotopes, or other areas of inquiry. We require a formal proposal, on institutional letterhead, signed by a curator or professor in charge; the proposal must outline the goals and techniques of the research, the need for the specific samples requested, the track record of the requesting laboratory in accomplishing studies using the proposed sampling techniques, and a detailed plan for archiving sequence data and other molecular data. Proposals are reviewed by the Curator and Collections Manager. As with proposals for use of frozen tissue samples and spirit specimen dissection, we prefer that the requesting researchers demonstrate active participation in building systematic collections of bird specimens.

Spirit Specimen dissection

Our collection of birds preserved in fluid is available to qualified researchers for anatomical studies and other use involving dissection and sampling. Proposals for their use are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Curator and Collections Manager. All parts of the dissected specimen are to be returned to LACM. As with proposals for use of frozen tissue samples or for destructive sampling of skins or skeletons, we prefer that the requesting researchers demonstrate active participation in building systematic collections of bird specimens.

Acquisition

The building of systematics collections is labor intensive, and storing a growing collection puts pressure on scarce resources such as space, staff and volunteer time, and budgets. Even though all avian specimens with provenance data have potential utility, we must add to our collections selectively, emphasizing taxa, regions, and preparation techniques that strategically enhance their scientific value, or that support specific or ongoing studies. We generally add 300 to 500 bird specimens per year through salvage, donations from zoos, and field collecting. These additions increase our sample sizes of relatively common birds and allow us to add to the depth and taxonomic breadth of our skin, skeleton, alcoholic, and tissue collections.

The possession and transport of native nongame birds is highly regulated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. We are required to possess a battery of current, valid permits for salvaging, collecting and transporting such birds and for maintaining them in our collections. At our discretion, we will accept birds salvaged by members of the public. If you might be in a position to salvage dead birds, please contact the Collections Manager to discuss our collection needs and the permit requirements for salvaging native bird species.