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 former name of United States National Museum), has representatives of about 85% of the approximately 10,000 known species in the world's avifauna.
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.
In addition to the Smithsonian staff, zoologists from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey are permanently stationed in the division and work closely with colleagues and specimens at the Museum. These specialists focus primarily on North American birds.
News and Featured Highlights
Edgar A. Mearns was an army surgeon and ornithologist who collected thousands of birds for the Smithsonian in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But these specimens aren’t all that remain of Dr. Mearns’s collecting. Here we bring together Mearns’s birds and his field notes as a way to explore the rich context and varied stories behind the specimens in the museum — and the collectors who carefully preserved these materials for research and education. Read more...
Martha, the last living individual of the Passenger Pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. To honor the centenary of her death, we have placed her back on exhibit and scheduled special programming, and we offer new 360 degree imagery of her here. Read more...
Who were the Smithsonian historical 'movers and shakers' in Ornithology? In 2011, Museum Specialist, Christina Gebhard, created a physical gallery in the Division of Birds to honor these individuals, and now it's available online.
Meet Smithsonian Scientist Dr. Helen James, whose job it is to dive into dormant Hawaiian volcanoes to find bird fossils.