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 old name of United States National Museum), has representatives of about 80% of the approximately 9,600 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
The most spectacular irruptive migrations observed among Holarctic birds are arguably performed by the Great Gray Owl, a rare resident of boreal forests. The largest invasion since the 1830s occurred in 2005 when more than 5,200 individuals were recorded in Minnesota. Analyses showed that as many as one third of the individuals killed in vehicle collisions was emaciated and near starvation. Read more...
The reported rediscovery in 2004 of the presumably extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas triggered a multi-year effort of search activities funded by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, NGOs, state conservation agencies, and birders. Millions of dollars were spent in the unsuccessful to find the woodpecker in its historical range the United States. Should more money and manpower be invested in the search? A recent paper published in Conservation Biology suggests that the Ivory-bill survived no later than the 1950s. 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.
The Hawaiian Honeycreepers are one of the most strikingly diverse and endangered bird families in the world. Learn how Smithsonian researchers were able to solve the riddle of their ancestry and reveal the pattern and timing of their evolutionary diversification. Read more...
Meet Smithsonian Scientist Dr. Helen James, whose job it is to dive into dormant Hawaiian volcanoes to find bird fossils.