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About the MSB Bird Division


The Museum of Southwestern Biology Division of Birds is a research and teaching resource for the citizens of New Mexico and the global scientific community. We are an active communtiy of professional and amateur ornithologists and students who are dedicated to conduct and facilitate scientific research on birds.

About the Collection

The Division of Birds maintains an extensive research collection of birds from western North America and around the world. Specimens collected in New Mexico by William J. Koster in 1938 formed the basis of the original collection. The collection consisted of only a couple of hundred study skins of birds from New Mexico until 1955, when James S. Findley became curator upon his arrival at UNM. Over 3000 specimens were added over the subsequent 13 years, due in large part to the work of graduate student David M. Niles during the 1960s. J. David Ligon began as curator in 1968, and although his research program focused on behavior, he oversaw the addition of 3000 specimens over 21 years, including spectacular series of Pinyon Jays and other corvids. Robert W. Dickerman took over as curator in 1989 after retiring from Cornell Medical School, and the collection increased fourfold over the subsequent 18 years through field collecting, salvage, acquisition of private collections, and the integration of the USGS Collection. Dickerman continues to prepare bird specimens daily, adding to his monumental lifetime total of over 28,000 specimens. In 2003, Andrew B. Johnson was hired as the first fulltime collections manager. In 2007, Christopher C. Witt was hired as faculty-curator. Witt's ongoing research projects include work on the evolution of Andean birds that has resulted in significant new accessions of specimens from Peru. UNM undergraduate and graduate students including Matthew J. Baumann, Elizabeth Beckman, Phred Benham, Shane DuBay, Matthew R. Jones, C. Jonathan Schmitt, and Natalie Wright have made substantial contributions during their student careers at UNM. The total size of the collection is now over 38,000 specimens, approximately 40% of which are associated with frozen tissue samples that are archived in the Division of Genomic Resources. We are now one of the fastest growing collections in the country. All but the most recent research specimens are online searchable at ARCTOS, as well as Ornis, and GBIF.

Selected highlights:

  • Outstanding collections from the American Southwest
  • Synoptic series of the Birds of New Mexico for ID reference and teaching
  • 100% of bird orders and 85% of the bird families of the world represented
  • Threatened, endangered and extinct species of North America
  • Skeleton collection
  • Nest and egg collection
  • Bird repository for New Mexico wildlife rehabilitators and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
  • Collections of Amadeo M. Rea, used in his book, Once a River
  • Raptors and game birds of J.M. Campbell
  • J. Stokley Ligon collections (in part)
  • Birds of the world collection of Dale A. Zimmerman