Welcome to the Division of Birds

The Division of Birds maintains a research collection of over 40,000 birds, with global coverage. The largest holdings are from the American Southwest and the Andes Mountains. All avian orders, ~80% of families, and 25% of species are represented. A comprehensive synoptic collection of the birds of New Mexico is heavily used by students, artists, and birdwatchers. Specimens of threatened, endangered and extinct species provide an irreplaceable historic record. The collection grows by ~2000 birds per year, thanks to a dedicated collections staff aided by a cadre of students. Our faculty, staff, and students are also dedicated to integrative ornithological research and teaching. A brief history of the collection can be found here.

UNM students are invited to conduct research in the Bird Division by coordinating with Curator Christopher C. Witt, who is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. Prospective graduate students in ornithology should apply to the UNM Dept. of Biology (applications are due annually on January 3).

arctosbutton Our specimens are fully searchable through our online database Arctos.  Specimen data are mappable on Google Earth via linkage to Berkeleymapper.  Specimens cited in publications are linked to those publications and specimens vouchering molecular sequence data are linked to the GenBank database.
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Check out recent peer-reviewed publications by personnel affiliated with the Division of Birds.
UNM Foundation Make a tax-deductible donation to support research, student training, and collections infrastructure of the Division of Birds.
Division of Birds Twitter Follow us on Twitter @MSBbirds.

History of the Division

UNM Professor William J. Koster (1910-1993) collected a small number of bird specimens upon his arrival to New Mexico in 1938. The collection consisted of only a couple of hundred study skins until 1955, when James S. Findley became the curator. Findley worked mostly on mammals, but over 3000 specimens were added over the subsequent 13 years, due in large part to the work of graduate student David M. Niles.  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, with emphasis on 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. In 2003, Andrew B. Johnson was hired as the first fulltime collections manager. In 2007, Christopher C. Witt was hired as curator and initiated a research program on the evolution of Andean birds that resulted in significant new accessions of specimens from Peru. The total size of the collection is now over 40,000 specimens, approximately 50% of which are associated with frozen tissue samples.