Loans and Sampling Policies and Procedures

The Division of Birds collections are, first and foremost, research collections. They are available to legitimate users from the national and international scientific community. Specimens may be used for research, exhibit, and educational purposes. Owing to their manner of preservation, specimens generally are not suitable for display in exhibits; nonetheless, scientific specimens are used in exhibits when appropriate. Similarly, selected examples may be used in teaching and as models for preparing illustrations for publication. The governing consideration in any use of Museum specimens is the conservation of specimens in particular and the collections as a whole. 

The Division of Birds provides loans of skins, skeletons, and fluid-preserved specimens from its collections for scientific research. Type specimens are not loaned. Researchers interested in tissues or destructive sampling should read those policies carefully before making a request.

  • Specimen loans are made only to faculty, curators, and permanent research staff at recognized institutions with facilities to properly house and care for specimens. Graduate students must request samples through their major advisor. Individuals who are not affiliated with such an institution may request a loan of material only if they have made prior arrangements with an appropriate institution for housing of specimens, and if that institution agrees in writing to receive the specimens on the researcher's behalf.
  • Loans are generally made for a period of six months. Requests for loan extensions, and for permission to transfer specimens from one institution to another, must be made in writing.
  • No more than half of our holdings of a taxon from one locality are loaned at the same time. In most cases, a request for all holdings will be divided in half with the second shipment being sent after the first has been returned. Some shipments may be further divided depending on the size and condition of specimens requested. The requestor may stipulate groupings of specimens in partial shipments within the confines of this policy.
  • For foreign loans, the borrower also is responsible for providing copies of all relevant import and export permits. If permits are not necessary, that should be stated in writing at the time of the request. Loans to countries where commercial delivery services are unreliable will be granted only when specimens can be hand-carried in both directions.

Information on our holdings may be found by querying our electronic database, if further information is needed please contact the collection manager via email.

Loan Requests

All requests for specimen loans must be made by email of a formal letter on institutional letterhead (usually a pdf file) addressed to the Curator of Birds, and containing the information below. Requests from students must be co-signed by the faculty advisor. Requests for loans should contain the following:

  • A cover letter outlining the request, signed by both faculty borrower and student researcher
  • A brief summary paragraph of the research, including other sources of material and a justification for why samples are needed from the MSB collections. This statement should specifically address the following:
    1. Objectives of the project and its potential scientific value
    2. Feasibility and time frame of the study
    3. Method(s) of analysis
    4. Qualifications of the investigator(s) to perform the laboratory work
    5. Availability of funding to complete the project
  • A list with information on the nature of material needed:
    1. Specific specimens requested with their MSB catalog numbers.
    2. Or, if specific specimens are not needed, the number of specimens from a given taxon and geographic location
    3. Exact nature of material (i.e. skin, skull, postcranial skeleton, etc.) needed

Review of Requests

Requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis according to the following criteria:

  • The kind and extent of request, including whether it duplicates previous efforts
  • Availability of material from wild or captive sources, and efforts by the requestor (investigator) to obtain such material
  • Amount of material in the MSB collections
  • Rarity and replaceability of the samples (i.e., distribution and abundance of the taxon relative to the location of the user)
  • Demonstrated ability of the investigator(s) to perform the work and complete the project (including publication/impact)
  • Financial support for the project

Federal Express is the preferred carrier, and should the loan be approved the requestor must provide a FedEx account number to cover shipping charges.

Upon Receipt of Loan

  • The borrower must contact the Division of Birds Collection Manager via email to acknowledge safe receipt of the specimens. 
  • Immediately check number and condition of specimens, noting any discrepancies or damage incurred during transit on appropriate copy of loan invoice. Specimen damage that occurs during transit should be reported immediately via email or phone. Sign and return one copy of the loan invoice to the Curator or Collection Manager. The borrower is liable for damage that occurs while the specimens are in their possession.  
  • All skins and skeletal material must be safely stored in cases and protected against light, insects, dust, and excessive moisture. Wet specimens are to be stored in 70% ethanol and away from light.
  • Some specimens that pre-date 1970 may have been treated with arsenic. Therefore, all users are advised to take proper precautions when handling specimens.
  • Invasive procedures are not permitted without explicit written permission. Removal of hair or skin samples for molecular analyses are considered invasive procedures and written permission must be obtained in advance (see policies for destructive sampling and tissue/DNA loans).
  • If required, please use freezing at -20 °C for any pest management treatments.

Return of Loan

  • At the time of return please email the collection manager with the date of shipment and a tracking number.
  • Return the loan in the same box(es) in which it was received and via the same carrier.
  • Specimens must be packed in such a manner as to protect them from shock, moisture, or excessive heat. Skins should be wrapped in material similar to that used in shipment to borrower.
  • Use only toilet paper or similar soft paper as packing for skulls. Do not use cotton batting or polyester packing in contact with skulls.
  • Place address labels on inside as well as outside of package.
  • Shipment must be insured for the same value indicated on the original loan invoice.


Andrew B. Johnson
Division of Birds
Museum of Southwestern Biology
CERIA Bldg. 83, Room 204
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

In the case of re-identification of specimens, new designations should be provided to our curatorial staff when specimens are returned to the Museum. These data can be provided on a copy of the original loan invoice, or in a separate list that contains the MSB catalog numbers and respective new identifications (either in text or spreadsheet format).

Destructive Sampling Request Policy

Researchers may request samples of skin, feathers, toe pads, or bone from traditional specimens for DNA, isotope, or other analyses. However, because our collections are finite resources, one of our primary responsibilities is to protect the MSB holdings to insure that they are available for use by future generations of researchers.

Requests for destructive sampling of museum specimens should follow the same general guidelines as for tissues. While we do approve such requests, they are evaluated more stringently than other requests.

As the number of destructive sampling requests has grown, it has become necessary to implement the following guidelines regarding destructive use of museum specimens:

  • Requests for destructive sampling will be considered on a case by case basis by the curator.
  • Requests for destructive sampling must contain compelling reasons why the project cannot be completed without the use of museum specimens. This includes evidence that the research question being addressed is explicitly historical and thus requires the use of museum specimens, or that the taxa of interest cannot be sampled directly from the field.
  • Requests for destructive sampling should provide evidence that the investigators have experience with associated analytical procedures (e.g., PCR amplification and sequencing of DNA from museum skins), and that the proposed studies are likely to generate usable data.
  • If permission is granted to remove specimen parts (e.g., skin clips, reproductive organs, stomach contents), those parts must be labeled with the MSB catalogue number by the researcher and returned with the specimens. Any slide preparations (e.g., SEM stubs, histological, karyological), are to be returned properly labeled.
  • The actual destructive sampling will normally be performed by Division staff at MSB unless other arrangements have been formally made.

We emphasize that destructive samples are intended to supplement research materials obtained from other sources, not replace primary data collection efforts such as field sampling of extant taxa. While we strongly encourage collections-based research, our obligation to protect the MSB’s holdings may require that some requests for destructive samples be denied.

Use of Photographs, Field Notes, and Correspondence

  • Photographs (including photographs of specimens), field notebook pages, correspondence, and other archival materials may not be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed or otherwise used, in whole or in part, without written permission from the MSB. No materials may be used for commercial or financial gain.
  • When permission is given, materials may be used, downloaded, reproduced, publicly displayed, distributed, or reprinted by persons affiliated with academic and/or non-profit organizations for scientific and scholarly purposes only, provided that the following attribution appears in all published use: "With the permission of The Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico."
  • Use of photographs or other Division materials on personal or academic web sites must be authorized by the Museum. Images must be credited to the “MSB, University of New Mexico.”
  • Publication permission is given for ONE TIME USE only.
  • Physical copies of MSB, Division of Birds written materials and photographs are charged at cost. There is no charge for the use of online/electronic materials.

For further information or to submit a request, contact the curator or collection manager.

Acknowledging MSB Division of Birds for use of specimens or their data

Specimens used in publications, reports, or presentations should be included in a "Specimens Examined" section and listed in the following format “MSB:Bird:123456”. Ideally, a hyperlink can be embedded in the catalog number as follows: "", or that entire web address can be written out into the specimen table or appendix.

The Museum should be acknowledged in any publications that result from the use of its specimens. Acknowledgement should be given as "Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico." A PDF electronic copy should be sent to the Curator and Collections Manager of the Division of Birds.