The AOS Committee on Bird Collections provides information on resources and support for collection management, data access, and specimen-based research. The committee also advocates broadly for the value of collections in research and conservation. Committee members are active in the collections community, and engage with other societies and organizations on issues affecting collections such as permitting, specimen preservation techniques, and curatorial practices.

Researchers benefit from museum collections by using specimens and associated data in different kinds of studies. Conversely, museums benefit from researchers using their collections to justify continued support from funding organizations and institutional administrations. Science itself benefits from improved replicability and data aggregation and use. More broadly, this mutual relationship benefits society by providing a scientific basis for studying, managing, and conserving biodiversity on a global scale. 

The use of museum specimens and/or data requires proper acknowledgement of provenance. The committee has developed basic guidelines for acknowledging and citing use of museum specimens and/or data in publications, presentations, and data repositories.

Read about the history of bird collections.

Contact the committee:

MBTA Permit Survey

Many in the broader ornithological community rely on the issuance of import/export permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to do their work. It has come to our attention that the USFWS formalized their Migratory Bird Import/Export Standard Procedures in 2019, and that more consistency among regions may be implemented with respect to these procedures. According to these standards, each shipment would be required to be specified on the face of the permit (including date range, shipment origin/destination, species, type of specimen, and quantity) to be MBTA compliant. Thus, blanket permits for migratory bird import/export may no longer be issued. We are concerned this will cause undue burden for researchers and museums who import/export migratory birds for scientific purposes. In preparation for addressing this issue with USFWS, we are gathering information about MBTA permits from current or recent permit holders. 

Please complete this short survey no later than 2 July 2021 if you have a current MBTA permit, or have had one within the past five years. 

The AOS Collections Committee will keep the community updated on our efforts.  Thank you!

Basic Collection Facts

Who uses collections?

Collections are used by academic and non-academic scientists, educators, students, environmental consultants, wildlife managers, and law enforcement agents (e.g., state and federal agencies). Scientific uses of collections include taxonomy, evolutionary biology, ecology, behavioral ecology, conservation biology, parasitology, zooarchaeology, paleontology, and epidemiology.

What is in collections?

Collections housing bird specimens contain a wide variety of materials, including study skins, spread wings, skeletons, eggs and nests, genetic resources, constructed objects, audio and video recordings, photographs, field notes, correspondence, and other archival documents.

Where do you find collections?

Institutions housing collections vary from large public museums to public and private universities, local museums and non-profit organizations, small teaching colleges, field stations, and wildlife refuges. Digitized collection holdings are accessed through data portals served by institutional collection management systems and broader data aggregators.

When were specimens obtained in collections?

Bird collections have specimens from the 18th century to the present, and represent important temporal snapsots of species at particular places in time.

How are specimens obtained?

Specimens are obtained through a variety of sources, including active collecting for scientific research, salvage of dead birds (e.g., window kills, road kills, solar farms, windmills, cats, etc.), wildlife rehabilitation centers, monitoring programs (e.g., bird banding networks), airport control programs, and zoos. Collections require that specimens are legally acquired through the necessary local, state, federal, and/or international permits.


AVECOL is a discussion group devoted to topics of interest to the ornithological collections-based community. Its primary purpose is to improve communication among those interested in curatorial practices and specimen-based research. It is not to be used to broadcast requests for loans or detailed information requests (for queries about specimens in collections, search collection data sources).

To join AVECOL, you first need to be registered for Ornithology Exchange. Once registered, email the moderator Carla Cicero (ccicero[at] with your login name (subject: request to join AVECOL) and ask to be added to the group. In order to maximize the benefit of AVECOL, select “Follow” on the landing page for the group to receive content when new notifications are posted.

Upcoming Events

Forward-Thinking Discussion of Biological Collections
On 14 January 2021, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), in partnership with the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSCA) and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) organized a joint discussion between the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) on the future of biological collections. Representatives from the NASEM panel that authored the report, Biological Collections: Ensuring Critical Research and Education for the 21st Century, and the Extended Specimen Network report writing committee, discussed and leveraged the common themes and associated recommendations from these reports to kick off discussions on the short-, medium-, and long-term implementation plan goals and identify the path forward.