Skip directly to: Navigation for this section | Main page content
yellow-billed magpie graphic

Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology / About Us

   Education and Conservation through Preservation™
field camp

Museum of WFB scientists preparing mammal specimens in a remote field camp in southeastern Washington.

About Us

Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
"Education and Conservation through Preservation"™

The Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology houses one of the most significant modern collections of birds, mammals, and fish in California. It is among the top ten collections of vertebrates in California and the third-largest university-managed collection in the state. The specimens housed in the MWFB serve a role unique among research collections in that they are also used for training, species identification workshops, and educational programs by federal, state, and local agency biologists.

Our primary goal is the education of undergraduate and graduate students at UC Davis.  The MWFB collections and staff support 35 courses across ten different departments on campus, interacting with over 1,700 students annually. We also provide specimens in response to requests for use by educators both on and off campus.  Access to such a complete collection (in terms of species coverage) offers opportunities to a wide array of users. Specimens are used for training in vertebrate identification and for species determinations by several agencies, including the California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Parks and Recreation, U. S. Park Service, and U. S. Forest Service, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Yolo County National Audubon Society and the Central Valley Bird Club.  Use of MWFB specimens and services is expanding as requests increase from throughout North America.  Demand by researchers is steady, with recent work involving species distributions, avian diseases, morphology, genetics, locomotion, flight evolution, and other disciplines. Numerous publications and reports have resulted from the use of MWFB specimens.

We are located on the University of California, Davis campus in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology in the Academic Surge Building, room 1394. Click here for an interactive campus map, or here for a PDF map to the MWFB.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to support teaching and conservation in vertebrate natural history and biology through active research, hands-on education and by maintaining a museum dedicated to documenting and understanding species taxonomy, life histories and biogeography.



Ronald E. Cole founding Curator of the MWFB on expedition in Papua New Guinea in 1985.

Founded in 1972, the University of California Davis (UC Davis) Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology (MWFB) is one the fastest-growing collections of vertebrates in the western United States.  MWFB, administratively linked to the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, currently houses more than 35,000 specimens of mammals, birds, and fish. In addition, we are working on a proposal to merge a significant herpetology collection (15,000 specimens) into our holdings.  Our geographic scope emphasizes California, Alaska, Baja California, the Pacific Rim, and the southwestern United States.  International holdings include vertebrates from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Central America, and South America.  Since its inception, MWFB specimens are contributed through staff and expedition research, as well as projects of UC Davis faculty, graduate students and the scientific community. 

Under the direction of the museum’s first curator, Ronald E. Cole (1972 – 2000), the MWFB surpassed its initial charge of support for laboratory classes in the biology and taxonomy of birds, fish, and mammals.  As the collections grew, the museum’s reputation for specimen preparation quality spread, fostering specimen exchanges with other museums and campuses.  At the same time, faculty and graduate students were encouraged to collect and deposit voucher specimens with the museum.  Consequently, over just 30 years,we have accumulated a nearly complete collection of North American waterfowl. These collections contain series of birds of known age, sex, and plumage and is one of the primary strengths of our museum. These specimens include some of the most complete known-age specimens of eiders, and arctic-nesting geese.  Another principal area of significance has been the continued growth of our Pacific seabird collection.  The MWFB holds specimens from the collections of Larry Spear, whose research on gull distribution and plumage yielded one of the most complete known-age collections of large gulls in the United States; this collection was donated to the MWFB in the late 1980's.

During the time of avian collection expansion, R. E. Cole also began the development of a mammal collection.  Building on initial efforts in California, Cole and his students launched collecting expeditions to the desert Southwest, Alaska, and to a lesser degree internationally (New Guinea, Australia). 

Our fish collection was spawned as a direct result of Peter B. Moyle’s (and graduate students’) research.  Moyle developed the collection to assist in teaching and to forward the completion of his classic text, Inland Fishes of California (Moyle 2003).  Today the fish collection continues to grow as a result of permit requirements to voucher research specimens at the MWFB. 

In addition to internal expansion, the MWFB benefited from the acquisition of five orphaned collections. In the early 1990's, maintenance of the UC Davis Department of Zoology (now the Department of Evolution and Ecology) bird and mammal collection was no longer a priority.  By this time, MWFB had become the dominant vertebrate museum on campus, so the two collections were combined under the direction of MWFB.  Acquiring this material (6,131 specimens) immediately provided a historical perspective to the MWFB’s more contemporary inventory of California vertebrates, as most specimens from the Zoology collection dated from the 1920s through the early 1970's.  The majority of these collections derived from riverine systems of the Central Valley and its watersheds now indundated by subsequent hydro-electric projects. The specimens were accompanied by catalogs and journals, which together were an irreplaceable and significant contribution from notable zoologists including: John T. Emlen, Tracy Storer, E. W. Jameson, Jr., and Robert L. Rudd.  The Zoology collection also housed synoptic series of birds and mammals from Malaysia and Panama.  

Also in the early 1990's, the MWFB acquired bird and mammal collections from UC Irvine and Mills College (Oakland, CA), both of which were orphaned.  The UC Irvine collection was rescued from a storage facility and comprised several thousand specimens from mostly Orange, Riverside, and Los Angeles counties of California.  Most of these collections were compiled prior to the rampant development of the Los Angeles Basin.  The Mills College collection, although small (about 500 specimens), represents the assembly of materials by noted California ornithologist, Howard L. Cogswell. Many of these specimens date back to the late 1880's. 

In the late 1990's, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) donated their synoptic collection of over 600 skeletal specimens of oceanic birds from the Pacific Rim, including Antarctica, New Zealand, and the North Pacific.  This collection has greatly enhanced our growing avian osteological holdings. 

In 2000, Ron Cole retired and was replaced by Andrew Engilis, Jr. as the Curator.  Engilis is building on the foundation laid by Cole and is diversifying and expanding programmatic areas of research and collections growth.  MWFB still relies heavily on teaching and outreach.  Since 2000, use by faculty, off-campus researchers, educators, students, and agency professionals has increased.  It remains the chief facility, in our department, for coordinating student internships, outreach, off-campus education, training, and wildlife media relations. The MWFB supports 35 courses in ten different departments within five colleges and schools on campus (involving 1,700 students annually).


Andy Engilis, Jr. current MWFB Curator, working in collections room.

 Through several grants, the MWFB Biomonitoring Program developed a multifaceted research effort including: vertebrate surveys in California, Eastern Washington, New Mexico, and Texas; ecological studies in Chile and California; and endangered species recovery in the Hawaiian Islands.  This program provides the framework for developing areas of expertise in field ornithology, ecological modeling, and graduate and undergraduate studies. Dr. Peter Moyle and his students continue to support the growth of the fish collection, and Dr. Douglas A. Kelt has provided leadership and curatorial direction that has greatly enhanced MWFB mammal holdings from California, New Mexico, and Chile. Engilis, Kelt and Moyle, along with other faculty of WFCB, have ramped-up specimen procurement and collections to serve the modern and future role of the MWFB.

In 2005, the MWFB acquired the rare bird holdings of the American River College teaching collection.  This resulted in a transfer of about 200 birds representing specimens from private collectors that dated back to the late 1800's and early 1900's. 

This increased level of activity and diversification has attracted attention from the scientific community and has resulted in numerous contracts and grants. A National Science Foundation biological collection grant, funded in 2005, underscored the importance and unique direction of the MWFB stating, “The MWFB collections have a strong historical component essential to documenting and detecting changes in regional biodiversity for well over a century; such resources are irreplaceable and are of relevance to a region much of which has undergone extraordinary modification over that period. And, probably unlike most museum collections, the holdings are heavily used for the education of future researchers and managers of the region's resources.”