The bird collection remains one of our primary strengths. The museum houses nearly 17,000 specimens with a principal emphasis in California and Western North America. To date we have material representing 34 bird orders and 161 families with approximately 14,000 study skins, 1,600 freeze dried specimens, 1,200 osteological specimens, several hundred egg sets and some nests. We house one type specimen. In addition to internal expansion, our bird collection benefited from the acquisition of five orphaned collections: the UC Davis Zoology Collection, the University of California, Irvine Museum of Systematic Biology holdings, the Mills College collection, osteology collection from Point Reyes Bird Observatory and rare avian materials from American River Community College, Sacramento, California. As a result, our collections date back to the late 1800's with particular emphasis on modern material dating from 1972 to present. We are growing at a rate of 1,000 specimens per year. In 2005 the MWFB instituted frozen tissue archives for cryo-storage. Since then we have amassed approximately 9,000 bird tissue samples.
The avian collection has many strengths but it is most noted for its waterfowl and modern USA collections. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Dennis Raveling, his students and past curator Ronald E. Cole, the MWFB developed one of the most complete collections of waterfowl in the Western United States (including the first specimen of Anser rossii blue morph). All North American and Hawaiian species are represented and most have known-age birds from hatchling to adult. Sixty-five percent of the 170 species of the world’s waterfowl are currently represented. In 2005, Engilis, working with Dr. John Eadie, launched a plumage and molt study of endemic Hawaiian Waterfowl which has expanded to North American monochromatic mallards resulting in one of the largest collections of genetically vetted ducks in any museum. With the contributions of Dr. Daniel W. Anderson and Larry Spear, our North Pacific Seabird holdings (Albatrosses, Petrels, Storm-Petrels, Diving Petrels, Tropicbirds, Frigatebirds, Boobies, and Alcids) is also well developed, including one of the finest known-age collection of gulls from Western North America. Recent collection development has been along the US and Mexico Border (over 1,400 specimens) and in the Central Valley of California (1,300 specimens).
In 2008, we completed curation of a seabird osteology collection numbering approximately 500 specimens spanning the Pacific from the Antarctic to the Arctic and Australasia to North America. These were donated to the MWFB from biologists at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (now Point Blue). Alaska and Hawaii are well represented as well with considerable material from the North Slope (Alaska) and water and land birds from Hawaii. Our international holdings include synoptic collections from Panama, Chile, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Mexico.
Curator Andy Engilis has launched and collaborated on several domestic and international research efforts during the past 20 years accounting for the dramatic growth of the bird holdings. Included among these are several joint MWFB and Smithsonian collecting efforts in the United States, a multi-year ICBG grant in Sulawesi, and DTRA funded efforts in Cambodia. The Museum has been been working on and off in Papua New Guinea since the 1980s, with the most recent being a 2016 expedition co-led by Irene Engilis to New Britain. Since 2005, collections of birds from Chile helped with the completion of the first South American Bird Banding Manual. Locally, and since 2017, the MWFB has been involved in a comprehensive, specimen-based inventory of birds in the Sacramento Valley of California, a region that has been neglected in past.