National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Division of Birds

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Parent Organization

National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Dept. of Vertebrate Zoology


The collection of Birds under the care of the Smithsonian was begun in 1850 when Spencer F. Baird, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary, came to the Institution and brought his collection of over 3,600 birds. A Department of Ornithology in the United States National Museum (USNM) was established in 1880. Its name was changed to the Department of Birds in 1881. In 1897, as a result of a reorganization of the USNM, it became the Division of Birds of the newly created Department of Biology. In 1947, the Division came under the administrative control of the Department of Zoology, and in 1964 became a division of the newly established Department of Vertebrate Zoology. The Division of Birds houses and maintains the world's third largest bird collection with over 600,000specimens representing 80% of the approximately 9,600 known species in the world's avifauna. Division staff perform a variety of collection management activities including accessioning and cataloging new collections, preparing specimens, and loaning specimens to researchers unable to visit the Smithsonian. In addition to the Smithsonian staff, zoologists from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey are permanently stationed in the division and work closely with colleagues and specimens at the Museum. These specialists focus primarily on North American birds. From 1874 to 1881, Robert Ridgway was a member of the Smithsonian staff as an Assistant in Ornithology. When the Department of Birds was established, he became Curator and retained that title until his death in 1929. Other curators of the Division have included Charles Wallace Richmond, Assistant Curator and Associate Curator, 1895-1932; Joseph Harvey Riley, Assistant Curator and Associate Curator, 1928-1941; Herbert Friedmann, Curator, 1929-1960; Herbert Girton Deignan, Assistant Curator, Associate Curator, and Curator, 1940-1962; S. Dillon Ripley, Assistant Curator, 1942-1943; Walter Alois Weber, Assistant Curator, 1943-1944; Philip Strong Humphrey, Curator, 1962-1964; Richard L. Zusi, Associate Curator, Curator, and Curator Emeritus, 1964- ; Paul Slud, Associate Curator, 1965-1983; George E. Watson, Assistant Curator, Associate Curator, and Curator, 1965-1984; Roxie Laybourne, Research Associate and Curator Emeritus, 1944-1988; Storrs L. Olson, Associate Curator, Curator, and Curator Emeritus, 1975- ; and Gary R. Graves, Assistant Curator, Associate Curator, and Curator, 1986- .


  • SIA AH00030 [Agency History]





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