Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7171
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bird and Mammal Laboratories
Records, circa 1885-1971
The Bird and Mammal Laboratories of the Fish and Wildlife Service are located in the Natural History Building of the Smithsonian Institution. Their main functions are to "determine the identity and distribution of species and populations of birds and mammals which are of concern" to the Fish and Wildlife Service and to "conduct the basic research necessary for the more critical and accurate identification of those specimens." In the process of carrying out these functions, the Labs have accumulated and maintained one of the world's largest specimen collections of birds and mammals.
Organizationally, the Bird and Mammal Labs are part of the Branch of Wildlife Research of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior. They are headed by a director, and each section has a separate chief. Since 1958, when the Labs were given their present status as an independent research unit in the Branch of Wildlife Research, the directors have been Stanley Paul Young (1958-1959), Richard Hyde Manville (1960-1970), Richard Charles Banks (1971-1973), and Clyde J. Jones (1973- ). Chiefs of the Section of Birds have been John Warren Aldrich (1958-1959), Thomas Dearborn Burleigh (1959-1963), Lester LeRoy Short, Jr. (1963-1966), Richard C. Banks (1966-1971), John S. Weske (1971-1974), and Marshall A. Howe (1974- ). Chiefs of the Mammals Section have been Richard H. Manville (1958-1959), Arthur Merwin Greenhall (1963-1968), Clyde J. Jones (1970-1973), and Don E. Wilson (1973- ). From 1959 to 1963 and 1968 to 1970, the post of Chief of Mammals was vacant. In 1972, a Herpetology Section was formed and has been under Richard Bruce Bury since that time.
The Bird and Mammal Labs have their origin in the work of C. Hart Merriam and the old Bureau of Biological Survey in the Department of Agriculture. By 1885, the ornithological work being carried out by the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) and other private organizations and individuals had grown to the point where private interests were no longer able to finance it sufficiently. The Congress was then persuaded to establish a section of ornithology in the Division of Entomology of the Department of Agriculture. Through the influence of the AOU and Spencer F. Baird of the Smithsonian Institution, Merriam was appointed ornithologist. The next year, the section attained independent rank as the Division of Ornithology and in 1888 became the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy.
Merriam's concept of life zones that are fitted by nature for the life of certain associations of plants and animals and his estimation of the value that the delimitation of such areas would have for agriculture, led him to propose the establishment of a Biological Survey into which his own division would be merged. The 1896 name change of the division to the Division of Biological Survey was the result. It became a bureau within the Agriculture Department in 1905.
The Bureau of Biological Survey remained within the Department of Agriculture until 1939 when it was transferred to the Department of Interior. The following year it was combined with the Bureau of Fisheries, which had been transferred to Interior from the Department of Commerce, to form the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Merriam recognized the need for an extensive collection of specimens for the purposes of identification of species and their distribution. The collections he started became the foundation of the Bird and Mammal Laboratories. These collections became the basis for all the distributional, taxonomic, and identification studies conducted by the Biological Survey and its successor agencies.
Throughout the history of the Biological Survey and its successors, the collections and supporting staff, now known as the Bird and Mammal Laboratories, have been under those sections responsible for geographic distribution of birds and mammals. Until 1916, this was the Section of Geographic Distribution. In that year, a reorganization of the functional set-up of the Bureau put the collections under the control of the Division of Biological Investigations. A consolidation of research activities in 1934 led to the establishment of the Division of Wildlife Research, to which the work of the former Division of Biological Investigations was assigned. In 1936 the care of the collections was given to the Section of Wildlife Surveys in the Division of Wildlife Research. This new section was under the supervision of Hartley H. T. Jackson.
This system of responsibility remained basically the same until 1947, when the curation of the bird collections was assigned to the Section of Distribution and Migration of Birds under John W. Aldrich. In 1941, the Section of Wildlife Surveys became that of Biological Surveys but retained responsibility for the collections until 1947, as noted above. Stanley P. Young took over in 1949 as acting chief of Biological Surveys. In 1951, the Sections of Biological Surveys and of Distribution and Migration of Birds were merged to form the Section of Distribution of Birds and Mammals under John W. Aldrich. This new section was given responsibility for both collections. Finally, in 1958, the Bird and Mammal Laboratories became an independent research unit under the Branch of Wildlife Research, Division of Wildlife, with Stanley P. Young as its first director.
The basis for the connection between the Bird and Mammal Labs and the Smithsonian is the Institution's role as depository for all natural history collections gathered by the agencies of the federal government and not being used for current research. An 1889 exchange of letters between George Brown Goode, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and Edwin Willits, assistant secretary of Agriculture, provides that the Smithsonian will be the depository for the collections of the Division of Ornithology and Mammalogy of the Agriculture Department, subject to certain conditions relating to access and care.
The collections, although housed in the U.S. National Museum, were kept separate from the museum's collections until the 1950s when first the bird and then the mammal collections were merged and curated jointly. Another aspect of cooperation with the Smithsonian is a practice whereby the Fish and Wildlife Service collects chiefly North American specimens and the Smithsonian concentrates on all other areas, although neither is limited to those areas.
These records include early correspondence of the Bureau of Biological Survey; general files of the Bird and Mammal Labs including correspondence, project reports, annual and quarterly reports, memoranda, material of various staff members and material on the organization, history and policy of the Labs; correspondence from the Bird Section and Mammal Section on specimens and material concerning studies of fur-bearing animals, particularly the nutria.
Correspondents include: John Warren Aldrich, Rudolph Martin Anderson, Frank G. Ashbrook, Oliver L. Austin, Jr., John Wendell Bailey, Vernon Orlando Bailey, Richard Charles Banks, William Bonar Bell, Irwin Theodore Bode, Thomas A. Bonser, Nelson Gardiner Bump, Jerry E. Burdick, Thomas Dearborn Burleigh, Patrick A. Buxton, George G. Cantwell, Harl J. Cook, Wells Woodbridge Cooke, Leo King Couch, Edward L. Davis, Herbert L. Dozier, Frank Dufresne, Allan Joseph Duvall, Charles Elton, Francis Hollis Fay, Albert Kenrick Fisher, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Edward Alphonso Goldman, George Brown Goode, Samuel Alexander Graham, Wallace Byron Grange, Dorr Dudley Green, Arthur Merwin Greenhall, Tappan Gregory, F. S. Hall, Van T. Harris, Walter Cleaveland Henderson, Henry Wetherbee Henshaw, C. Gordon Hewitt, Paul Hickie, C. F. Hodges, E. O. Holland, Arthur Holmes Howell, Hartley H. T. Jackson, Clyde J. Jones, Edwin R. Kalmbach, A. Remington Kellogg, Karl Walton Kenyon, Roxie Collie Laybourne, Daniel Loney Leedy, W. S. Lewis, J. Stokley Ligon, Seth H. Low, Waldo Lee McAtee, A. D. McCall, James M. Macoun, John Macoun, V. Malyshef, Richard Hyde Manville, Martha Ann Dartt Maxwell (Ref.), C. Hart Merriam, J. Paul Miller, A. W. Moore, Edward William Nelson, Harry Church Oberholser, John L. Paradiso, Harold S. Peters, Edward Alexander Preble, S. F. Rathbun, Paul R. Redington, Clarence J. Rhode, Chandler S. Robbins, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry J. Rust, Viola Shelly Schantz, William T. Shaw, Lester Leroy Short, Jr., James Silver, Charles C. Sperry, Robert E. Stewart, P. A. Taverner, Walter P. Taylor, Mary Dartt Thompson, P. Quentin Tomich, G. Vassilliera, Ernest Pillsbury Walker, Alexander Wetmore, Aubrey L. White, Edwin Willets, Stanley Paul Young.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Harris, Van T., $ d1915-
- Dozier, Herbert L. (Herbert Lawrence), 1895-
- Young, Stanley Paul, 1889-1969
- Manville, Richard Hyde, 1910-1974
- Banks, Richard C.
- Burleigh, Thomas D. (Thomas Dearborn), 1895-
- Short, Lester LeRoy, Jr.
- Greenhall, Arthur M. (Arthur Merwin), 1911-1998
- Jones, Clyde J.
- Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942
- United States. Bureau of Biological Survey
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- United States. Department of the Interior
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
- United States. Bureau of Fisheries
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7171, Records