Drawers full of birds

When thinking about bird collections you may think about the large drawers at the Smithsonian Institution, the classic photo taken by Chip Clark at the Birds Division Collection.

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Smithsonian Institution, Division of Birds, is the largest bird collection in the world (1992). Image source: flickr. Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution, photograph by Chip Clark.

But colleges in general don’t hold large amounts of specimens. Francis Marion University (FMU) in particular, founded in 1970, is a very young institution. Many of our students in the Biology Department are interested in pursuing careers related to wildlife management and conservation. The Biology Department offers 300 and 400 level courses on fungi, plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates every semester. The FMU Herbarium, curated by Dr. Gerald Long,  is registered in the Global Registry of Biodiversitty Repositories. Our invertebrate and vertebrate collections are not. Yet.

Our vertebrate collections include mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. The bird collection is small and growing. Students in BIOLO497: Beyond Taxidermy have prepared 18 bird study skins in three sessions. Our new cabinet for storing the bird study skins is in place and holding these specimens. Students are so excited about what they are doing that they will talk about the importance of collections in a poster they will present at the Francis Marion Research and Exhibition Day (FM RED) on April 4th. Not only that, they will have an exhibit where they will show the birds they prepared to the FMU community. They will have the opportunity to talk about what they are doing and what they are learning!

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Bird study skins, prepared by students in BIOL497: Beyond Taxidermy, in their new housing. Our new cabinet is from Delta Design Ltd. Photo credit: Norma Salcedo.

I am proud of my department for continuing the efforts towards preparing new generations of organismal biologists. I am proud of my institution for supporting non-traditional experiences such as the one I am documenting. I hope to recruit and engage more students into learning more about their favorite organisms and to create links between the study of specimens in natural history collections and whatever profession they want to pursue. There is always a connection. Students must know about that. Small collections have a place in the large scheme of studying biodiversity. Then, the next step is to take my students to visit a large collection. Can you help me?

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