by Heather Prestridge
The Collection of Birds at the BRTC now contains over 24,000 specimens! Historically the collection has focused on specimens from the United States and Texas (63% of the collection) and Mexico (14%), but it also includes specimens from 64 additional countries. Over the past eight years, the collection has grown from ca. 14,500 specimens, and has added material not only from Texas, but from expeditions to Armenia, Benin, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Italy, and South Africa. In fact, 5% of the collection is now from South Africa. These international expeditions have been related to research being conducted by Dr. Gary Voelker (Professor and Faculty Curator of Birds), his graduate and undergraduate students, and BRTC staff. Because of these expeditions, the collection has not only grown in numbers, but in species diversity as well. This diversity is represented by 1,662 species, from 785 genera and 163 families. The majority of specimens are prepared as study skins; however, the
collections include nearly 1,950 skeletons, 315 fluid preserved specimens, 434 egg sets and 3,201 open wings. The Collection also maintains a rapidly growing collection of tissues (over 8,200) and blood samples associated with voucher specimens.
Since the inception of the BRTC, research projects by faculty, students and staff at Texas A&M University have provided most of the material in this collection; however, the collection has also grown through acquisition of the ornithology collections of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Austin College, Southern Methodist University, Midwestern University and the University of North Texas. And, we have a network of people that salvage specimens for us. Our fantastic cadres of interns and volunteers have been instrumental in helping us deal with this influx of specimens, via preparing specimens and assisting in collection curation. As the only active ornithology collection in Texas, in terms of research activities, we anticipate continued growth in numbers and diversity that will not only benefit research, but the many Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences students taking courses that extensively utilize the collection.
Specimen number 24,000 is a federally endangered Whooping Crane. This specimen is one of two birds illegally shot in east Texas earlier this year. We’ve been working with USFWS Special Agents to ensure that these specimens and their data are made available to the scientific community thru accession into BRTC. This specimen represents only the 37th specimen of Whooping Crane from Texas, with a majority of the other specimens dating from the late 1800’s.