The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has a collection of 600,000 preserved birds.
They're stored in aisles of drawers in the Bird Division at the museum, inaccessible to the public.
Some of these birds date back to 200 years ago and are being used for modern research.
I went behind the scenes at the Smithsonian Museum, which privately stores over 600,000 preserved birds.
This bird collection is one of the largest in the world. It's often used for research and identifying birds involved in airplane accidents.
The collection includes seven categories: mounted birds, skins, skeleton, fluid, eggs, nest, and genetics.
Mounted birds are taxidermied for exhibit display. When they retire, they're stored here away from pests, dust, and light, which would cause colors to fade.
This huge bustard bird is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. An average adult male weighs 30 pounds.
Since real eyeballs don't preserve well and can attract pests, these unblinking eyes are made of glass.
These macaws, found in tropical America, have been taxidermied. Feathers retain their color, but the birds may need glass eyes and paint touch-ups.
Specimens can be a time capsule to an ecosystem that no longer exists. These extinct Carolina parakeets were native to the eastern United States and would've been spotted in 1918.
The skins collection are birds with their insides removed. There are 2,000 specimen cases here, filled with bird skins stuffed with cotton.
This huge ostrich was a gift from King Menelik of Jordan to former President Theodore Roosevelt.
This ostrich lived in the Smithsonian zoo until it died from old age in 1930. It was then donated for researchers to reference 92 years later.
Roosevelt had his own natural history collection, which he donated to the Smithsonian in 1882. He even prepared his specimens.
The Smithsonian collection isn't just impressive in its diversity. It also has many of the same types of birds, like these macaws.
The Smithsonian often keeps these birds in pristine condition — but researchers can cut an old specimen for scientific research, like genetic analysis.
Specimens get a special label if that kind of work is done. A small sample can offer researchers the specimen’s entire genomic data.
One thing you’ll notice: These birds are missing their eyes. Since these aren’t for display, glass eyes aren’t needed to make them lifelike.
"Soft parts" like toucan bills fade as they dry out over time.
The top toucan was taxidermied with glass eyes and a painted bill for an exhibit. The bottom toucan is a skins specimen for research.
Sometimes, the museum only has a few rare birds. These passenger pigeons are one of the few species where we know the exact time of extinction: September 1, 1914, at 1 p.m.
The last known passenger pigeon was a female at the Cincinnati Zoo; she's currently on display at the Smithsonian.
But the museum aims to gather several of the same specimens for research, too, like these great grey owls.
These are song sparrows from across the world. They're all genetically identical, but they're not the same size or color.
The song sparrow on the left is from Arizona, and the one on the right is from the Aleutian islands in Alaska.
Extensive collections are helpful for the Bird Identification Lab, which identifies birds killed from airplane strikes to help reduce accidents.
The Lab typically gets about 10,000 samples per year, sometimes finding birds as small as these ruby-throated hummingbirds.
The largest birds to get hit by airplanes have been bald eagles.
The most commonly hit birds in North America are ones attracted to grasslands, like meadowlarks. Their back feathers blend into the grass, making them harder to spot.
The team also found the most commonly hit birds overseas are the blue-cheeked bee-eaters.
To better identify birds, the lab can also reference wing specimens, which help researchers study a bird’s wing patterns more clearly.
This wing is from an Amazon parrot. The feathers change colors as it moves in different light.
Many wings were received through partnerships with government agencies, like this California condor wing.
But the museum also tries to preserve the homes of birds. This oropendola bird and its nest is one of the biggest nests in the collection.
Oropendola birds are best known for making extravagant, teardrop-shaped nests that hang on top of trees.
All these specimens are timestamps of the present bird population and help create a record for future researchers.
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