Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Bird Collection

The INHS Bird Collection consists of approximately 3,500 specimens of 157 species, of which approximately 1,600 are Canada Geese. The Canada Goose collection is the largest in the U.S., if not the world, and forms the basis for ground-breaking information on Canada Goose taxonomy, soon to be published. The rest of the collection dates from the 1950s through the 1970s and is almost exclusively from Illinois. Although relatively small, the collection includes such rare species as Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii) and a very large sample (over 200 individuals) of the Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus), a common migrant. Many of the specimens were dead when collected at the bases of television towers statewide, documenting comparative mortality of birds at these structures.

The collection also includes an impressive egg collection gathered between the late 1880s and early 1930s, donated to INHS by Arthur Blocher. This collection consists of hundreds of egg sets representing hundreds of species collected not only in Illinois but from throughout the United States as well, and includes many species not found in Illinois. There is a modest nest collection as well.

The University of Illinois collection, which INHS now manages, complements the INHS collection nicely. There are many excellent specimens of species collected outside this country, including representatives from such diverse groups as penguins (Spheniscidae), woodcreepers (Dendrocolaptidae), hoatzin (Opisthocomidae), and even kiwis (Apterygidae).

Two studies demonstrate the utility of the INHS bird collection. In a study conducted during 1971-72, Loggerhead Shrikes, a declining, state-threatened species, were collected in some numbers statewide. The resulting analysis determined that the birds were accumulating DDE, a metabolite of DDT, in their tissues and their eggshells, suggesting that DDE in the environment was contributing to the decline of Loggerhead Shrike populations in Illinois. More recently, INHS researchers extracted DNA from feather roots of INHS specimens of the state endangered Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) collected during the 1930s and 1960s. These samples demonstrated that these earlier populations contained high levels of genetic diversity that was subsequently lost as the Prairie Chicken populations declined. This was apparently the first study providing direct evidence of reduction of genetic variation in a wild population through a historical range contraction. The study thus emphasized the value of museum collections as sources of genetic information from past or extinct populations for addressing questions of ecological importance.

Steven Bailey, Office of the Chief

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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