Most people are familiar with the game birds in British Columbia, but not the vast majority of British Columbia’s smaller birds that are not exploited for human use. Non-game organisms form the foundation for ecological communities, and these organisms cannot be ignored if we hope to understand population dynamics in British Columbia. The Royal BC Museum’s collection contains over 101,861 vertebrate specimens, in a wide range of life-history stages from eggs, eggshells, bird nests, preserved embryos and newly hatched or neonate animals to fully adult individuals. About 450 species of birds are represented in this collection, with more added every year.
Only a few birds are housed as wet specimens in jars. The majority of birds are prepared as study-skins and skeletons, a few specimens are represented only by skulls, and there is a fair assortment of bird eggs and nests held in steel cabinets. Bird taxidermy mounts are stored in steel cabinets mixed in with the main part of the bird research collection.
This collection contains a few type specimens. Type specimens are the best examples of a species at the time a particular species was described. Better specimens may be found years later, but the type specimen designation stays with the original material used to describe a species. There are provisions for designating new type specimens if the originals are lost, but this is the exception rather than common practice.
Type specimens are held in a separate cabinet away from the main part of the research material. They do not go on loan to other institutions, and therefore, researchers must come here to examine these high-priority items.
Most vertebrates in the ornithology collection are from British Columbia, but a small portion of the collection comes from outside our borders, and serves as examples of organisms for comparison. There are also several exotic species in this collection to document the continued presence of species introduced by humans for hunting or from the pet trade. The collection also contains a small proportion of other exotic organisms that today would be rejected since they are not representative of British Columbia (e.g., tropical finches and parrots).
The vertebrate collection likely was the first to be established by Jack Fannin when the museum was created to stem the flow of artifacts out of province. Our oldest ornithology specimen is an ostrich egg collected in 1832. This specimen is an exception to the modern collection plan which is focused on British Columbia’s nature history. Up to 100 new specimens are received each year. The collection grows from research specimens, donations, and from specimens transferred from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Environment, regional Natural Resources Officers, and a wide range of other sources.
Our collections manager for mammals and birds is Lesley Kennes. There is a significant backlog to the bird collections because of the effort required to produce study skin and process skeletal material (either by boiling to remove soft-tissue or using dermestid beetles to clean away flesh). There are some problems associated with the collection; these are presently being addressed by the Bird and Mammal Collection Manager, including the replacement of all specimen tags and re-packing specimens in clear plastic Durphy boxes rather than cardboard boxes which were used in the past. Transfer to clear plastic boxes should reduce handling time and risk to specimens from mechanical damage.