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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Vertebrate Zoology

Division of Birds

Labrador Duck
Labrador Duck
Christina Gebhard © Smithsonian Institution

The Division of Birds annually processes 75 to 100 loans to researchers, graduate students and qualified individuals around the world.

Requests for loans should be submitted to Dr. Terry Chesser for North American material and to Dr. Gary Graves or Dr. Helen James for specimens from other regions of the world. Please see the staff page for their mailing addresses.

Further details regarding our loan policy and loan conditions are contained in the following sections.

Loan Policy Guidelines

Our collection of about 640,000 specimens is primarily for basic research on birds. Loans of research specimens are made for scientific purposes and certain public outreach programs only.

Please be aware that using avian specimens from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) for research purposes is an explicit acknowledgment that you value the time, effort, and expense that goes into collecting, preparing, and maintaining museum collections and that you support ongoing legitimate scientific collecting efforts.

Loans of research specimens for illustration will be made only in support of a scientific publication or educational publications of merit. Requests for such loans must be received from the principal author of the project.

Loans are never made for general teaching or lecturing purposes or in support of commercial ventures, including federal or state hunting stamp competitions.

All loans must have prior approval and consent of Smithsonian and USGS Biological Resources Division curators. Loan requests will not be approved until a formal written request is received. Requests for loans via electronic mail or facsimile will not be honored. We do encourage the use of electronic mail, faxes and our website to query our collection holdings, prior to the loan request.

Loans are made to a museum or institution, in care of a permanent staff member who assumes full responsibility for the care and return of material borrowed. Loan requests from students, visiting researchers or other, nonpermanent staff members must be co-signed by an appropriate authority.

Loans may not to be transferred by the borrower to any other institution or facility without prior permission from the Division of Birds.

Except for approved wet specimen dissection, loan requests that entail any destructive sampling procedure (removal of pieces of skin, bone, or feathers, for example) require that some additional information be provided to us. Please see Destructive Sampling protocols.

Loans of rare or unique specimens or requests for the entirety of our holdings of a taxon may be denied. Normally, not more than one-half of our holding of a taxon will be lent at one time. Large loan requests will be divided into several parts, each being sent upon the safe return of the previous portion.

Holotypes are not lent except under extraordinary circumstances. If such a request is granted, the loan is made for the shortest period of time necessary and the borrower must assume responsibility for all special handling and shipping. Generally we ask that the borrower pay for overnight shipment both ways.

All loans are made with the appropriate wildlife laws in mind, e.g. Migratory Bird Act, Endangered Species Act, CITES, Bald Eagle Protection Act, etc. Appropriate reporting via 3-177 will be made to the FWS (LE) for imports and exports.

Uncataloged material and specimens in processing will not be lent. Restricted collections (that under study by staff) will not be lent until "released."

Our standard loan period is six months, after which the borrower must apply in writing for an extension. Unique or rare specimens may be loaned for much shorter periods of time.

Please note that the prefix "USNM" is the official designation for our specimens and this acronym should be used in citing our material in publications. The Division of Birds requests one hard copy of any article, an electronic copy (ie PDF), or one copy of any book that results from the use of our material.

All borrowers must agree, in writing, to abide by the division's loan conditions. The borrower's signature on the loan invoice signifies such agreement.

Loan Conditions

Loans are not to be transferred by the borrower to any other institution or facility without prior written permission from the Curator in Charge or Collections Manager at the Division of Birds.

Except for wet specimen dissection, loan requests for destructive sampling (removal of skin, bone, feathers, tissue, etc) require an additional review protocol. Please see the information underĀ Destructive Sampling protocols.

Specimens loaned may not be cleaned, repaired, dissected or altered in any manner without prior written permission from the Curator in Charge or Collections Manager at the Division of Birds. Specimen labels may not be removed and they may not be altered except for noting re-identifications. Updated names or re-identifications may be made by neatly adding the name IN PENCIL on the label. The added scientific name should be followed by both the initials of the responsible individual and the year in which the re-identification was made. NEVER erase or otherwise alter any previous identifications or other data on the label.

Our fluid preserved specimens are kept in 70% ethyl alcohol and must be maintained in that solution while on loan. Permission to dissect wet specimens must be clearly granted beforehand.

Specimens are to be protected from theft, excessive light, extreme temperature and humidity, dust, insects, and other pests. Please do not smoke, eat, or drink while working around the specimens. The borrower may be held responsible (and may lose borrowing privileges) if damage or loss is due to negligence.

Packing and transportation shall be by safe methods using adequate material to protect the specimens. Generally we recommend using the same materials and containers in which specimens arrived (unless damaged during original transit).

Our current insect pest control method is freezing at -10 Celsius in a non frost-free freezer. Consequently, for specimens on loan, we suggest isolation and inspection as acceptable alternative to pesticide application. Do not treat borrowed specimens with chemicals. If you find insect pests on the specimens please advise us as soon as possible at (202) 633-0800 or (202) 633-0786.

When returning the loaned specimens, we request that an invoice or specimen list be prepared. Indicate our loan number on the list or invoice. Enclose one copy with the specimens and separately mail one copy to the Division of Birds.

We reserve the right to apply special loan conditions in addition to those listed above if the circumstances warrant.

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