Most specimens from the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy are available for loan to reputable individuals from other recognized research institutions, museums, government agencies, and colleges. We do not loan research specimens as teaching material, and loans are not made to the general public. General inquiries about specimens in the collections can be made directly to the collections manager. Birds and mammals are perhaps the most protected and regulated groups of living organisms, which makes collecting additional specimens difficult or impossible. Added to this are state, federal, and international laws governing ownership, transfer, and disposition of research material, which place more restrictions on the collection and use of our specimens. Because we adhere to such laws and fully realize the intrinsic scientific value and unique importance of every specimen in our care, all loans of specimens must be consistent with our loan policy. Failure to comply with our loan policy may result in loss of loan privileges.

1.  Loan requests should be made on paper bearing the letterhead of the researcher's institution, and mailed or emailed to the collections manager. Loans are to be signed by the person actually using the specimens, and loans will not be made to someone acting for a third party. Graduate students must make the loan under the name of, and be co-signed by, their primary graduate advisor. Visiting or adjunct professors must have their loan cosigned by their department chair. Please be specific about the type and number of specimens needed, and how they are to be used.

2.  Loans are made with the understanding that all specimens will be used for scientific and/or educational purposes, and that the receiving institution has all the necessary and current permits to possess these specimens in accordance with state and federal laws.

3.  All loans must involve research that is not invasive, damaging, or harmful to the specimens. Care should be exercised when handling specimens; never pick up specimens by their tail, feet, beak, or tag. Catalog and/or data tags are never to be damaged, modified or removed from the specimens. Study skins are in no way to be dissected or modified. If samples for genetic, isotopic, or chemical research need to be taken, please contact the collections manager directly, and please read clause #9 (below) carefully. Dissections made on fluid preserved specimens may only be conducted after a valid scientific justification is presented and with the approval of the collections manager and/or department chair.

4.  Once specimens are received by the accepting institution, all care should be taken to house and secure the specimens in an area which is pest-free, has low humidity, is out of direct sunlight, and is not accessible by personnel other than the researcher. Sent with the specimens will be a loan form listing all of the specimens that were shipped. Please confirm that all specimens arrived safely, and sign and return the appropriate loan form acknowledging the receipt of specimens.

5.  Loaned material cannot be forwarded to a third party. If specimens are needed by an individual other than the principal researcher, the material must first be returned to the California Academy of Sciences and a separate loan can be arranged.

6.  Loans are for a period of six months, but if specimens are needed for a longer time, loan renewals are possible. Such requests must be made within a month of the end of the loan period. If the specimens are requested by another researcher at the end of the loan period, a renewal may not be possible. The Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy reserves the right to request return of specimens at any time.

7.  No more than half the number of specimens from any species or subspecies will be loaned at one time. If all the specimens of a species or subspecies need to be examined, loans of half the specimens will be made, and the second half can be sent once the first half have returned. If we possess a single specimen of a species, it cannot be sent on loan, but it will be available for study in the department.

8.  Type specimens, specimens from the Galápagos Islands, bird nests & eggs, and specimens of extinct species are not to leave the department, and cannot be loaned to researchers. However, feel free to contact the collections manager about making arrangements to visit the collection and study these specimens onsite.

9.  Destructive Sampling: The Department sometimes grants permission for researchers to take tissue samples from study skins, but only after approval by the collection manager and the department chair. Loans must follow the general rules of our loan policy, plus the additional clauses below:

  • a) The researcher must forward a justification of why samples need to be taken along with a comprehensive sampling protocol before any sampling is done. Also, the researcher must provide data or results from previous testing to show that their methods are valid and produce adequate results.
  • b) Any destructive or invasive sampling (skin, feathers, etc.) of specimens must take place at the Academy, and specimens cannot be sent out on a loan for sampling. Because of prior incidents involving extensive damage inflicted on some specimens that were sent for sampling, all such sampling must take place under the supervision of Ornithology & Mammalogy Department staff.
  • c) A loan of such samples will be indicated as a 1 year loan, with no samples to be returned if they are completely destroyed during testing or analysis. However, after the first year, all unused samples must be returned to the Academy at the end of the loan period, and must be placed in separate containers with the original catalog number clearly marked. Samples or subsamples of specimens taken from this institution MAY NOT be accessioned into another institution under a different catalog number.  

10.  Endangered or threatened species of mammals and birds covered under the most recent CITES list can be sent only to other institutions that possess a current CITES Certificate for Scientific Exchange. If the borrowing institution is not covered by such permits, other arrangements will need to be made. Check with the collections manager in such cases.

11.  Because of increasingly complex laws regarding trans-border shipment of specimens and specimen parts, and the reality that seizure of specimens by a government agency through misinterpretation of laws does happen, loans via mail to countries outside the U.S. are made on a case by case basis. If an international loan is declined, we fully welcome international researchers to visit the collections and examine our material in person.

12.  State of California regulations require us to notify users that some specimens may contain chemicals deemed harmful by title 8 section 5214 of the California Code of Regulations. Some bird and mammal skins prepared before 1950 may contain minute amounts of inorganic arsenic trioxide. Alcohol-preserved specimens may have been fixed in formalin, and residual amounts may remain in the specimen. These substances have been identified as potential cancer-causing agents. However, research specimens are not marked as to which have or lack such substances, so care must be exercised when handling all specimens.

13.  When loaned specimens are returned, care must be taken to pack and ship them in a manner which maintains the maximum level of safety and protection. Each specimen should be individually wrapped or boxed, given ample padding, and shipped in a durable cardboard, plastic, or wooded shipping container that is resistant to crushing. A list of specimens to be returned should be sent separately via email to alert the Department that specimens are in transit.

14.  The Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy reserves the right to seek financial compensation for specimens that are lost or destroyed while in the possession of those responsible for the loan. Any legal fees incurred in attempting to regain overdue loaned specimens, or to gain financial compensation for lost specimens, will be at the cost of the borrower. Additionally, the Department of Ornithology & Mammalogy reserves the right to refuse loans or use of material by unqualified researchers or by researchers who have abused loan privileges, or have lost or damaged specimens.

15.  Any publications or documents using samples derived from Academy specimens must cite the CAS catalog number for the specimen. If data obtained from our research specimens is used in a published report, thesis, or scientific article, please acknowledge the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy, California Academy of Sciences. Additionally, we request a reprint or pdf of any such article when it becomes available.


If there are any additional questions or concerns regarding specimens or loan policy, please contact the collections manager,



We prepare our collections in three ways: wet/fluid, skins, and skeletal.

Wet/Fluid Preserved

Traditional methods of specimen preparation often meant that only the skin, and perhaps skeleton, of a specimen was prepared and curated into museum collection. This meant that the musculature, organ systems, and other soft tissues of a specimen were often discarded. However, new and developing research techniques requiring more of the specimen are becoming increasingly important. In that respect, our collections have been making more whole fluid-preserved or 'wet' specimens. This entails the 'fixing' or initial preserving of a specimen in formalin or ethanol, then storing it in a jar of ethanol for long-term curation. The result is the preservation of a complete specimen with all of the original anatomical structures, both internal and external, entirely intact. This allows for examination of organs and other soft tissues, as well as its plumage, by researchers who study such aspects as biomechanics, diet & feeding ecology, reproductive biology, adaptive physiology, comparative anatomy, and parasitology.


The most common, and perhaps most traditional, way of preparing a bird or mammal specimen for long-term curation is as a study skin. This basically means that the internal organs, musculature, and most of the skeleton of the specimen have been removed, and the internal body cavity filled with cotton. This method leaves the complete outer skin with fur or feathers, along with the distal portion of the legs and feet, the distal limb bones, and the anterior skull with the beak (if it's a bird); if the specimen is a mammal, usually the terminal foot bones remain in the skin. When the skin is prepared, the aim is to maintain the original shape and size of the original specimen. In most cases, the wings are folded against the body as the bird would when resting, or the limbs of a mammal are extended. However, some newer preparations leave the wing extended so that the feathers and feather tracts can be seen more easily. In some cases where a specimen is not suitable for a complete study skin, sometimes just the spread-wing and or tail is prepared, with the rest of the specimen being prepared in a different manner, such as a skeleton.


The Department's collection of bird and mammal skulls and skeletons is extensive, and our collections of mammalian postcranial skeletons are of particular importance. Often in conjunction with preparation of a study skin or pelt is the preparation of the specimen's skeleton. In mammals, it is possible to prepare a study skin and extract a nearly complete skeleton, but in birds, preparation of a study skin leaves an incomplete skeleton. Even incomplete skeletons are valuable, and are usually prepared. If some specimens are damaged or would otherwise not make good study skins or pelts, they often become complete skeletal preparations. During the course of preparation, the skeleton often comes apart and the bones are disassociated from each other. This is called a disarticulated skeleton, and is particularly useful when scientists need to study individual bones from an animal. If the preparation procedure results in the bones being connected in their original order, that is called an articulated skeleton. Such a specimen allows scientists to study the interrelationships of bones as a complete skeletal structure, and to better understand the skeleton as a mechanical system. Bones are essential tools for those who study systematics, biomechanics, evolutionary morphology & adaptation, paleontology, and identification of animal remains from archeological sites.

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