200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 73: “Making Sense of Bird History ”

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photos of uncurated and curated ornithology specimens
The photo on the left contains detail from one of the wooden crates containing Alfred Cookman’s bird collection. The photo on the right shows some of the Cookman specimens after they were prepared for inclusion in the Academy’s Ornithology Collection.

Making Sense of Bird History

In 2009, the Academy acquired the Alfred Cookman bird collection, which included 728 bird skins, mainly from California, that were collected in the early 1900s. The collection holds skins of some exceedingly rare birds such as California gnatcatcher, black rail, least tern, island scrub jay, and Galapagos mockingbird. Alfred Cookman was a high school science teacher in Southern California who, as part of his work as an educator, amassed an impressive collection of bird study skins to use in his lectures. He had a traveling naturalist road show of museum specimens that he used to educate the public. Included with the collection are a number of supporting documents and photographs of his travels.

The collection arrived at the Academy packed in two large wooden crates. Through years of neglect and poor packing, the collection was in generally poor condition with many specimens balled together in the packing crates. After a few days of unpacking and feather grooming, the skins are now part of the Academy’s state-of-the-art Ornithology Collection, which consists of more than 200,000 bird study skins.

Learn more about the Academy Ornithology Department’s collections at ansp.org.

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