Why do dead birds matter?

These images are examples of how birds from a window collision project can help researchers; it is not related to WSP, though bodies from WSP monitoring are donated to the UM collections for further study.

Sparrows and tanagers.

Window monitoring project: 
Principia College 2004, 2005

Institution receiving specimens: 
University of California, Santa Cruz

Related Publication: 
Bird Density and Mortality at Windows, Hager et al (pdf)

Letter of appreciation from UCSC to Principia College (circa 2006):

From: Tonya Haff
UCSC Museum of Natural History Collections

To: Dr. George Moffett
Prinipia College
1 Maybeck Place
Elsah, IL 62028

Dear Dr. Moffett,

I am writing to express my gratitude for the valuable window-killed bird specimens sent to our museum by Prinicpia College via undergraduate Heidi Trudell. The University of California at Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History Collections houses a collection of vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi and plants available for teaching and research. Because the MNHC is a small teaching museum with finite resources, we do not actively collect vertebrate specimens such as birds. Instead, the growth and usefulness of our collection depends on donations of salvaged specimens, the highest quality of which are window-killed specimens. The donation of approximately 60 window-killed eastern birds by Principia College has helped to increase the usefulness of our collection through the inclusion of species that cannot be salvaged locally. Species that were previously unrepresented in our collection include Northern Cardinal, Northern Waterthrush, White-throated Sparrow and Wood Thrush, as well as eastern races of American Robin and Northern Flicker.

Once again, thank you for the generous donation of specimens. I look forward to continuing this arrangement in the future, and I would be happy to set up a specimen exchange, whereby frozen specimens of western bird species could be sent to Principia College for use in your collections.

Tonya Haff


I visited UCSC in 2007 to see the specimens in their final resting place. The images below are from that visit. The bulk of the specimens in each image are from my project.

Ovenbirds and warblers.

Birds that hit windows and die are generally in excellent condition when fresh, so when those specimens are available, there's no need to actively collect (read: shoot) additional specimens.

The importance of studying wild animals cannot be understated: DDT was linked to the thickness/thinness of eggshells, and while live measurements are meaningful, a side-by-side comparison provides a tangible sign of body size change as a response to warmer climates.

Thanks to haphazard undergrad me for the images: maybe they'll get cropped or rotated someday, but these are as they were, snapshots of a former life. Former lives. They died of unnatural causes, but perhaps their deaths will not have been in vain.

The bottom line: tis better to look out for predictable dead birds and pick them up for a future of study in a museum than risk it getting run over by a lawn mower. Because Science.

Cedar Waxwings.

If you look closely at the middle bird above, it doesn't have bright yellow at the tips of its tail feathers. An interesting study, to be sure, but known to be caused by dietary variation.

For further feather pigmentation reading:

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