AU for the Birds?

October 2, 2002

(Photo provided by The Insider: Science Technician Elaine Goth-Birkigt shows off the AU bird collection)

Robert Holmberg, Associate Professor, Biology, shares what’s new with birds at AU:

This summer with the help of summer lab assistant Alex Robert we were able to do considerable work on the AU Bird Collection. This collection is used primarily for teaching purposes in our introductory biology and ecology courses. However it has also been used for identifying birds during the annual Athabasca Christmas Bird Counts (see: answering questions from the general public, and research by the Alberta Provincial Museum. The specimens are also available to local artists who may wish to paint bird images or create woodcarvings.

The statistics on the AU collection are:
· 230 specimens (we keep the collection small by limiting each species to a few typical adults and juveniles
· 29 families (out of 43 potentially in the area)
· 72 species (out of 222 potentially in the area; see the wildlife brochure “Birds of the Athabasca Region”) – see:

Nearly all of the birds were killed by flying into windows of buildings or cars. Members of the general public, who found the birds, usually froze the bodies and then donated them to the University. To preserve the specimens, they were injected with a mixture of borax and formaldehyde to dry them. This allows preservation of the plumage and internal organs for future histology or parasitology work.

Photo provided by The Insider:A bird in the hand … a Northern Oriole.

To learn more about the Athabasca University Bird Collection, visit the Science Outreach – Athabasca web site (