Modern day expeditions face a collection dilemma as scientists consider ethics and endangerment. Published originally December 10, 2014 on

In 1912, a group of intrepid explorers led by Rollo and Ida Beck, widely acknowledged to be the foremost marine bird collectors of their time, embarked on a most remarkable effort to catalogue South America’s oceanic birds. Museums of the day held opportunistically collected specimens from scattered sources, but rarely did these include truly pelagic, or ocean-bound, birds that spent little time near the coast. A comprehensive collection of species was critical to resolving questions on the birds’ phylogeny or family tree, but was conspicuously absent, thus giving rise to the Brewster-Sanford Expedition of 1912.

Dr. Leonard Sanford, a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), with the financial support of Frederick Brewster, hired the Becks to lead the five-year expedition. Beginning in Peru, the Becks traversed the entirety of the South American coast, collecting specimens in Cuba and the Caribbean on their way back to the United States. This Herculean effort culminated in the import of 7,853 dead bird specimens to the AMNH.

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This article won first place in among all intern-produced articles in 2014 on the network. Hurray!

It was also republished on a blog that curates the best articles on invertebrates, which is a bit odd, since it’s primarily written about vertebrates!

Featured image credit: A tray of Eriocnemis (a genus of hummingbird) specimens, Swedish Museum of Natural History – Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet,Stockholm, CC BY-SA 3,0 License, Wikimedia.