Who’s Minding the VIREO Collection?

One in the series, “Who’s Minding the Collection?”

By Christine Sellers

The Academy houses a geographically diverse and visually stunning collection of bird photographs. Visual Resources for Ornithology (VIREO) contains nearly 200,000 images, the best of which can be accessed online for educational and commercial uses.

Captured on film by top wildlife photographers, these images represent species of birds both living and extant.

Interested to learn more about VIREO, the challenges associated with handling intellectual property, and what distinguishes this photo collection from its more specimen-based counterparts, I spoke with VIREO Collection Manager Dan Thomas.

Silver-throated Tanager, Tangara icterocephala, up close and personal with this male’s brilliant beauty.

The simplest way I could describe VIREO is… a premier collection of bird photographs. VIREO contains images taken by over 700 wildlife photographers, and 75 percent of the species of birds of the world are represented in the collection.

My job as VIREO collection manager is… to maintain and grow the collection, as well as to make sure the photos are used for both educational and commercial purposes and licensed appropriately. Among other things, we contribute a lot of work to field guides and bird-finding apps.

I enjoy working in VIREO because… I get to look at beautiful photos of birds every day, and I think helping people connect to birds throughout the world is important and rewarding.

VIREO stands out from the Academy’s other collections because… it’s not a specimen collection, it’s a photographic collection. The ability to show images of living birds has a much different impact than showing people inanimate specimens.

Dan Thomas is a big fan of the outdoors. In addition to bird watching, he enjoys fishing, experiencing nature, and playing hockey.

Some of the challenges in managing a photo collection include… digital publishing, which has made the business side of maintaining a photo collection more complex. Publishing agreements have become unwieldy legal documents with far-reaching implications. Also, publishers shy away from doing things in a limited capacity and try to sell their work in as many ways as possible.

The value in maintaining a photo collection at a natural history institution is… that it enhances our ability to document and communicate all sorts of things about our natural world. There are photos in the VIREO collection depicting birds that have since gone extinct. Conversely, VIREO has also been the origin for images of newly discovered species, too.

Sooty Shearwater, Puffinus griseus, is a pelagic bird, seldom seen from land or this perspective. It may fly as many as 40,000 miles per year at sea.

Volunteers who work in VIREO can expect… to work firsthand with some of the world’s best photos of birds. They will learn bird identification in high resolution and quite a bit about bird life in the process.

Three I’d use to describe the collection… astonishing, scientific, historic.

Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus, the fastest bird on earth, captured in a stoop.

Images can give scientists a different perspective on what they’re studying by… providing them with visual references and life history accounts. Photos can bring life to traditional scientific data like calculations and statistics.

I plan to keep the VIREO collection growing by… continuing to seek out the best photographers and photographs. We’d love to someday have all the species of birds of the world captured in photographs.

Northern Cassowary, Casuarius unappendiculatus, a large, flightless bird from New Guinea, sports a casque, or helmet. Scientists aren’t sure what the bird uses it for.

Besides VIREO, my interests include… being outdoors. I love fishing—fly-fishing and salt-water fishing especially—and camping. I’ve also played ice hockey for over 25 years.

For information about the VIREO Collection, visit our website. If you would like to support VIREO, contact Monica Cawvey Gallagher, vice president of Institutional Advancement, at gallagher@ansp.org. Better yet, donate now by clicking the blue box.

To read previous posts in this series, visit:

Who’s Minding the Diatom Herbarium?


Who’s Minding the Entomology Collection?


Who’s Minding the Malacology Collection?


Who’s Minding the Ornithology Collection?


Who’s Minding the Ichthyology Collection?


Who’s Minding the Botany Collection?

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *