Remember that scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds, where Tippi Hedren (as the character Melanie) smokes a cigarette as dozens upon dozens birds gather on the playground behind her? Well, the Moore Lab of Zoology is sorta like that… except all the birds are stuffed. 

Colorful Birds, sitting very quietly

The Moore Lab of Zoology, located in the center of Occidental College’s campus, is one of the world’s largest bird research collections. It was started by the famed conservationist and ornithologist Robert T. Moore, who traveled across the world to study and learn about these magnificent flying creatures.

Birds with their original hand written tags, which are great to read themselves.

The first sample Moore collected and documented was in 1897 at the young age of 15. He’s credited with discovering four new species of birds, including the tufted jay, the masked mountain-tanger, the maroon-fronted parrot, and the balsas screech-owl. In 1950, Moore donated his entire collection to Occidental College and provided a sizable endowment to ensure his birds will be taken care of for years to come. 

John McCormack briefing us before we go inside

Today, exactly 64,121 specimens of birds, mostly from Mexico and the Americas, are housed in the Moore Lab. It’s currently being run and curated by John McCormack, who’s been developing new ways to apply DNA sequencing technologies to the study of genomes and birds. 

A picture of Chester Lamb, who helped Moore with his collection

On February 17th, led by McCormack, the Obscura Society LA explored this truly unique collection. One big advantage in having a research collection is that it allows for the samples to be touched and handled. This was an open invitation to the Society as we got to experience the birds, literally, first hand. 

A hand getting handsy with the birds

Highlights included an American Bald Eagle, the world’s largest woodpecker (now extinct), the Carolina Parakeet (which also went extinct, in the late 1800s), examples of illumination in birds, and the world’s largest hummingbird. 

The bright green on the bird is an example of illumination


The now-extinct Imperial Woodpecker, the world's largest woodpecker


The "liquid" collection, reserved for the study of the soft tissue of birds

It was another awesome adventure for Obscura Society LA! Many thanks go out to all who joined us and Occidental College. A special thanks goes to John McCormack, for being a friend of the Atlas and showing us this normally private collection.

Until next time discovering this fair city of ours, remember.... GO EXPLORE!


The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!

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