Bird Curatorial Manual | Loans

General Information

The MVZ provides loans of skins, skeletons, fluid-preserved specimens, and tissues from its collections for scientific research. The MVZ does not loan egg or nest specimens.

All requests for materials must be received in writing and approved by a MVZ Curator. Loans are made only to faculty, curators, and permanent staff at recognized institutions that have facilities to properly house and care for specimens. Loans then become the responsibility of the recipient at that institution. Loans are not made directly to students or postdoctoral associates and should not be mailed to home addresses or P.O. boxes.

Individuals who are not affiliated with such an institution may request a loan of material only if they have made prior arrangements with an appropriate person for housing of specimens, and if that person agrees in writing to receive the specimens on the researcher’s behalf. All requests (1) must be made in writing, (2) should include a brief statement about the proposed use of the material, and (3) must be approved by an MVZ Curator.

See Use Policies for complete information about specimen and tissue loan policies.

For detailed information, also read the MVZ Loan Guide for Arctos.

Specimen Loan Procedures

Loans keep track of MVZ bird specimen and tissue usage, which is important for annual reports or grant proposals. These include requests from outside researchers as well as in-house usage for classes, research, tours, and visitors.


All loans are processed through Arctos. Every loan is assigned a unique loan number in Arctos by the Staff Curator. In addition to the loan number, information recorded in Arctos includes the curator(s) who authorized the loan, loan type (e.g., “returnable” “consumable”), transaction date, recipient, in-house and outside contacts, and the nature of material (count of number of specimens, taxonomic information, and part types if relevant). Additional information may be recorded in the description, instructions, or remarks fields.

For returnable loans, it is also important to add a due date for when the loan is expected back at the MVZ. This is typically 6 months from the time of the loan, although that may be adjusted depending on the nature of the request. Arctos will send automated reminders when a loan is due or overdue based on that due date.

Be sure to hit “Save” when creating a new loan. Once the loan is saved, enter the shipping information which includes: the person who is packing the loan; shipment method; shipment type; recipient’s address; and sender’s address. The addresses must be entered before printing out the loan header (see below).

The Staff Curator will create a project in Arctos based on the original loan request, then add the loan to the project. The project title, description, and people involved are all recorded.

Removing Specimens From the Collection

Removal of any specimens from the collection must be noted by placing either a withdrawal slip or post-it (temporary removal only, see below) in the physical location. For loans, place a blue withdrawal slip in the place of every specimen that is removed. One blue slip nay be placed for multiple specimens if they are all taken in sequence. For skeletons where the entire specimen is sent on loan, place the blue slip in place of the box that is removed; if only certain elements are removed and the original box remains in the collection, put the blue slip inside the box where part of it is folded over and showing from the outside of the box (under the lid). When removing alcoholic specimens from a jar, tape the blue slip on the outside of the jar lid.

Blue slips should include:

  • Species name
  • MVZ catalog number(s) – either a single number or a series separated by a hyphen (if continuous numbers) or by commas
  • Name of person who removed the specimens and the loan number
  • Date removed
  • Part type if relevant (e.g., if just the skull is removed from a skeleton).

If specimens are removed for temporary usage, e.g., for a tour or class, a post-it may be used in place of a blue slip. The post-it should include the specimen number, person’s name, date removed, and purpose (e.g., Cal Day, Conservation Biology class). Similarly, any post-its placed on the outside of cases (which aids in locating a case for a tour or some other purpose) must include the person’s name, date, and purpose. Any post-it without complete information will be removed.

Tissue Subsampling

Tissue loans require subsampling of tissues stored in the MVZ Liquid Nitrogen facility on the first floor of VLSB. Subsampling is done only by curatorial assistants who have been trained in this procedure, are trained in locating and removing tissues from the liquid nitrogen storage, and are authorized (including safety training) to work in that facility. 

Adding specimens to the Loan

Individual specimens are added to the loan through Arctos. Users must have permission for ‘manage transactions’ in Arctos in order to edit loans. Search Arctos for the loan number (Manage Data > Transactions > Find Loan), then click Add Items which will get you to a Specimen Search page. The top of the page will say “You are searching for items to add to a loan. Select “Bird Specimens (MVZ:Bird)” from the drop-down list for Collection, then search by catalog number(s) for specimen(s) that you want to add to the loan. This will return the specimens of interest, including information on all of their associated parts. Select the correct part for the specimen, then click “Add” to add it to the loan. If the loan involves subsamples (e.g., tissues, bone fragments from a skeleton, toe pads from a skin), check the box next to “Subsample?” for that part before clicking “Add” to indicate that only a piece of the specimen is included in the loan. Once you done adding all specimen parts to the loan, click “back to loan” at the top of the specimen results page.

Items for large loan requests (e.g., 20-30 or more specimens) may be entered through the Arctos “Bulkload Loan Items” Batch Tool (Enter Data –> Batch Tools –> Bulkload Loan Items). Download a template or use this example (note: change SUBSAMPLE from 0 to 1 and PART_DISPOSITION to “transfer of custody” if the part is a subsample for permanent loan, e.g., tissues). Once you have filled out the spreadsheet, save it as a comma-delimited (csv) file and open it in a text editor such as Textpad to remove any blank rows at the bottom. The part name in the spreadsheet must match the part for the item in Arctos. To upload the file, go to “Bulkload Loan Items” and choose the file, then click “Upload this file.” If all goes well, the Status column will say “Spiffy.” If there are issues (e.g., part name doesn’t match), you will get an error such as “coll object found 0 times – check that part exists and is not on loan.” Fix the file and try again until you succeed.

For specimens that are not cataloged yet, there are two ways of adding them to the loan. One is in the Description field for the loan, where the material may be referenced by collector/preparator numbers. Alternatively, spreadsheets with the loan items may be uploaded as a text file and attached to the loan as media.

For skins, skeletons, or fluid specimens, note their condition after adding them to the loan (Hint: Write down the conditions on a piece of paper before entering them into Arctos, or alternatively you can do it directly into Arctos. Skeletons should be emptied from their box onto a white piece of paper so that the bones are easily separated and examined for missing or broken parts). This is important for tracking damage incurred in transit or at the borrowing institution. In Arctos, click on “review loan items” for the loan and enter condition notes in the “Condition” text box for each specimen. Pay particular attention to the following: skins – loose parts (e.g., head, wings, legs) and soiled or ruffled feathers; skeletons – missing or broken bones; fluid specimens – body incisions. Hit the tab key to move to a different field and save the condition entry.

Items added to a loan in Arctos receive a default disposition of “on loan” but this can be changed individually or in batch. For consumable loans or permanent gifts, the disposition should be changed to “transfer of custody” which indicates that the MVZ does not expect the material to be returned.eSUBSA


Print three copies of the loan paperwork from Arctos. The paperwork typically includes a loan header and a loan invoice, although the invoice is not relevant if the loan consists of uncataloged material. Make sure that the sender and recipient address has been entered into the loan shipment before printing the paperwork.

Go to the loan and select “Any Report” in the dropdown under “Print…” You may need to click on a link to get to the Arctos Reporter. From the long dropdown list, select “MVZ_Loan_Header (MVZ_loan_header.cfr)” and click “Print Report, then print three copies of the loan header. Return to the Reporter and select “MVZ_Loan_Invoice (MVZ_Loan_Invoice.cfr”)  to print the list of specimens and associated information. Staple the header and all pages of the invoice together for each copy.

Two copies go with the shipment (see below), and one copy gets filed in the loan invoice binder. For the filed copy, write the loan number in pen at the bottom of the header page because the printed number at the top of the page is usually hidden by the binding.

Every loan gets an archival folder that is filed in the loan file cabinet in the curatorial area. The loan number is written on the left side of the folder’s tab, and the year that the loan was generated is written on the right side. The Staff Curator typically creates these folders for birds to ensure that all associated paperwork is kept together.

The folder should contain:

  • copies of the initial request and all correspondence (including printed emails) related to the loan
  • one signed copy of the loan header/invoice (to be sent by the recipient upon receipt of the loan)
  • one copy of the FedEx waybill (see below)
  • one copy of the shipping receipt

Shipping Specimens

Packing Specimens by Type

How the specimens are packed depends on the specimen type (see below). Bird skins are wrapped in tissue paper as a “bird burrito”, skeletons are kept in boxes with the bones wrapped in tissue paper (different sets of bones are wrapped separately), and fluid-preserved specimens are wrapped in ethanol-moistened cheesecloth. Skins and skeletons are always shipped in wooden boxes, which are found on the lowest shelves in the supply hallway running between the Curatorial area and the elevator. Fluid specimens are shipped in sturdy cardboard boxes; empty  boxes are kept in the surplus fluid room next to the mammal fluid collection. Be sure to select a box that is large enough to fit the FedEx envelope for the waybill (see below).
Study skins are wrapped individually in tissue paper. Custom-cut the tissue paper to the size of the specimen, making sure that there is enough paper to completely wrap the specimen with the paper seam on the bottom. Wrap the bird by gently rolling the skin. The wrapping should be long enough to fold over both ends without impacting the skin.  Ensure that crests, tails, and other appendages are not bent in packing. The label should be placed gently along the side the skin or tucked under legs (do not pull the label and string hard or it might damage the legs).

Find a wooden box that will take all of the wrapped skins. Line all sides of the box with tissue paper, leaving the ends hanging out, then line the box with polyester fiber batting. Gently place the wrapped skins inside the box so that they are laying flat with the bill side up. The skins should be placed next to either other (the folded ends of the tissue paper can overlap slightly) so that they are snug and won’t roll or shift during shipping. If there are gaps between the skins and box lining, add more batting so that the skins are well-padded. Multiple layers of skins can be packed in one box with layers of batting between them. You can pull apart the batting so that it is a thin single-layer instead of a thick double-layer. Skins should be placed directly on top of each other so that pressure is not applied unevenly to the specimen.

A final layer of cotton should be placed on top of the packed specimens. Fold the ends of the tissue paper neatly and snugly over the top layer of cotton and secure it with transparent tape. Layers of skins should not be placed so tightly that they crackle when the lid is placed on the box.
If skins and skeletal parts are requested, the boxes of skeletal material should be packed first in the bottom layers, with the skins on top.
Skeletons should be packed in the same boxes used for storing them in the Museum. However, if only certain skeletal elements are requested (e.g., just the skull or long bones), those can be removed from the original box and put in another empty skeleton box for shipping.
Ensure that bones do not move around inside their boxes by wrapping them with tissue paper. Different types of skeletal elements should be wrapped separately (e.g., skull and lower mandible, long bones, sternum, etc.). Place any small loose bones in a small plastic bag so that they are not lost. Make sure that there is sufficient tissue within the box so that the bones do not rattle; if necessary, add extra tissue on tops to further pad the box contents. Secure the box by wrapping a rubber band around it.

Find a wooden box that will take all of the skeleton boxes. Line all sides of the box with tissue paper, leaving the ends hanging out, then line the box with polyester fiber batting. Gently place the skeleton boxes inside the wooden box so that they are are snug and won’t shift during shipping. If there are gaps between the skeleton boxes and the box lining, add more batting so that the boxes are well-padded. Multiple layers of boxes can be packed together with layers of batting between them. You can pull apart the batting so that it is a thin single-layer instead of a thick double-layer.

A final layer of cotton should be placed on top of the packed specimens. Fold the ends of the tissue paper neatly and snugly over the top layer of cotton and secure it with transparent tape.
If skins and skeletal remains are requested, skeletal material should form the bottom layers of packed material.

Fluid specimens should be removed from their jars in the Herpetology lab, and wrapped carefully in several layers of cheesecloth that have been moistened in 70% ethanol; the cheesecloth should be moist but not dripping. Ensure that the entire specimen is covered by at least two layers of cheesecloth. The wrapped specimen(s) should then be nested in three plastic bags. Place specimens in the first plastic bag, then heat seal the bag. Place that bag into a second bag with an absorbent pad, then heat seal again. Lastly, place the bag within a third bag with an MVZ card with the address, then heat seal again. The resulting plastic bag should be arranged snugly within a sturdy cardboard box that has been filled with styrofoam packing peanuts. DO NOT use starch packing peanuts! They will dissolve if the bags leak.

Alcohol specimens should be shipped separately from skin and skeletal materials.

FINALIZING the Shipping Box

Place one copy of the loan invoice/header inside the box on top, before securing the lid. Also place an MVZ card with the address inside the box – either with the loan invoice or taped to the underside of the lid.

Print a copy of the MVZ Shipping Label to put on the outside of the box. This label includes the address of the sender, recipient, and the loan number. Go to the loan and select “Any Report” in the dropdown under “Print…” You may need to click on a link to get to the Arctos Reporter. From the long dropdown list, select “MVZ_Ship_Label (MVZ_Ship_Label.cfr)” and click “Print Report, then print. This will generate two copies of the label on one page; cut them into separate labels, but remove the loan number information so that it just has the addresses (for security purposes).

Secure the lid to the box. Wooden box lids are secured with screws or galvanized nails, while cardboard boxes (for fluids only) are closed with heavy duty clear wrapping tape. Once the box is closed, wrap each end with strapping tape and use clear wrapping tape to add one of the two shipping labels with the address to the outside of the box. 

Wrap the entire box neatly in brown kraft paper using the roll that sits on top of the curatorial cases. The seam should be on the bottom of the box, so gently turn the box over to start and then continue with it right-side-up. Use clear wrapping tape to cover each seam. Again, wrap each end with strapping tape. The final box should look like a neatly wrapped Christmas present (no loose baggy folds). If the loan consists of multiple packages shipped at one time, put in the upper right corner of each package “Box 1 of 3, Box 2 of 3…” Tape a second copy of the MVZ Shipping Label to the side of the box (not the top which is reserved for the FedEx paperwork).


federal express & edecs

Loans typically are shipped via Federal Express (if not hand-carried). The Federal Express paperwork must be done through a UC Berkeley account. The Staff Curator typically does the Federal Express paperwork for birds.

Login to and click on Shipping –> Create a Shipment. The sender’s address should automatically be filled out. Enter the following information:

  • Recipient’s shipping address and phone number
  • Package and shipment details
    • Ship date
    • Package weight (final weight after box has been wrapped)
    • Service type (typically FedEx Express Saver, sometimes Second Day Air – depends on cost and urgency)
    • Package type (typically “Your packaging”)
  • Billing Details (reference: MVZFEDEX) – enter recipient’s FedEx account number if provided upon request
  • Pickup/Drop-off (select “Use an already scheduled pickup at my location”)
  • Shipment Notifications (add sender’s and recipient’s email, and select all notification types)

Other options are:

  • Special Services (typically only relevant for dry ice shipments)
  •  Rates and Transit Times (useful for estimating and comparing costs of different service types)
Hit Ship to enter the shipment into the FedEx system. Alternatively, you can save the information for later.
Print out two copies of the FedEx waybill, and one copy of the FedEx receipt. Fold and place a copy of the waybill in a FedEx clear envelope that’s pasted to the top of the box. The other copy plus the receipt go inside the loan folder (see above). Also fold and place one copy of the loan invoice and header inside the waybill envelope, behind the waybill.
Enter the FedEx tracking number, package weight, and ship date into the loan shipment information in Arctos.
Take the completed box to the shipping and receiving room in the Life Sciences Addition. Special card key access is needed to get from VLSB to LSA through the first floor connector. 
The Staff Curator will send an email with the tracking number to the recipient indicating that the shipment is en route.

International loans involve the same process and paperwork as domestic loans, plus additional documents. International loans should be sent FedEx International Priority unless otherwise specified.

Federal Express Commercial Invoice

All international shipments through FedEx require a Commercial or Pro Forma Invoice, even if the shipment contains non-commercial items such as specimens. The type of invoice required may vary with the country (e.g., Latin America and Africa prefer Commercial Invoice, Germany prefers Pro Forma; contact a Staff Curator for advice). The invoice requires you to enter each commodity, the number of items, and their description, weight and value. A Harmonized Code also must be entered for international shipments. Here are some guidelines on what to enter:

  • Description: Sample – scientific samples, no endangered species, no commercial value
  • Unit of measure: NO (for number of individual items)
  • Harmonized Code: 9705.00.0090 (for scientific samples)
  • Weight: The weight of each item, when totaled, must be less than the total weight of the commodities. The commodity weight is less than the package weight, which includes the packing material.
  • Unit Value: The value of each item, when totaled, must be less than $1.00 which is entered as the total value of the shipment. The value cannot be zero, and we do not put a high value on specimens/samples for tariff reasons. A separate value is entered for the shipment insurance.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Import/Export Declaration:

A U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) Import/Export Declaration Form 3-177 must be filled out prior to sending any specimens internationally. The form is completed through the USFWS Electronic Declarations (eDecs) site, which requires a special account. The Staff Curator typically completes the eDec for bird exports. Supporting documentation must be uploaded when the form is filled out, or soon after; such documentation typically includes a copy of the MVZ loan invoice, FedEx waybill and Commercial Invoice (both printed from the FedEx site), any relevant permits (e.g., for migratory birds), and other paperwork if required by the receiving country (e.g., letter explaining the contents of the shipment and treatment methods if relevant, animal and veterinary services documentation for public health, etc.). All exports must be shipped through one of the USFWS designated ports; if that is not possible, then a Designated Port Exception Permit is required for shipping through a non-designated port. The eDec must be stamped as cleared by the USFWS before the loan can be sent. 

Shipping Waybill

The FedEx shipment must include the following in the waybill envelope (in this order):

  • FedEx international waybill
  • FedEx Air Waybill copy (AWB, 3 copies)
  • Commercial Invoice (3 copies)
  •  MVZ Loan Invoice (signed header and list of specimens)
  • Cleared USFWS eDec
  • Permit(s), e.g., USFWS Migratory Bird Import/Export Permit
  • Other letters, permits, or documents as required by the recipient

Returning Borrowed Specimens

  1. Unpack the loan in the Prep Lab. Check that all specimens are accounted for by comparing what was returned to the original loan invoice. Note the condition of the specimens to make sure they were not damaged during the loan.
    • Note: Specimens borrowed by MVZ researchers can be returned directly into the collection as long as they have been housed in the museum the entire time. This should be coordinated with the Staff Curator to ensure that all specimens are accounted for, and that a loan invoice is created to track their usage. Blue slips put in the place of specimens should be torn up and discarded.
  2. Place skins and skeletal specimens in a case in the Prep Lab to be frozen as part of the Pest Management procedure. Specimens are frozen for one week and quarantined for another week before being returned to the collection. See the section on Quarantine Procedures for detailed instructions on how to prepare specimens for the freezer. Fluid-preserved specimens may be returned directly to their jars, and the blue slips torn up.
  3. If the entire loan has been returned, cut off the lower right corner of the loan invoice in the loan binder.
  4. If the returned lot represents a partial return, mark the loan invoice in the binder to indicate the date of return and which specimens have been received.
  5. If the returned loan includes an invoice from the recipient’s institution, this should be signed by the Staff Curator and returned to its sender. The Staff Curator will send an email acknowledging the safe return of the specimens, whether an invoice was received or not.
  6. Re-install the skins or skeletons into the collection once they have undergone the freezing process. Tear up the blue loan slips placed in the cases as each specimen is re-installed.
  7. Update Arctos to indicate that the loan has been partially or fully returned. If a partial return, note the status in the Remarks section (including the date of the partial return) and leave the loan open. If the loan is complete, enter “Loan returned and re-installed into the collection [date]/[initials].” Change the loan status to “closed” and enter the “Closed Date” in the format yyyy-mm-dd.
  1. Obtain a copy of the loan invoice from the departmental filing cabinet or from the borrower. Check to verify that all specimens to be returned are included in the lot you were given. Also check the condition of the material against the invoice.
  2. Find the box in which you received the loan (typically, boxes are underneath the shelves in the supply hallway – MVZ boxes are to the left and boxes belonging to other institutions are to the right).
  3. Prepare the loan as you would for an outgoing loan (domestic or international). This includes packing the specimens, preparing the paperwork, and filing the paperwork in the departmental filing cabinet. All loan returns are assigned an MVZ loan number for internal tracking purposes, in addition to the original loan from the other institution. The Nature of Material in Arctos should have a count and general description of what is being returned. The Description field can have more specific details, including the original sender’s loan number and a list of the specimens (alternatively, a copy of the original list can be attached).
  4. The Staff Curator will correspond with the recipient to notify them of the shipment.