About KU Ornithology
Established in 1873, the KU Ornithology division includes the studies of phylogeny, phylogeography, genomics, distribution, diversity, ecology, and conservation of birds. We're affiliated with the degree-granting KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
The KU Ornithology collection has approximately 120,000 specimens (2022) and continues to grow.
Charles Dean Bunker became an assistant at the Museum in 1895. Bunker created the first complete catalog of the museum collections, sometimes getting data by word-of-mouth from Lewis Lindsay Dyche (Hall, 1951). He became Assistant Curator of Birds and Mammals in 1907, and Assistant Curator in Charge in 1909, when Dyche was named State Warden.
Bunker emphasized specimens as research and teaching resources rather than items for display. He also continued the tradition of expeditionary field work in collecting vertebrates, specialized in birds, and concentrated on the preparation of whole skeletons.
He developed innovative techniques for cleaning bones, emphasizing methods for the maintenance of colonies of dermestid beetles, the larvae of which were already known for their ability to clean bones precisely and without damage. Under Bunker's guidance, the ornithological skeleton collection at KU had achieved national recognition by the 1930s. Bunker's view of the Museum as a generator of new knowledge, a center for research rather than one primarily for passive display, was one of his important insights.
Bunker also was an effective teacher in the setting of a research museum, and his record of undergraduate instruction is hard to match. Alexander Wetmore was an undergraduate at KU and worked in the bird collections under Bunker. Wetmore later completed postgraduate degrees at Washington University, developed into one of the leading ornithologists of all time, and eventually became Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
Another future Smithsonian scientist (ultimately Assistant Secretary for Science) was Remington Kellogg, also a student with Bunker, specializing in mammalogy.
Other Bunker undergraduates achieving high status in ornithology were Jean M. Linsdale, later of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) at Berkeley and Hastings Natural History Reservation, and William H. Burt, also of MVZ and the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. E. Raymond Hall was one of "Bunk's Boys" also going on to MVZ, ultimately returning to KU to lead the Museum of Natural History to international prominence. Claude Hibbard and Ruben Stirton also studied with Bunker and went on to fame as mammalian paleontologists, the former at Michigan and the latter at Berkeley, both continuing a broad orientation to vertebrate biology they learned at Kansas with Bunker. Bunker retired in 1942.