Collections at KU Ornithology include modern, data-rich, and highly research-useful specimens: the third largest avian osteological collection in the world, and the second most diverse avian tissue collection in the world. The study skin collections total > 60,000 specimens. These collections are strongest for the Great Plains of the United States and for Mexico, with additional large holdings from across Central and South America, China, Vietnam, Borneo, Kenya, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea.

Collections Highlight


The Junin Tapaculo, Scytalopu gettyae was described in 2013 by KU ornithologists in collaboration with the Centro de Ornitologia y Biodiversidad (in Lima, Peru). It is currently known only from a single valley in the Central Peruvian Andes, where it inhabits the dense, dark understory of cloud forests­— cool mountainous forests characterized by frequent fog and mists. As a result of this humidity, trees in cloud forests are usually covered in epiphytic plants such as mosses, orchids, and bromeliads. These forests also feature other distinctive plants such as tree ferns and bamboo.

Collection Policies

Collection drawer

The collection of frozen tissue samples in the Division of Ornithology has been assembled through two decades of effort by staff, students, and associates of the KU Biodiversity Institute. Planning, funding, and implementing each field-collecting event has required considerable investment of time, effort, and resources. The Division in general has a very open policy of tissue sample grants and exchange, but within the bounds of some basic tenets: (1) we grant tissue exchanges only for well-founded and well-justified scientific applications, and (2) we expect users of the tissue-exchange system to be contributors as the system can only work when the burden of building such an archive is spread widely among many researchers.

Collection strengths

Whisteling dove

Ornithology collections include avian osteological material, fluid-preserved specimens as well as frozen tissues. The avian osteological collections are extensive, totaling over 32,500 specimens, and ranked third largest in the world (Wood and Schnell 1986). This component of the collection has important strengths from the Great Plains of the United States, Mexico, and northern South America. Important holdings include critical and unique Ecuadorian series, extensive recent Australian material, and a large series of steamer-ducks (Tachyere sp.). Recent collecting activities have built South American skeletal holdings into an important collection, with material from poorly represented sectors such as the Atlantic Forest, the Yucatan Peninsula, Guyana, and Central America.