Kingfishers, wrens and more: KU Natural History Museum gives passersby a peek into its collection at pop-up exhibits

photo by: Kathy Hanks

University of Kansas doctoral student Fernando Machado-Stredel shows an oriental dwarf kingfisher to Susan Scioli, who stopped by Machado-Stredel's exhibit in the Kansas Memorial Union on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

A small display of colorful taxidermic birds, looking like stuffed toys, caught the attention of those passing by in the Kansas Memorial Union on Tuesday.

“Are these real?” said one passerby who stopped to glance at the hummingbirds, wrens, kingfishers and an exotic bird of paradise — a tiny sampling of the 9 million specimens from the University of Kansas Natural History Museum collection.

The birds were on display for about an hour and a half as part of the monthly “Collections up Close” pop-up exhibit displayed in the lobby of the union.

At the event, held on the second Tuesday of every month, graduate students who are studying such fields as ornithology, paleontology, ichthyology, botany and herpetology share their passion with anyone who will listen.

Fernando Machado-Stredel, a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology, was in charge of Tuesday’s exhibit. He pointed to the black streaks on the throats of several wrens, explaining that the streak can show which populations the birds belong to.

He also showed passersby a great tit, a common Eurasian bird species, and spoke about his current research, which involves tracking the distribution of the great tit from both China and England.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Fernando Machado-Stredel, a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, points to the beak of one of the birds in the ornithology collection of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018 in the Kansas Memorial Union.

“Collections up Close” was launched last spring, said Eleanor Gardner, outreach and engagement coordinator for the Natural History Museum.

“We started this to engage the KU community with our collections,” Gardner said. “We have been featuring graduate students. They are in charge of it, select the dates and promote it accordingly.”

Gardner said the student union was an ideal location because the presenters could catch people’s attention during the lunch hour.

And on Tuesday, there were plenty of people stopping by for a closer look.

“It’s nice to get a peek at what’s in the museum,” said Lois Bauer, who was passing by on a lunch break.

And some people, like Elizabeth Theng, didn’t just happen upon the exhibit — they made a point to be there.

“I’m here for inspiration,” said Theng, a medical student from Kansas City, Mo.

“My mentor told me to come,” she elaborated as she took photos of a kingfisher with her phone. “I’m studying cranial spatial development. The jawline of humans is analogous to a bird’s beak.”

photo by: Kathy Hanks

From left, Susan Scioli, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Elizabeth Theng, Kansas City, Mo.; and Jennifer Gartner, a University of Kansas senior from Salina, look at KU doctoral student Fernando Machado-Stredel’s display of birds in the Kansas Memorial Union on Nov. 13, 2018.

Susan Scioli, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., also didn’t just happen past the display. She was visiting her family in Lawrence, and someone had recommended she stop by the union to see the birds. She wasn’t disappointed.

“I’m very fascinated by bird life,” Scioli said, as she admired the tiny oriental dwarf kingfisher Machado-Stredel held in the palm of his hand.

Machado-Stredel emphasized that his exhibit was just a minuscule cross-section of the museum’s collection.

“I had 134,000 species of birds to pick from,” he said.


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