On Wednesday, December 11, La Brea Tar Pits will be closing at 3pm for a special event. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Kenneth Campbell

Curator Emeritus, Ornithology

Dr. Kenneth E. Campbell, Jr., was born in Jackson, Michigan in November, 1943. Raised in rural southern Michigan, his earliest work experiences were as a farmhand for neighbors.

After graduation from Grass Lake High School in Grass Lake, Michigan in 1961, he attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He graduated with a B.S. in Geology in 1966, and the following year he received an M.S. degree in Geology. During his final year at the University of Michigan his interests began to focus on vertebrate paleontology. His Master’s thesis, directed by Dr. Claude W. Hibbard, was a study of Pliocene rabbits from Idaho. In 1967 he entered the doctoral program of the Department of Zoology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, receiving his Ph.D. in Zoology in 1973. His dissertation research, directed by Dr. Pierce Brodkorb, concerned the description of the fossil birds from late Pleistocene tar pits in Peru, and it was entitled "The Non-Passerine Pleistocene Avifauna of the Talara Tar Seeps, Northwestern Peru." Before and after receiving his doctoral degree he held a position as Research Associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Before leaving Florida in 1977 he taught courses at the University of Florida in the Departments of Zoology, Geology, and Geography. 

Dr. Campbell began his tenure at the Natural History Museum in 1977 as one of two curators to fill staff positions for the newly opened George C. Page Museum, a satellite facility of the Natural History Museum. In that position he was responsible for all of the fossil birds from the world-famous Rancho La Brea collections. In 1980 he moved to the Vertebrate Paleontology Department of the Natural History Museum (NHM) and assumed responsibility for all of the fossil bird collections of NHM. During this time he was also responsible for the museum’s collection of dinosaurs, which are not to be confused with birds. In 1997 he was placed in charge of all of the museum’s collections of birds, fossil and Recent, and responsibility for the dinosaur collection shifted to others. During his time at the museum Dr. Campbell has also served in the administrative posts of Department Head (Vertebrate Paleontology/Rancho La Brea, Ornithology); Assistant Division Chief and Acting Division Chief, Earth Sciences Division; and Acting Administrator, George C. Page Museum.          

Dr. Campbell’s research focuses on three primary subject areas. The first research subject is paleornithology, or the study of fossil birds. This research concerns the taxonomy, or classification of birds, and the evolutionary history of birds as revealed through the study of their fossils. The second research subject concerns the functional morphology, osteology, and anatomy of Recent and fossil birds. This research is dedicated to deciphering how the bones and muscles of living birds work together as they fly, maintain their balance while walking and running, and how their jaws work when they feed. This information is then applied to extinct birds so that we can better understand the evolution of birds. The third research subject is the late Cenozoic geology and paleobiogeography of the Amazon Basin of South America. This research is dedicated to understanding how the physical evolution of Amazonia over the last 15 million years impacted the paleobiogeography, paleoecology, and evolution of vertebrates within Amazonia. The Amazon Basin has some of the areas with the highest biological persity, or numbers of species, in the world, including for birds, and it is important to understand how and why this persity came about.

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