Careers in Ornithology- Becoming an Ornithologist

An ornithologist studies birds, but there is no clear job description for the profession of ornithology. Many ornithologists do not work exclusively with birds. They may be ecologists, geneticists, wildlife biologists, land managers, teachers, researchers, outdoor educators, or tour leaders. They may work for federal or state government agencies, non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, or free-lance. They may work exclusively with birds or only as a small part of their job. Ornithologists may work in the field with populations of wild birds, in the laboratory , or on data on their computer. They may specialize in a particular bird group or be a generalist.

What is Ornithology?

A fledgling ornithologist needs to take basic courses in science and math in college because understanding any group of organisms requires a background knowledge of anatomy, physiology, ecology, evolution, genetics, cell and tissue structure, and population biology. At least one and preferably two years of chemistry should be taken. Mathematics, at least through analytic geometry and preferably a year of calculus, is very helpful, as is statistics. Writing and English courses are very helpful. Appropriate college majors are biology, wildlife biology, zoology, or some equivalent. The goal should be to get a well-rounded education in the sciences.  In high school, take as many science, math, and writing/English courses as possible.

If you are searching for a college with the appropriate degrees and courses or one which offers one or more ornithology courses (most four-year colleges do), check with your high school counselor or use a search engine on the WWW to find colleges in your area; then check their websites. I am not aware of any university or college that offers a degree in Ornithology. ( Sturt University in Australia offers a postgraduate diploma or certificate in the field.) There are a few courses of study in the field, but no online degree courses that I am aware of. See FatBirder for more information.

Sometimes a Master’s degree is required. The difference between a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science degree is that, in addition to graduate level course work, the student does a research project and presents the project verbally and in writing to a committee of professors. This experience allows the student to get advanced training in the field of ornithology that cannot be had by coursework .

See American Ornithology , eBirdCareers With Animals , and the Bureau of Occupational Statistics for additional information.


Budding ornithologist
Common Gull and young ornithologist

Then there is the PhD . The Bachelor’s degree should take between 4-5 years, the Master’s 2-3 years, and the PhD another 3-5 years (a Master’s is not necessary for a PhD, however). The PhD requires more graduate level coursework and another thesis research project, along with oral and written examinations. Jobs for the PhD-prepared ornithologist include all of those above plus additional opportunities such as teaching at the university level and doing independent research. See Guide To Graduate Studies in Ornithology in North America for more information.

There are jobs available to those with a bachelor’s degree but they are rarely high paying ones. Jobs in ornithology and environmental opportunities may not be as abundant or well-paid as those for computer software designers, but they are there and will continue to be as long as people are interested in birds and other wildlife. There are other jobs in natural resources.  Full time paid positions with zoos, wildlife parks, veterinary medicine, and conservation that are exclusively devoted to birds are not common. You may be interested in Environmental Jobs, in general. See , Green Careers, or Green Degrees and Careers for more info. Ornithology Exchange lists jobs in the field.

Common Questions:

Salary: There is no standard or even average starting salary for an ornithologist as few people are hired strictly as ornithologists – they are hired as teachers, professors, wildlife biologists, environmental scientists, environmental educators, ecologists, tour leaders, etc. so the salary range applies to those fields and the organization that is hiring. The salary also depends on the level of education one has attained. So one could make very little or do quite well.

Joe and Duck
Budding Ornithologist

Tools: I am often asked what tools an ornithologist uses. This is hard to answer, as ornithologists do lots of different things. In the field they may use binoculars, telescopes, nets or traps, bands, measuring and weighing equipment, notebooks, stakes, markers, surveying equipment, geographical positioning system instruments, etc. In the lab or office they may use microscopes, chemicals, test tubes, syringes, slides, vials, cages, computers, ca

lculators, etc. Some ornithologists use lots of tools, some very few. Depends simply on what they are doing.

Typical Day: this is also a hard question to answer. A typical day depends on who the ornithologist is and what job he/she has. I teach, talk to students and colleagues, go to meetings, read books and articles, answer e-mail, work on my website, go out in the field to collect research data on birds which I then bring back to my office and analyze with statistics. I might write a grant proposal in order to generate funding for a project. Then after a few months I might be able to write a research paper for a journal if the research was good enough. I may give bird walks or talks to the general public and occasionally I do a wildlife assessment for some environmental project.

Biologist with Raptor1 I serve on a bunch of wildlife or environmentally oriented committees and I am also writing another book on birds.

How did I get interested in ornithology? I had an excellent instructor in College.

What is my favorite bird? I have none; I find them all fascinating.

For specific questions , e-mail  me, the ornithologist

Brief biography of’s scientist.

16 thoughts on “Careers in Ornithology- Becoming an Ornithologist

  1. I have installed many thousands of barn owl boxes in San Diego county over the last 25 years. I am looking for a person, possibly a student to help with installations. I can compensate this person fairly. Also there is an opportunity to study the pellets contained within the old nest boxes. One could write a thesis to prove the efficacy of owl boxes in Southern California suburbs for organic rodent control?

  2. Hi my name is Haripriya l like and i have interest to become ornithology. I am studying 8 class. Please say to me that what i should study to become ornithology. I have interest in zoology. I am studying sri chaitanya school in ongole (vip road)near HDFC bank ) commonly ongole4. I am studying in Medicon. I all competitive exams in medicon they conduct 4 subjects (botany,zoology,phy,che)weekly ones and monthly maths. Weekely exam 760marks month30 marks they will conduct. In all conducted exams upto now i got all time 1st in zoology awalys 171+. Sorry to say this but friends get awalys 85+ i now that you all members thinking that i am saying that i like zooloyg because of only i am getting good marks no. You are wrong. I got all subjects150+.but like to learn more about nature. Particularly about birds.whats why i am becoming orithologest.please i am requesting all who read my comment please help me that what I should study to ornithology. Please please pppppppppppppppppppppllleeeeaaaaaassssseeeeee.

    1. Good question. You should seek a career that you love since you’ll spend so much time at it. Ornithology or not, go to college! Yes, it is expensive but well worthwhile. You’ll make far more money than a high school graduate and have a more satisfying job. After a year or two of college, you will have a much better idea about what career to pursue.
      Best wishes.

  3. I want to subscribe to you Blog but unfortunately each time they told me “There was an error when subscribing. Please try again.’

  4. I’m studying 12th and I’m going to complete my 12th stranded and I’m interested to become ornithologist.I love birds and I love to care, kindly instruct me to serve as an ornithologist. Please help me sir.

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