Washington Signature
[ Search and Navigation ]   [ View Full Site ]

Center for


Environment & Society

Ornithology

Ornithology is the study of birds.

What is a bird?

- Has a beak
- Two scaly legs
- Warm blooded
- Lays eggs
- They fly
- But what sets them apart are feathers

Evolution

Birds evolved from reptiles 150 million years ago. The first fossil record of the origin of birds was found in a Bavarian quarry and named Archaeopteryx by Hermann von Meyer. Picture of archaeopteryx.

Why is it important to study birds?

  • They play a vital role in consuming insects, pollinating flowers, dispersing seeds.
  • Integral part of all ecosystems
  • Barometers of the environment
  • The only way to know how important something is, is to understand it.

How do ornithologists study birds?

Song recording: Within one population ornithologists can record all male individuals each year, when male offspring return record them. By doing this we can learn whether songs are inherited from their father or from a territory neighbor or create his own song from a compilation of all the males in the population. Each individual has a unique song. 

Genetic Studies: insights into species diversity. Cryptic species cannot be separated by sight or sound and only by looking at their DNA. Paternity analysis uses blood from the parents and nestlings to determine genetic relationships.

Bird banding has many different uses. One type of banding targets migrating songbirds, this type of banding is used to monitor migrant populations of birds that may not breed or winter in the banding station or research area. Banding migrant birds allows researchers to detect whether there are differences in timing of migration of long distant migrants due to global climate change. By having a long term migration banding dataset researchers can look into productivity, how many young birds migrate through an area each year? Individually marking birds with color bands at summer breeding grounds and winter grounds allows researchers to monitor individuals, which is essential in long-term population demography studies. 


Behavior observations:
interesting behavior related questions can lead to information about habitat needs of birds. Tracking daily movements can give land managers data on area requirements of birds, locating nests and marking territories gives researchers data on specific habitat attributes a species or suite of species need. Especially important for birds in decline. 

 

Radar Ornithology: researchers can use Doppler radar to monitor many thousands of birds as they migrant at night. This gives researchers insights into how weather patterns affect timing and pattern of migration. Screen shot of radar map, something teachers could incorporate into high school lessons.

Radio and satellite tracking: advances in technology have made it possible to track birds as small as 15 grams. Satellite tracking allows researchers to get detailed location data on a global scale. Understanding migration patterns, where and when and for how long birds stop can be answered by this technology. 

 

Night flight calls: similar to radar ornithology recording night flight calls of individual migrating birds gives researchers insights to abundance, diversity, timing of migrating species. Important for new proposed wind farms and lights out campaigns in cities.