The Way To Become An Ornithologist

The Way To Become An Ornithologist


If you’ve ever been captivated by the beauty and diversity of bird species and wondered how you could transform your interest into a fulfilling career, then a profession in ornithology might be your calling. Ornithologists study various aspects of bird life, including behavior, physiology, and conservation. However, embarking on this career path requires specific steps, and this comprehensive guide will lead you through the journey to becoming an ornithologist.

Chapter 1: Start with a Bachelor’s Degree

The cornerstone of a career in ornithology begins with obtaining a Bachelor’s degree. Most aspiring ornithologists pursue their undergraduate studies in life sciences, focusing on fields such as zoology, ecology, biology, or wildlife biology. These majors provide the necessary foundational knowledge and understanding of the biological sciences, which are crucial for a career in ornithology.

During your undergraduate years, it’s vital to concentrate on courses that will enhance your understanding of the bird world. Notably, you should take relevant courses in subjects such as mathematics, statistics, physiology, wildlife management, and animal anatomy. Mathematics and statistics play a pivotal role in research and data analysis, which are integral aspects of ornithology. Understanding physiology and anatomy will provide you with knowledge of bird structures and functions, and wildlife management will prepare you for conservational roles in the field.

The journey might seem daunting at first, especially if you’re fresh out of high school. However, a strategic approach will be beneficial. For example, focusing on life sciences in high school, including biology, anatomy, and physiology, can give you an early head start. You might also consider joining a local bird-watching club to start getting involved in ornithology.

Chapter 2: Gain Experience through Internships

Internships provide an excellent platform for bridging the gap between academic learning and real-world application. Therefore, after, or even during your undergraduate studies, it’s advisable to pursue internships in laboratories, zoos, wildlife organizations, or government agencies. These internships offer hands-on experience in the field and provide you with a real-world understanding of the work involved in ornithology.

Working alongside experienced ornithologists during your internship will give you invaluable insight into the profession. You’ll have a chance to learn how to collect data and study birds effectively, understand various research methodologies, and get a feel for the day-to-day duties of an ornithologist.

Remember, the professional world values experience just as much as academic qualifications, if not more. Therefore, don’t underestimate the significance of internships. They can make your resume stand out when applying for jobs and could be a determining factor in landing your first job in ornithology.

Chapter 3: Develop Essential Skills

In addition to a strong educational background and hands-on experience, there are specific skills you should hone to thrive in the field of ornithology. These skills fall into two categories: technical skills and soft skills.

On the technical side, ornithologists should have strong mathematical and statistical knowledge. These skills come into play when analyzing research data and drawing conclusions from studies. Technical and computer abilities are also crucial for managing databases, using scientific software, and staying updated with the latest digital tools used in ornithological research.

However, technical skills alone aren’t sufficient. Soft skills play an equally critical role. For instance, written and verbal communication skills are vital when sharing research findings, writing reports, presenting studies, and collaborating with colleagues. Research skills will be fundamental to your role, as ornithologists spend much of their time conducting fieldwork and experiments. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills will also help you analyze situations and make informed decisions, and data analysis skills will aid you in interpreting and understanding research results.

Chapter 4: Volunteer for Hands-on Experience

Beyond internships, there are other ways to gain practical experience and knowledge about birds and their habitats. One such avenue is through volunteering. Non-profit organizations and conservation agencies often require volunteers for various projects. These could range from conducting local bird population surveys to participating in national bird conservation efforts.

Volunteering will not only provide you with hands-on experience in the field but also expose you to the intricate details of bird species, their behaviors, and habitats. Moreover, this form of selfless service is looked upon favorably by employers and can be an excellent addition to your resume.

Chapter 5: Advance with a Higher Degree

While a bachelor’s degree might offer an entry point into the field of ornithology, if you’re aiming for higher-level research, teaching positions, or leading wildlife experiments, you might need to consider further education. Advanced degrees such as a Master of Science in biology or wildlife biology can open doors to these opportunities.

Pursuing a master’s degree allows you to specialize in a specific area of ornithology, such as marine ornithology, bird populations in a particular region, or a specific bird species. This degree not only broadens your knowledge and understanding of the subject but also elevates your qualifications, making you a more attractive candidate for advanced roles in ornithology.

For those who aspire to reach the pinnacle of academia or lead extensive research projects, a doctorate (Ph.D.) in ornithology or a related field might be a suitable goal. A Ph.D. program typically involves conducting original research in ornithology, culminating in a dissertation that contributes new knowledge to the field.

Chapter 6: Understand the Career Prospects and Salaries in Ornithology

One of the crucial factors to consider while choosing a career path is the financial prospects and job outlook in that field. As of 2022, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists, including ornithologists, stands at $64,650. However, salaries can vary significantly depending on the sector of employment, the level of education, and years of experience.

While the financial aspect is essential, equally important is understanding the job demand in the field. The job outlook for ornithologists and wildlife biologists projects a 1% growth over the next decade, translating to around 1,500 job openings each year.

However, the statistics only tell part of the story. Job satisfaction and the fulfilment derived from studying and preserving bird species and their habitats can outweigh financial considerations for many in the field. So, while it’s essential to understand the financial implications, remember to weigh them against your passion for the subject and the non-monetary rewards it can bring.

Chapter 7: Delve into the Work of an Ornithologist

As an ornithologist, your work will be multifaceted. Job duties can range from conducting field research, monitoring bird populations, capturing and banding birds, to analyzing data and conducting wildlife impact assessments. You could also find yourself creating management plans and working in laboratories. Depending on your area of interest and specialization, you might focus more on some tasks than others.

Ornithologists can work for a variety of employers. Land and wildlife agencies, non-profit conservation organizations, colleges, and universities are common places of employment. However, opportunities also exist in sectors such as the government, academia, non-profits, and private consultancies.

Each of these sectors offers unique experiences:

Non-profit Sector: Here, you might work for organizations like the National Audubon Society, focusing on education and conservation efforts. The roles in this sector offer a well-rounded experience involving public engagement, research, and fundraising.

Government Work: Agencies like the Bureau of Land Management,

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is an ornithologist?

An ornithologist is a scientist who studies different aspects of bird life, including behavior, physiology, and conservation. They can specialize in a particular species or bird group, work in related fields such as wildlife biology, ecology, teaching, research, and advocacy, or hold positions in government agencies, non-profit organizations, universities, nature centers, and zoos.

2. What qualifications do I need to become an ornithologist?

At a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in biology, zoology, wildlife biology, or a related field is required. However, for advanced positions, a master’s or doctoral degree may be necessary. Experience in the field, gained through internships and volunteer work, is also crucial.

3. How much do ornithologists earn?

As of 2022, the median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists, including ornithologists, was $64,650 according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, salaries can vary depending on the sector of employment, level of education, and experience.

4. What is the job outlook for ornithologists?

Job demand for zoologists and wildlife biologists, including ornithologists, is projected to grow by 1% over the next decade, with around 1,500 job openings each year.

5. What does an ornithologist’s work involve?

Job duties can range from conducting field research, monitoring bird populations, capturing and banding birds, analyzing data, conducting wildlife impact assessments, creating management plans, and working in laboratories. Ornithologists often have the opportunity to work outdoors in various environments, observing birds in their natural habitats.

6. What skills do I need to become an ornithologist?

Key skills for ornithologists include a deep understanding of biology, strong mathematical and statistical knowledge for data analysis, technical and computer skills for using scientific software, and excellent written and verbal communication for presenting research findings. In addition, they need good problem-solving skills, observational skills, patience, and a genuine love for wildlife and conservation.

7. What kind of organizations employ ornithologists?

Ornithologists can find employment with various organizations such as land and wildlife agencies, non-profit conservation organizations, colleges and universities, government branches like the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks, US Fish and Wildlife, and US Geological Service. They can also work as consultants for energy companies or as animal handlers in zoos.

This guide provides a comprehensive look at the journey to becoming an ornithologist. It’s an exciting and fulfilling career path that allows you to merge a love for nature with a scientific approach to understanding and conserving bird species. Remember, the journey requires commitment, patience, and continuous learning. Whether you’re observing a bird in its natural habitat or presenting research findings, every step will bring you closer to understanding the fascinating world of birds and contributing to their conservation.


The path you choose in ornithology depends on your interests and preferences. Start by exploring local volunteering opportunities to gain experience and determine which aspects of ornithology interest you the most. Obtaining a degree in wildlife biology or zoology, preferably with a well-rounded understanding of ecosystems, can be beneficial. Depending on your desired career trajectory, you might consider pursuing further education, such as a master’s or Ph.D. In the end, the field of ornithology offers numerous opportunities for those with a passion for understanding and preserving bird species and their habitats.

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