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Module BSX-2041:
Introduction to Ornithology

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Overall aims and purpose

The purpose and aim of this module is to provide a detailed introduction to the the diversity, evolutionary history, ecology, behaviour and adaptive specializations of birds. The content will include the key processes that underpin individual and lifetime reproductive success is the class Aves, such as reproductive strategies, adaptations for flight and strategies and mechanisms of migration.

Course content

This module will cover the main ancestral and extant groups of birds and their intra- and inter-ordinal evolutionary relationships. An overview of the range of morphological and physiologial specialisations will be provided. The role of flight and its subsequent loss in key groups will be discussed, along with effects of environmental variables on the ecology, behaviour and migration of birds more generally. The biology of sexual display and adornments, acoustic communication and mate selection will be presented. The range of sensory systems in birds will be introduced, and how they are shaped by their ecology and behaviour will be discussed.

Assessment Criteria


70%+: The student should demonstrate comprehensive factual knowledge, critical understanding of theory, evidence of extra reading of primary literature and the ability to integrate this extra knowledge in a relevant manner.


60-69% - The student should be able to express a thorough factual knowledge of much of the core material (facts and concepts) presented in the module. They should have a competent and detailed ability to critically evaluate the principles and processes by which birds are adapted to their environment, using specific examples. Some evidence of further reading and ability to integrate material from the full range of the lecture content.


40-49% - The students should be able to express a basic factual knowledge of at least some part of the core material (facts and concepts) presented in the module. They should be able to appreciate how the features and adaptations of birds enhance their survival and lifetime reproductive success in a specific environment. Reports should demonstrate a basic ability to introduce the subject, present methods, analyse and present results, discuss the implications of the main research findings. Test and exam answers should demonstrate a basic ability to present lecture material and to outline key concepts.

C- to C+

50-59% - The student should demonstrate a reasonable factual knowledge of some of the core material (facts and concepts) presented in the module. They should have a reasonable ability to evaluate the processes governing how birds are adapted to their environment.

Learning outcomes

  1. Develop an understanding of the range of practical skills used to study birds in the laboratory and the field.

  2. Exhibit an ability to analyse, synthesise and summarise information critically and write formal reports or manuscripts.

  3. Acquire a broad understanding of threats and conservation issues relating to birds

  4. Evaluate the evolutionary and ecological significance of birds, and describe major evolutionary trends within each group.

  5. Engage with the essential facts, major concepts, principles and theories associated with the adaptations shown by birds to their environments.

  6. Develop practical, interpersonal and teamwork skills by working jointly with other students to undertake a short practical project.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
End of module exam 50
Adaptive morphology of birds 25
Analysis of movement in birds 25

Teaching and Learning Strategy


24 lectures in total comprised of: 1 introducng the module structure, assignements and deadlines. 22 covering subjects such as phylogenetic diversity, major ecological and behavioural trends, contribution of birds to the development of socio-biology theory, comparative flight biology and migration, reproductive biology and sexual selection, field and survey techniques, sensory biology, cognition and navigation. 1 on perparation for the exam


Two three hour practicals. 1) Museum practical based on comparative anatomy and morphology in birds 2) data analysis practical based on movement data in birds. Both practicals will be followed up by a one hour trouble shooting and Q&A session prior to the submission deadline.

Private study

Time for researching and reading the published literature, writing up notes from lectures, working on data analysis and writing associated with the practical reports, revision for exams.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • PS1 Communication skills, covering both written and oral communication with a variety of audiences
  • PS2 Skills in the employment of common conventions and standards in scientific writing, data presentation, and referencing literature
  • PS3 Problem-solving skills, relating to qualitative and quantitative information
  • PS4 Numeracy and mathematical skills, including handling data, algebra, functions, trigonometry, calculus, vectors and complex numbers, alongside error analysis, order-of-magnitude estimations, systematic use of scientific units and different types of data presentation
  • PS5 Information location and retrieval skills, in relation to primary and secondary information sources, and the ability to assess the quality of information accessed
  • PS7 Basic interpersonal skills, relating to the ability to interact with other people and to engage in teamworking
  • PS15 The ability to think critically in the context of data analysis and experimental design
  • SK9 Read and engage with scientific literature
  • SK10. Development of project-specific experimental skills.
  • SK11. Reading and engaging with scientific literature.
  • SK16. Recording of data and their critical analysis.
  • SK18. Advanced studies in areas of specialism, such as the use ofpeer-reviewed scientific literature.


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Handbook of Bird Biology (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) Essential Ornithology (Graham Scott), Introduction to Behavioural Ecology (Davies et al.), Ornithology (Gill), Bird Ecology and Conservation: A handbook of techniques (Sutherland et al.), Collins Bird Guide (Lars Svensson), Sensory Ecology of Birds (Graham Martin)

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: