An ornithologist is a person who makes a hobby or living by participating in scientific studies of birds. While there are no specific training guidelines to become one, many people who study birds have degrees in related scientific fields, such as biology, ecology, or genetics. Ornithologists usually incorporate their bird studies into larger disciplines, and often find work as teachers, tour guides, or observers at scientific preserves.
People who work in this field may study everything and anything to do with the biology and habits of birds. Studies may be focused on species instinct or learning abilities, ecosystem development and conservation, or individual and group behavior. Because the field is so open to personal interest, a person can study almost any aspect for which he or she has passion. Such studies can be remarkably effective for understanding the underlying system of a particular environment and observing the effects of time and changes on the ecosystem.
Genetic and scientific technology has also lead to an increase of ornithological studies being conducted in laboratory settings. Using mass spectroscopy, experts have been able to determine the origins of migratory birds. Laboratory work can also be observation based, as many studies on intelligence and behavior are made through watching captive birds.
Historically, bird studies were done by shooting or trapping birds and then studying them through dissection. While this lead to interesting discoveries about bird biology, it also contributed heavily to the endangerment and extinction of many species. As conservationist ideals arose, researchers redirected their efforts to studying live birds, leading to better understanding of behavior as well as physical biology.
While there is no specialized training to become an ornithologist, an aspiring scientist should have a good working knowledge of math, science, and scientific methods of observation. Many advanced biology degrees will offer courses in the study of birds, but as a separate discipline, it has yet to receive its own degree field. Most working professionals who specialize in the field possess a master’s degree or doctorate in some form of science.
Careers that specifically are geared toward the study of birds are difficult to come by, but many related jobs do exist. Those who specialize in the field may be able to obtain positions as lecturers, researchers, or teachers at universities. It is also possible to receive grants to carry out a specific study in ornithology. Some turn their observations into books about birds, both of a scientific nature and with a more entertainment-oriented theme. While it may be easier to find work as an accountant or a secretary, people who love studying birds may be able to find a way to add it to their lives.
Studies on birds are vital to understanding the environment in which they live in and the changes occurring on the Earth. By examining even the smallest species, information can be gathered that gives a deeper understanding of the natural world. People who are interested in becoming an ornithologist should try contacting their local community college or university science department for more information.