• Sponsors

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Sponsors

Ornithology with Lab

Welcome to Ornithology! This is a 180 day, 1 credit high school level science course with lab that will specialize in the study of birds. Most of the labs will involve bird watching and observation. This course is built with a focus on North American birds, but it can be adapted to your area no matter where you live.

NOTE: The beginning of this course deals with the paleontological origins of birds, and later sections of the class will touch on concepts like evolution and adaptation. This is not intended to counter theological beliefs, but is instead meant to provide an overview of currently accepted theories in the field. If nothing else, they provide an interesting way to conceptualize the relationship between different species and animals in different time periods.

A day marked with an asterisk (*) means you have something to print.

Navigational Links: Quarter 2

Day 1*

1. What is ornithology? Ornithology is the scientific study of birds. The study of any type of bird – from a hummingbird to an ostrich to a penguin – falls under the heading of ornithology. Any study relating to birds (from their habitats, migrations, and diets to their biology) also counts as ornithology.
2. Watch the Introduction to Ornithology. The lecturer is from India; if you have difficulty understanding turn on the captions. STOP at 10:21, when he begins to look specifically at ornithology in India.
3. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions.
4. Print out the first quarter grading sheet. Record your score out of 4.

Day 2*

1. Register for a free account at Coursera. If you already have one, make sure you are logged in. (If you are not logged in, you will not be able to view the video.)
2. Watch the video “Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds.”
3. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 6.
4. Take a look at this artist’s rendition of an archaeopteryx. Can you see the characteristics of both birds and reptiles?

Day 3*

1. Watch the video about bird anatomy.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 7.
3. Look at this illustration comparing the skeletons of theropod feet to the foot of a modern pigeon. Can you see the similarities?

Day 4*
1. Watch the video comparing the human skeleton to bird skeletons. STOP when they begin comparing the human skeleton to the skeleton of a horse.
2. Print the bird vocabulary page and write down the definitions. Use this page to find the definitions for the terms.
3. Print page 1 of the PDF and label the bird skeleton.
4. Each worksheet is worth 5 points. Record your score today out of 10.

Day 5*
1. Watch the video about bird-like traits in coelurosaurs.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 6.
3. Today you are beginning your bird count! Print a copy of the bird count tally sheet OR, if you have a compatible device, you may choose to install the free Merlin bird count app.
4. Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)
5. Need more help with bird identification? If you have a compatible device, you may choose to download the Audubon bird guide app.

Day 6*

1. Watch the video about the development of bird-like characteristics.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 5.
3. Explore the interactive “Feathers Through Time.” Be sure to click the arrows that say “let’s go” or “next page.” The arrows on the sides of the page will take you to a different topic.

Day 7*

1. Watch the next video about the development of bird-like characteristics.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 5.

Day 8*

1. Watch the video about understanding the evolution of birds.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 8.
3. Watch the video “The Genius of Birds – Feathers.”

Day 9*

1. Watch the video about the survival of the Neornithes.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 9.
3. Watch the video about the hoatzin!

Day 10*
1. Watch the second video about the survival of the Neornithes.
2. Print pages 1 and 2 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 12.
3. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)

Day 11*

1. Watch the video on the vertebrate diversity of birds.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 7.

Day 12*

1. Watch the video about universal characteristics in birds.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and mark whether the characteristics are universal or not universal. Give yourself 10 points for completing this. Deduct half a point for each one you got wrong.

Day 13*

1. Watch the video about bird taxonomy.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 6.

Day 14*

1. Read about the differences between the two infraclasses or superorders of birds, Palaeognathe and Neognathae. STOP when you get to “Superorder Galloanserae.”
2. Listen to the pronunciation of Palaeognathe and the pronunciation of Neognathae.
3. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the reading you did to mark the differences between the two infraclasses. Record your score out of 6, and deduct half a point for each one you got wrong.

Day 15*

1. Today we are going to cover the Palaeognath infraclass, since it only contains two groups: tinamiformes and ratitae. Read the introduction to the palaeognathae.
2. Click here and look at the palaeognath family tree. Which branch of Palaeognathe has more variety?
3. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the page you read to answer the questions. Record your score out of 4.
4. Watch the video about ratites.
5. Watch the video about tinamous.
6. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)

Day 16*
1. Moving on from Palaeognathae, today we’re going to look at Neognathae. Take a look at this avian family tree. The infraclass Neognathae is divided into two main groups: Galloanseres and Neoaves. Galloanseres contains many fewer species than Neoaves, so we will investigate it first.
2. Galloanseres is divided into two orders: Galliformes (landfowl) and Anseriformes (waterfowl).
3. Read about the order Galliformes. Be sure to scroll down and read “Order Galliformes Characteristics.”
4. Read about the order Anseriformes. Scroll down and read “Order Anseriformes Characteristics.”
5. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the links above to answer the questions. Record your score out of 3.

Day 17

1. Classifying birds can be difficult. Classification and taxonomy of birds is debated, and the definitions and classifications change as new research is done. How many orders of birds are there? It depends on who you ask! Wikipedia lists 47, although at least some of them are completely extinct. The bulk of these orders (nearly 95% of all birds) fall under the heading of Neoaves, or “modern birds.”
2. Studies agree that Neoaves can be divided into 10 main groups: seven clades that contain multiple orders (“the magnificent seven”) and three “orphan orders” that do not. The “magnificent seven” are:

  • Telluraves (landbirds)
  • Aequornithes (waterbirds)
  • Eurypygimorphae (sunbittern, kagu and tropicbirds)
  • Otidimorphae (turacos, bustards and cuckoos)
  • Strisores (nightjars, swifts, hummingbirds and allies)
  • Columbimorphae (mesites, sandgrouse and pigeons)
  • Mirandornithes (flamingos and grebes)

The three orphaned orders are:

  • Opisthocomiformes (hoatzin)
  • Gruiformes (cranes and rails)
  • Charadriiformes (shorebirds, gulls and alcids)

3. Today spend at least 10 minutes watching the live FeederCam at Sapsucker woods. Did you see any birds? Could you identify them?

Day 18*

1. I hope you remember learning about Opisthocomiformes (remember the hoatzin?) so today we will move on to another one of the “orphan orders,” gruiformes. Watch the presentation about gruiformes.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Record your score out of 7.
3. Watch the courtship dance of the Japanese crane.
4. Scroll down and watch the video of the Virginia rail. Note how its long toes help it in the muddy conditions.
5. Watch the video of the buff-spotted flufftail.
6. Watch the video of the masked finfoot.
7. Listen to the grey-winged trumpeter.
8. Watch the video of a limpkin calling.

Day 19

1. Charadiiformes are typically strong-flying birds that live in open land or open water. They mostly live near water and eat invertebrates. Members of Charadiiformes can be collectively called shorebirds. The order charadriiform has three sub-orders.

  • Charadrii (shorebirds, waders, sandpipers, plovers)
  • Lari (gulls, terns, skimmers, skuas, jaegers)
  • Alcae (puffins, auks, murres, guillemots)

2. Watch the video about the spoon-billed sandpiper.
3. Watch the video of a common tern fishing.
4. Watch the video about puffins hunting for their puffling.

Day 20*

1. That concludes our overview of the “orphan orders.” Now we will begin examining the “magnificent seven.” These clades all contain multiple orders, so we will break them up across several days. Let’s start by learning about telluraves, also called land birds. Go to the wikipedia page for telluraves. Scroll down and look at the cladogram (the big chart). What familiar birds do you see in this clade?
2. Print page 1 of the PDF. Use the chart on wikipedia to add Cathartiformes, Accipitriformes, and Strigiformes to the chart. KEEP THIS CHART, we will be adding to it in the next several days.
3. Watch the video about new world vultures.
4. Watch the video about secretary birds.
5. Watch the video about the great horned owl.
6. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)

Day 21

1. We are continuing to explore the clade telluraves today. Go to the wikipedia page for telluraves and use the chart to add Coliiformes, Leptosomiformes, and Trogoniformes to the paper from yesterday.
2. Coliiformes, or mousebirds, are found only in Africa. The consist of multiple species and are slender, gray or brown birds with fine, hairlike feathers. Watch the video of the speckled mousebird.
3. The cuckoo-roller is the only species in the order Leptosomiformes. It is native to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. Watch the video of the cuckoo-roller.
4. Trogoniformes includes trogans and quetzals. They are widely distributed, being found in both North and South America, Africa, and Asia. Watch this video about the most beautiful trogans in the world.

Day 22

1. We are continuing to explore the clade telluraves today. Go back to the wikipedia page for telluraves and use the chart to add Bucerotiformes, Coraciiformes, and Piciformes to your chart paper.
2. Bucerotiformes is an order of birds that contains the hornbills, ground hornbills, hoopoes and wood hoopoes. Watch the video about the ground hornbill.
3. The Coraciiformes are a group of usually colorful birds including the kingfishers, the bee-eaters, the rollers, the motmots, and the todies. The name Coraciiformes means “raven-like”. Watch the video about kingfishers!
4. Piciformes includes nine families of mostly tree-dwelling birds. The most famous of these are woodpeckers! Most piciformes eat insects and have feet with two toes facing forwards and two facing back. Watch the video about the downy woodpecker!

Day 23

1. We are continuing to explore the clade telluraves today. Go back to the wikipedia page for telluraves and use the chart to add Cariamiformes and Falconiformes to your chart paper.
2. Cariamiformes consists of only one living family, seriemas, and multiple extinct families often referred to as “terror birds.” Watch the video about terror birds. Then listen to the call of the red legged seriema.
3. Falconiformes are falcons. Falcons and hawks look similar but are not closely related. Watch the species spotlight on the American Kestrel.

Day 24

1. We are finishing up the clade telluraves today. Go back to the wikipedia page for telluraves and use the chart to add Psittaciformes and Passeriformes to your chart paper. Record 5 points if you correctly filled out the chart.
2. Psittaciformes are parrots, and contain nearly 400 species. Parrots are characterized by strong, curved bills, an upright stance, and feet with two toes pointed forward and two pointed backwards. Watch the video about the order Psittaciformes.
3. Passeriformes, known as passerines, include more than half of all bird species. Sometimes called ‘perching birds,’their name means “sparrow-shaped.” They are characterized by the arrangement of their toes (three toes pointing forward, one toe pointing back.) This is the type of bird that is typically attracted to a bird feeder. Watch the video about attracting a variety of birds to a bird feeder!

Day 25*

1. Today we will begin looking at the clade Aequornithes, or “core water birds.” Go to the wikipedia page for aequornithes and scroll down until you see the chart.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the wikipedia chart to add Gaviiformes. Gaviiformes contains only five living species, called loons (in North America) or divers (in the UK.) KEEP YOUR CHART, as we will continue to add to it.
3. Watch the documentary about the common loon.
4. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)

Day 26

1. We are continuing to explore the clade aequornithes today. Go back to the wikipedia page for aequornithes and use the chart to add Procellariiformes and Sphenisciformes to your chart paper.
2. Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that made up of albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, and two families of storm petrels. Watch the video about how albatrosses fly.
3. Sphenisciformes are penguins! (You know about penguins.) Watch the video about how emperor penguins take care of their chicks.

Day 27

1. We are going to finish exploring the clade aequornithes today. Go back to the wikipedia page for aequornithes and use the chart to add Ciconiiformes, Suliformes and Pelecaniformes to your chart paper. Record 5 points if you correctly filled out the chart.
2. Ciconiiformes, or storks, are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. Watch the video about marabou storks.
3. The order Suliformes is a diverse group, including such types of birds as cormorants, frigatebirds, gannets, and darters. Watch the video about gannets living in Canada.
4. The Pelecaniformes are an order of medium-sized and large waterbirds found worldwide. Pelicans belong to this order, along with spoonbills, shoebills, herons and ibises. Watch the video about the peculiar shoebill.

Day 28

1. Today we’re going to look at the clade Eurypygimorphae. It is a small clade, containing only two orders: Phaethontiformes (tropicbirds) and Eurypygiformes (kagu and sunbittern).
2. Phaethontiformes are a family of tropical pelagic seabirds. Pelagic means they live in the open ocean. This is a small bird family, with only three species. They have mostly white feathers with long tail feathers and small, feeble legs and feet. Watch the video about red-billed tropicbirds.
3. Eurypygiformes contains only one living species in each of two families, the kagu and the sunbittern.
4. Watch the video about the kagu.
5. Watch the video about the sunbittern.

Day 29*

1. Today we are going to begin learning about the clade Strisores. Strisores contains birds such as nightjars, potoos, oilbirds, frogmouths, swifts, hummingbirds, and owlet-nightjars. Strisores are mainly tree-dwelling birds and many species have metabolic peculiarities, like torpor.
2. Print page 1 of the pdf. Find strisores on the chart of bird orders and use it to add Caprimulgiformes and Nyctibiiformes to your chart. KEEP THIS CHART as we will continue to use it.
3. Caprimulgiformes contains mostly nightjars and nighthawks, medium nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) birds with long wings, short legs, and very short bills. Watch the video about the lesser nighthawk. Also watch this video of a nightjar opening its mouth!
4. Nyctibiiformes – or potoos – are native to Central and South America and are noted for their huge bills. Watch the video about the potoos of Costa Rica.

Day 30
1. We are continuing our overview of Strisores today. Use the chart on this page to add Steatornithiformes and Podargiformes to your chart.
2. Steatornithiformes, or oilbirds, are native to South America and the Caribbean and are the only nocturnal, flying, fruit eating bird in the world. Watch the video about the oilbird!
3. Podargiformes are also called frogmouths. They are named for their huge mouths! Watch the video about frogmouths.
4. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)

Day 31

1. We are finishing our overview of Strisores today. Use the chart on this page to add
Aegotheliformes and Apodiformes to your chart. Record 5 points if you correctly filled out the chart.
2. Aegotheliformes, or owlet-nightjars, are small crepuscular birds native to New Guinea and Australia. They eat mostly insects. Like other birds in the Strisores clade, they have bills that can open very wide. Watch the video about the owlet-nightjar.
3. Apodiformes include swifts, treeswifts, and hummingbirds. These birds are all characterized by small, weak legs and perching feeet.

Day 32

1. Today we are going to look at the clade Mirandornithes. Mirandornithes only contains flamingos and grebes.
2. Watch the video about how flamingo chicks get their color. (Don’t be confused: when the video talks about ‘milk’ it is not the same as the milk produced by mammals. It is called ‘crop milk’ and comes from their digestive system, similar to how other birds will regurgitate food to feed their young.)
3. Watch the courtship dance of Clark’s Grebe.

Day 33

1. Today we are going to look at the final clade, Columbimorphae. Columbimorphae contains three orders, which include pigeons and doves, sandgrouse, and mesites.
2. There are more than 300 species of doves and pigeons. The bird commonly called “pigeon” is either the domesticated pigeon (the world’s oldest domesticated bird) or the feral pigeon (birds descended from the domesticated pigeon that have returned to the wild). It is important to remember that the domestic pigeon represents a bare fraction of the species in this family. Watch the video about collared doves.
3. Sandgrouse are a family of only 16 species, living in Africa and Asia. They are ground-dwelling birds, and live in areas without much tree cover. Watch the video of a sandgrouse transporting water to his chicks.
4. There are only three species of Mesites, and they all live in Madagascar. They are flightless, or nearly flightless, and live in forest and scrubland. They eat insects and seeds. These birds are scarce and endangered, and are rarely filmed. Watch the video of the white breasted mesite.

Day 34

1. Congratulations! We have completed our overview of all the orders in Aves. I hope you encountered at least some birds that you had never heard of before. Today we are going to take a break and watch a documentary, “Bird of Prey,” about Philippine Eagles.

Day 35*

1. Today we are going to begin a study of feathers. Feathers are complex structures made of keratin (the same material as our hair and fingernails) and have different shapes, sizes, and functions. Today watch the video 5 interesting feather facts.
2. Print the first 2 pages of the PDF and use the video to answer the questions. Check your answers and record your score out of 8.
3. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)

Day 36*

1. Explore the link “how feathers are built.” Explore all 5 types of feathers. Be sure to click on the links to read more about the parts of a feather, and zoom in and use the sliders for the plumulaceouos and pennaceous regions.
2. Print the first 2 pages of the PDF and use the link to answer the questions. Check your answers and record your score out of 8.
3. Watch the video why birds preen each other.

Day 37

1. Read about what feathers do. Then, flip the cards on the left and see if you can tell what functions those feathers serve.
2. These are not the only functions feathers serve, however! Watch the video about 7 “wacky” ways that birds use their feathers.

Day 38*

1. Go to the website and read “meet a feather scientist.” Then click on links 1-6 below and watch the videos about how the club-winged manakin makes its distinctive sound.
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the videos to answer the questions. Check your answers and record your score out of 5.

Day 39*

1. Read “How Birds Make Colorful Feathers.”
2. Print page 1 of the PDF and use the article to answer the questions. Check your answers and record your score out of 7.
3. Watch the video “Why are Birds Different Colors?

Day 40

1. Birds of Paradise famously have elaborate and bizarre display feathers which they use to attract a mate. Watch the following videos to get an idea of the diversity we are talking about.

2. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)

Day 41

1. Read the section “Origin of Flight” and “Dinosaurs’ Flapping Led to Flight?” on this page. We’ve already learned about wing assisted incline running and the origin of birds. Next we are going to discuss flight.
2. Watch the video “How do Birds Fly?”

Day 42

1. Watch the video about how airplanes fly. (Do you see some similarities between the ways an airplane and a bird fly?)
2. Read about the principles of flight.
3. Watch the video about what happens when birds fly through bubbles.

Day 43

1. Watch the Magic of Bird Flight.

Day 43*

1. Birds that fly have different styles of wings to fly for different purposes. Watch the video about bird wing types.
2. The video discussed 4 types of wings.

  • long, soaring (active soaring) wings
  • delta (high speed) wings
  • slotted (high lift/passive soaring) wings
  • elliptical wings

3. Look at the diagram of these four wing types.
4. Print page 1 of the PDF and try to identify the types of wings. Did you get at least half of them right? Give yourself 5 points.

Day 44*

1. There is another type of wing that we did not cover yesterday: hovering wings. The only bird that can truly hover is the hummingbird. It manages this by flapping its wings 20 to 80 times a second. It can fly straight up and down, backwards and forwards.
2. Watch the video about how hummingbirds hover.
3. Print page 37 and 38 of the PDF and complete the worksheets. (Answers are found on pages 39 and 40. Check your answers and record your score out of 9.)

Day 45

1. Read the article “The Amazing Way Birds Land.”
2. Watch the video about how birds land.
3. Continue your bird count! (If you are using the paper version and yours is full, you can print another copy of the tally sheet on day 5.) Go outside and count all birds you see or hear for 15 minutes. Try to identify the birds and count how many of each you notice. Save your count sheet (or if you are using the app, be sure you are logged in so your count will be saved.)
4. Tally up your score for this quarter. Be sure to save this grading sheet.

Move ahead to Quarter 2!