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Course CodeBEN102
Fee CodeS1
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

ORNITHOLOGY COURSE -Study birds online or by distance education

  • Learn the science behind birds, their biology, habits and classification. 
  • Indulge a passion or further your career opportunities

ACS student comments:

Yes [the course was a valuable learning experience], very much, since I love to work with birds. I have learned a lot from the course. It is also a very fun and enriching experience [My tutor] is extremely helpful. Sheila Holliday, USA, Ornithology course.

I initially wanted to do the course because I really enjoy birdwatching and I wanted to learn more about birds than just how to identify them. Also, I was set to start university in September, and as I was no longer studying biology, I wanted to take the opportunity to so do some final studying in that area.
This course has been brilliant: not only did I learn about the biology and distribution of birds, but I also learned about taxonomy (not nearly as boring as it sounds!), and I now know the behaviours and characteristics of a range of bird species worldwide.
I've enjoyed the course so much that, after much deliberation, I decided to go on to do further study. After a word with the university admissions tutor I successfully switched degree courses, so I am now set to study Ecology and Conservation.

I owe this course so much, not just for teaching me about birds, but also for making me realise how enjoyable it is to study them. Mari Jones, UK - Ornithology course.


This can be either a foundation course for a broadened understanding of Ornithology, or it can complement other studies in the field of Environmental management or ScienceThis course stands alone for birdwatchers wishing to fill a gap in their existing knowledge; or perhaps wanting to lay a foundation upon which they can build a greater knowledge of ornithology.

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Classification & Introduction to Birdwatching
    • History of birds; Classification (Classes, Subclasses, Superorders, etc); Bird Migration; Birdwatching clubs & Other information sources, etc Binoculars, etc
  2. The Biology of Birds
    • Anatomy, external & internal structure, breeding, eggs etc.
  3. Common and Widespread Land Birds
    • Pests, introduced birds, pigeons, crows & their relatives, etc.
  4. Giant Birds & Long Legged Birds
    • Emu, Ostrich, Herons, Storks & Relatives etc
  5. Seabirds & Waterbirds
  6. Hunters
    • Birds of Prey, Owls, Kingfishers
  7. Passeriformes: includes all song birds, plus lots of other birds including: larks, jays, magpies, swallows, nightingales, wrens, mockingbirds, robins, bluebirds, thrushes, pipits, shrikes, warblers, blackbirds, orioles, finches, grosbeaks, tanagers, and more
  8. Other Birds
    • Parrots, Honeyeaters, Swifts & others
  9. Attracting, Feeding & Keeping Birds

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss the study of birds, including bird taxonomy
  • Describe anatomical and physical characteristics of birds.
  • Describe anatomical and physical characteristics of birds.
  • Discuss a range of different common and widespread land birds.
  • Discuss a range of different flightless and long legged birds including Ratites and Ciconiiformes.
  • Discuss and describe a range of water birds and sea birds.
  • Discuss and describe a range of hunting birds.
  • Discuss and describe a range of Passeriformes.
  • Discuss and describe a range of parrots and other birds..
  • Explain domestication of birds and the methodology and implications of attracting and feeding wild birds.

What You Will Do

  • Contact a Birdwatching Club or organisation in your own country, or region of the world, and find out what services and information they offer. You may locate groups on the internet, or listed under clubs and organisations in the Yellow Pages section of your phone book. You could contact them on the phone, or by email, by letter; or by attending a meeting.
  • Write a brief history of the evolution of birds mentioning of species that have become extinct and give reasons as to why you think this occurred.
  • Discuss the breeding cycle of one particular bird species (of your own choosing). Identify any traits or behavioural patterns that are unique to this species
  • Select different birds from groups studied, and research each different bird using any resources you have available to you, such as textbooks, the internet, libraries, etc.Write a paragraph describing each of the six birds you selected, giving a detailed description of their external appearance, together with details of their distribution, structure, feeding habits and breeding. If possible, focus on any birds from each group that inhabit or regularly migrate to your region.

29 Different Types of Birds!

There are of course more than 29 different bird species; but all birds can be classified into broad groupings called "taxonomic orders". There are 29 of these orders (excluding extinct birds). Throughout this course, you will learn about the common characteristics of each of these orders, and develop a capacity to systematically work out where any bird you encounter, fits in this grand scheme of things. Together with an understanding of bird biology, this gives you a valuable framework for growing your knowledge and understanding beyond your studies, and working more effectively with birds after you complete the course.


Consider Penguins

There are 17 species of penguins, all belonging to the taxonomic order called "Sphenisciformes"

They are only found in the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand, Southern coasts of Africa, Australia and South America, the Sub-Antarctic islands, and parts of the Antarctica). Their habitats include ice-free rocky shores, sandy shores, caves and crevices, dunes and coastal forests, as well as the tropical waters of Galapagos Islands, and Antarctic ice and sea.

Anatomy: Webbed feet with sharp claws, short legs set toward the back when standing upright, which causes a “waddle” movement when walking.  Short, dense plumage, usually darker coloured back and white chest. Vertical stance while on land, using their tail and wings to maintain balance, and horizontal while swimming. Pointed bill and spiny tongues. Well-developed keel and powerful stiff wings that move only at the shoulder joint. They have a layer of fat under their skin for insulation. Depending on the species, most adult penguins may be from 40cm to 90cm in length, and can weigh between 0.5-8kg; Emperor Penguins can reach up to 1.2m in length and weigh approximately 40kg when adults.

Diet: Among the main marine organisms penguins feed on include fish (i.e. sardines, anchovies), squid and crustaceans such (i.e. krill and shrimp). They can go for long periods without eating. When fasting, they stay on land and live off their body fat.

Behaviour: Social, aquatic, flightless birds which use their flipper-like wings to swim. Penguins can be migrant (i.e. Adelie Penguins, King Penguins), partially migrant (i.e. Magellanic Penguin) or non-migrant (i.e. Gentoo Penguins, Jackass Penguins). They spend most of their lives at sea, including while they’re resting. The primary sense used in hunting, as well as to avoid predators is sight. They only catch food at sea and larger penguins tend to hunt using a mechanism called “porpoising”. Smaller penguins catch their prey near the surface while larger ones can dive deep (i.e. Emperor Penguins can dive up to approximately 500m, lasting around 20 minutes underwater). Fasting during incubation or moulting is not uncommon. Some species can leap from the water to land on rock or ice. A movement called “tobogganing” is used by some penguins to conserve energy while moving.

Breeding: Monogamous. They breed (and moult) onshore, generally forming large colonies. Penguins may build rudimentary nests (i.e. Adelie Penguins), other species may nest in burrows (i.e. Magellanic and Jackass Penguins), while others make no nests (i.e. Emperor and King Penguins). Most penguins lay 2 eggs in one clutch while others lay just 1 (i.e. Emperor and King Penguins). Eggs are commonly laid late spring to early summer; giving chicks time to hatch and develop before going to sea the following winter. Most commonly, males and females will take turns taking care of the eggs and chicks, exceptions include the Emperor Penguin.

Main predators: Orcas, leopard seals, and introduced animals

Human interaction
: Penguins show no apparent fear of humans. Humans are not allowed to get closer than 3m to penguins; however, if a penguin approaches a human, they are not expected to move away. Threats to penguins mainly include marine pollution, oil spills and climate change.

Interesting facts
: They are the fastest underwater birds. Adelie Penguins form the largest colonies, reaching up to 1million birds per group, and can consume up to 9,000 tonnes of food a day. The Gentoo Penguins are the fastest underwater swimmers among the rest of the penguins. The Emperor Penguin is the largest in size and body mass of all penguins.


Make a Serious Study of Birds

  • For anyone with a passion from amateur bird watchers to environmental professionals
  • Increase your understanding of biology, taxonomy and behaviour of birds
  • Improve your employment opportunities to work with wildlife or pets
This course will provide a foundation for understanding what you observe, read and hear about birds elsewhere. It will help you make sense of information which comes to you from many different sources. Throughout the course you will be gathering information which goes beyond the course notes. As you pursue research and observational tasks, you will have the opportunity to focus on particular topics which are of most interest or relevance to you. Some useful resources are described below:

Zoos and Wildlife Parks

Many zoos and wildlife parks have good collections of birds. These are great places to observe birds; not only their physical appearance, but also their behaviour. You should always remember though, that a bird in captivity may behave differently to one in the wild: particularly if confined to a small cage. Properly cared for and presented birds in captivity however, can exhibit behaviours approaching what is natural. Consult your regional tourism office, or even the telephone book, to find bird or wildlife parks within reach of where you live (or visit).

Getting Information from the Internet

The internet is a great resource, but one that is constantly changing. A selection of useful and interesting sites is listed below, as examples of what you might find. (If any of these are inoperable when you look for them please let us know so we can change our course notes). These listed sites are nothing more than a starting point though.

When searching the internet, you should realize that the way in which sites are listed and searches should be carried out may vary from place to place and time to time. For example: A search for “ornithology” may bring very different results to a search for “birds” or “bird watching” In America, the term “Birding” is often used; but in Australia, a more common term is “bird watching”. Try searching for different combinations of words, and different words. Remember, even searching for the plural of a word can result in different results to the singular (ie. search for both Birds and Bird).  


Meet some of our academics

Barbara SeguelTeacher and Researcher, Marine Scientist, Tourism and Outdoor recreation guide, Health and Safety Coordinator & Production Manager for Fisheries, National Park Staff/Farmer, Laboratory technical aide, Zoo, Wildlife and Marine Park assistant. Barbara has worked in Hawaii, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, and Australia. Barbara has a B.Sc. Marine (Academic degree) and M.Sc Aquaculture Engineering.
Dr Robert BrowneZoologist, Environmental Scientist and Sustainability, science based consultancy with biotechnology corporations. Work focused on conservation and sustainability. Robert has published work in the fields of nutrition, pathology, larval growth and development, husbandry, thermo-biology, reproduction technologies, and facility design.Robert has B.Sc., Ph, D.
Jade SciasciaBiologist, Business Coordinator, Government Environmental Dept, Secondary School teacher (Biology); Recruitment Consultant, Senior Supervisor in Youth Welfare, Horse Riding Instructor (part-completed) and Boarding Kennel Manager. Jade has a B.Sc.Biol, Dip.Professional Education, Cert IV TESOL, Cert Food Hygiene.
Marius Erasmus Subsequent to completing a BSc (Agric) degree in animal science, Marius completed an honours degree in wildlife management, and a masters degree in production animal physiology. Following the Masters degree, he has worked for 9 years in the UK, and South Africa in wildlife management, dairy, beef and poultry farming.

Check out our eBooks

BirdsLearn to identify birds -made easier The foundation for understanding and identifying birds is to learn the 29 orders that birds fall into; and the characteristics of each of those orders. This book gives you that foundation in a way that is easy to understand.
Animal PsychologyComparative Animal Psychology. This is an excellent reference for anyone interested in understanding animals better; students, animal owners and anyone who works with animals.
PoultryPoultry are entertaining as pets and life sustaining as a commercial product! Whether you are seeking a book as a beginner poultry keeper or if you are embarking on a new career in poultry production or management, this book is for you. Easy to read, easy to understand and packed with easy to implement practical advice. Know how to care for the health and wellbeing of poultry and make production a commercially viable enterprise.
Animal HealthA book for anyone interested in animal health, from pet owners to farmers. Contents cover understanding health issues, disease and injury prevention, inspecting animals, differential diagnosis and common illnesses. Animals can suffer from injury, poisoning, hereditary conditions, nutritional problems and viral, bacterial and fungal infections. 77 pages.