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

Learn About Birds Online

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

This course 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 Science. This 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.

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, Ornithology course.

"I initially wanted to do the course because I really enjoy bird watching 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, Ornithology course.

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Classification and Introduction to Bird watching
    • Nature and scope of ornithology (over 9,000 species).
    • Place of Birds in Nature.
    • Bird Classification (Aves, Ratitae, Carinate).
    • Use of common names and scientific names.
    • Fossil or Extinct Birds.
    • Classes and Sub Classes.
    • Comparing characteristics of different Super orders.
    • Comparing characteristics of all major bird Families.
    • Resources for further information.
    • Bird Watching equipment.
  2. The Biology of Birds
    • Anatomical features.
    • Skeleton.
    • Feathers.
    • Feather Colour.
    • Wings.
    • Wing Types (elliptical, high speed, long soaring, high lift).
    • Legs and Feet.
    • Beaks and Bills.
    • Internal Structure.
    • Respiration.
    • Excretion.
    • Digestion.
    • Circulation.
    • Senses.
    • Avian Behaviours (Flight, Diving, Reproduction, Courtship, Bonding, Territoriality, Nesting).
    • Formation of Eggs and Hatching.
    • Feeding.
    • Vocalisations.
    • Migration.
    • Habitats.
  3. Common and Widespread Land Birds
    • Eagles and Relatives - Carthatidae (New World vultures, condors).
    • Pandionidae (osprey).
    • Accipitridae (hawks, eagles, kites).
    • Sagittariidae (secretary bird) .
    • Falconidae (falcons, caracaras).
    • Crows and their Relatives.
    • Butcher birds, Currawongs and related birds.
    • Pigeons (structure, feeding, breeding, types).
    • Doves.
    • The Dodo.
    • Cuckoos.
    • Pestand Introduced Birds (for many countries) - Indian Mynah, Sparrow, Thrush, Starling, etc.
  4. Giant Birds and Long Legged Birds
    • Ratitites - Ostrich, Emu, Moa, Rhea, Cassowary, Kiwi, South American Tinamous, extinct giant Elephant bird and Dodo.
    • Herons, Storks and relatives.
  5. Seabirds and Water birds
    • Anseriformes - ducks, geese, swans etc.
    • Gruiformes - cranes, coots, mud hens, rails.
    • Charadriiformes - sandpipers, snipes, curlews, plovers, dotterels, etc.
    • Gaviiformes - divers.
    • Gulls, Skuas, Auks, Puffins, Terns.
    • Tube Nosed Birds.
    • Albatrosses.
    • Petrels, Storm Petrels and Diving Petrels.
    • Pelicans and Relatives.
    • Gannets.
    • Cormorants.
    • Boobies, Frigate Birds, Tropic Birds.
    • Penguins.
  6. Hunters - Birds of Prey, Owls, and Kingfishers
    • Eagles.
    • Eagle species.
    • Hawks.
    • Kites.
    • Osprey.
    • Falcons.
    • Vultures.
    • Owls.
    • Breeding behaviours of birds of prey.
    • Kingfishers.
  7. Passeriformes
    • Scope of "songbirds" or "perching birds".
    • Features common to Passeriformes.
    • Varieties of Passeriformes (Primitive and Advanced).
    • Muscicapidae - thrush.
    • Robins.
    • Flycatchers, Larks, Pippits, Wingtails.
    • Swallows and Martins; physical characteristics, breeding and nesting.
    • Fringilllidae - finches.
  8. Other Birds
    • Parrots - structure, feeding, breeding, species.
    • Honeyeaters, Swifts.
    • Galliformes - chicken.
    • Other Orders.
  9. Attracting, Feeding and Keeping Birds
    • How plants benefit birds.
    • Plants that attract birds.
    • Feeding Birds.
    • Bird Care - parasites, catching and handling, caring for a sick bird.
    • Common Ailments.


  • 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 newspapers or specialist magazines. 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.

Different Types of Birds!

There are many hundreds of bird species; but conveniently all birds can be classified into broader groupings called "taxonomic orders".  Experts differ a little in how they classify birds, but most work with around 30 different orders - some more some less.(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).

Enrolling is Easy

You can enrol on our Ornithology course at any time.  As it is studied online or by eLearning, you study at your own place and where you want to.  Our tutors are on hand to provide guidance and support whilst you study. 

If you have any questions, or want to know more; please get in touch with us today using our Free Course Counselling Service.  We will be pleased to hear from you.

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