Ornithology, the study of Birds
Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds. Etymologically, the word "ornithology" derives from the ancient Greek ὄρνις ornis ("bird") and λόγος logos ("rationale" or "explanation"). Several aspects of ornithology differ from related disciplines, due partly to the high visibility and the aesthetic appeal of birds. Most marked among these is the extent of studies undertaken by amateurs working within the parameters of strict scientific methodology.
The science of ornithology has a long history and studies on birds have helped develop several key concepts in evolution, behaviour and ecology such as the definition of species, the process of speciation, instinct, learning, ecological niches, guilds, island biogeography, phylogeography and conservation. While early ornithology was principally concerned with descriptions and distributions of species, ornithologists today seek answers to very specific questions, often using birds as models to test hypotheses or predictions based on theories. Most modern biological theories apply across taxonomic groups and the number of professional scientists who identify themselves as "ornithologists" has therefore declined. A wide range of tools and techniques are used in ornithology, both inside the laboratory and out in the field, and innovations are constantly made.
How to Birdwatch
Are you a frustrated amateur ornithologist because you can't identify all the birds at your feeder, in the woods, along the roadside, or at the beach? Grab your hiking gear and read on for some quick tips for beginning bird watching.
- Be sure you have a decent pair of binoculars and have adjusted and practiced using them.
- Always locate a bird first with your naked eye. The field of view through binoculars is much narrower, making it harder to search.
- Consider colours a bonus. Except under the best of conditions, it is hard to see feather colors accurately. Light reflection and shadows often distort, dull, or exaggerate colors. Consider other factors first. Of course, there are species for which accurate color determination is essential for accurate identification.
- Size is helpful, but conditions can be misleading. A bird soaring overhead or flying by may seem much larger or smaller than reality. A reference object is helpful – a tree, fence post, telephone pole, etc.
- Observe the shape or profile of the bird. A long-bill, long legs, or tufted head immediately eliminates many possibilities.
- Habitat is always a useful consideration. In the midst of a coniferous forest you expect to see a different set of birds (avifauna) than you would on an ocean shore or in a city park.
- Note the behavior. Wading in shallow water, climbing a tree trunk, swimming, diving through the air, emerging from a mud nest, or sitting on a fence post, all narrow the choices down considerably.
- Songs and calls are excellent identification mechanisms and sometimes the only way to distinguish them in the field by their calls; and it is not uncommon to hear birds but not be able to find them. This takes a lot more practice than learning visual characters. I find it easiest to learn songs and calls if I am able to watch the bird singing or calling.
- Use a good field guide as they identify characteristics (field marks) most helpful to identification.
- Finally, my most important recommendation for the beginning birdwatcher: go out in the field with those folks who know the birds. If you don't have a friend who does, there is most likely a local society: Ours, is the Kent Ornithological Society
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