How to Become an Ornithologist

Ornithology is a branch of zoology that focuses on birds. Ornithologists study the physiology, ecology and behaviour of various species of birds in their natural environment. If you are adventurous, passionate about birds and love working outdoors, you could consider becoming an ornithologist.

What do Ornithologists do?

The specific duties of ornithologists vary according to their specialities. For example, some ornithologists focus on studying bird evolution and others study bird distribution across various continents. Regardless of this, ornithologists commonly have the following roles;

  • Monitoring bird species in various habitats --This involves tracking bird movements, conducting surveys and collecting biological samples.
  • Maintaining comprehensive records of the data gathered during research
  • Producing reports highlighting their findings
  • Giving talks and making presentations to broaden people’s knowledge of birds

Work Environment

Ornithologists have unpredictable work schedules. When conducting research, they spend most of their time outdoors, in all weather conditions. After completing research, they retreat to their offices or laboratories to analyse their findings and prepare reports.

Ornithologists also travel regularly in vehicles or on foot, sometimes in isolated areas.


The following table highlights the annual salaries for ornithologists at various career levels;

Job Level


Annual wage







Research fieldworkers



Senior ornithologists



Source: National Careers Service

Entry Requirements

To set your foot in this profession, you need to earn postsecondary qualifications in disciplines such as;

  • Environmental science
  • Ecology
  • Zoology
  • Biology

If you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in these fields, you would need at least five GCSE’s at grades A-C and three A levels in biology, statistics and maths.

Alternatively, you can enter the profession by becoming a bird warden and rising through the ranks as you gain more experience and qualifications. To get started as a bird warden, you need to gain bird watching experience and obtain an ‘A’ permit from the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO also offers bird ringing and bird survey techniques courses, which you can obtain to increase your chances of being an ornithologist.

Essential Skills and Abilities

The following skills, interest and abilities are essential to being a successful ornithologist.

  • An interest in birds and the environment
  • Strong research and report writing skills
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Good teamwork skills
  • The confidence and motivation to work alone in isolated areas
  • The patience to wait for birds to settle in their natural habitats
  • Good IT skills

Career Progression

Ornithologists can obtain graduate degrees to move into academia or policy development in government agencies. The most recommended degrees to pursue include:

  • Master’s degree in ornithological studies
  • Master’s degree in raptor biology
  • PhD in ornithology

You can also join professional associations such as the British Ornithologists Club, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Ornithologists Union.

Employment Opportunities

Qualified ornithologists can work in the following places;

  • Private research institutions
  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Local authorities
  • Wildlife conservation organisations
  • Colleges and universities

Useful Links

According to the National Careers Service, there will be about 178,000 new jobs for science professionals between 2014 and 2020. Therefore, ornithologists can expect to have strong employment prospects.

Your task is to obtain the necessary qualifications and wait for a job to find you! Good luck.

Image Sourced: Daily Mail