With approximately 10,000 species worldwide, birds are all around us. With their vibrant colors, lively songs, astonishing long-distance migrations, and envied, awe-inspiring ability of flight, birds have intrigued and inspired humans since time immemorial. Their popularity and visibility make them one of the most widely studied taxa, among scientists and amateurs alike. Just in the United States, over 45 million people identify themselves as birdwatchers, or birders, according to a 2016 study by US Fish & Wildlife. With so many eyes and ears on birds, they serve as important ecological indicators; like the proverbial canary-in-the-coal-mine, changing bird populations alert us to environmental problems and inform us about ecosystem health.
The cultural, economic, and ecological significance of birds makes this course valuable for students across Sterling’s areas of study. The course combines a deep dive into avian biology, ecology, and conservation through textbook readings and lectures, with a practical component – both field- and lab-based – in which students develop identification skills, study avian behavior, and are introduced to avian research and monitoring methods. Students observe birds in various habitat types, through group field trips as well as assigned out-of-class excursions.