How to Become an Ornithologist


How to Become an Ornithologist: Career Path Guide

If you want to become an ornithologist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you may be well suited for a career as an ornithologist. 


Those who become ornithologists typically have a genuine interest in wildlife and ecology. They are detail oriented, hard working and organized individuals. They must also have the emotional and intellectual capacity to fulfill the necessary educational and research experience requirements that are needed to become an ornithologist.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin your journey towards becoming an ornithologist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Ornithologist

To become an ornithologist, you typically need to earn a master’s degree that includes a research thesis. If you want to become an ornithologist that develops and oversees your own research projects, work in a high-level management position within the field of ornithology, or teach at a university, you typically need a Ph.D. in ornithology.


The educational path to become an ornithologist typically begins with earning a Bachelor of Science degree in a field such as biology, wildlife biology, ecology, or some other life science.


In addition to gaining background knowledge in life science, students who wish to become ornithologists will benefit from coursework in other areas, such as mathematics and statistics, for gaining skills in quantitative analysis; communications, for learning writing and speaking skills; and social science, for gaining an understanding of how human behaviour affects various ecosystems, and the motivations behind those behaviours. 




Ornithologist Job Description

Ornithologists conduct either basic or applied research related to the evolution, biology, behaviour and ecosystems of birds. They conduct basic research to expand knowledge of birds, such as their evolution, or the way human activity affects birds and their ecosystems. Ornithologists that conduct applied research typically do so with the intention of finding solutions to problems such as those related to land management and wild bird conservation. 


A career as an ornithologist can involve diverse activities, including note taking and data entry, report writing, grant proposal preparation, observing birds in their natural habitat, collecting biological samples and genetic mapping.



Ornithologist Job Duties

• Submit research proposals composed of research ideas and objectives to universities and government agencies in order to gain funding for research projects

• May be given guidelines for applied research by employers

• Conduct field research of birds in their natural environment

• Conduct laboratory research of bird specimens

• Keep comprehensive records of the data gathered during research

• Prepare reports based on research findings



Who Hires Ornithologists? Where Do They Work?

Ornithologist jobs can be found with any organization that is involved in the study of ornithology and wildlife, or is involved with applied ornithological study, for the purpose of solving problems various environmental and ecological problems. Such organizations include:


• Colleges and universities

• Private research institutions

• Federal and provincial/state agencies

• Wildlife and conservation organizations

• Environmental consulting firms



Skills Required to Become an Ornithologist

In order to become an effective ornithologist, you’ll need a certain set of skills and competencies in addition to a natural interest and appreciation for birds and wildlife; these skills and competencies include:


Patience: Ornithologists need to have patience in their work activities; observing birds in their natural habitat, compiling data, analyzing the data, and preparing well articulated scientific reports can take time, and be very frustrating.


Communication Skills: Being able to properly communicate findings to other professionals in the field of Ornithology is arguably the most important task an ornithologist has, aside from the research itself.


Organization: Sometimes the daily, weekly and monthly tasks of ornithologists can be overwhelming; it is important to stay organized and have work prioritized.


Computer Skills: Being proficient in the use of computers is very important for ornithologists, as they must use them for keeping track of data and communicating with other ornithologists and professionals in their field.


Stamina: The work of ornithologists can be very demanding, and they must be able to remain focused and have the ability to pay attention to details after working for several hours. Their work can also be physically demanding when they are in the field, observing birds in their natural habitat and collecting biological samples.





Ornithologist Salary: How Much Do Ornithologists Make?

The salary level of ornithologists can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, their specific job responsibilities, where they work, and many others.


Ornithologist Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans that are part of the Biologists and Related Scientists occupational group earn an average wage of between $26.73 and $62.00 per hour.


Ornithologist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for workers in the Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists occupational group is $57,430 per year. 



Getting Ornithologist Work Experience as a Student

As many jobs in ornithology are highly competitive, it is extremely important to acquire practical experience during your undergraduate and graduate years.


Most university departments offer a number of summer job opportunities for research assistants. There may also be similar openings for summer students in government agencies and private industry. Be sure to ask your school’s career resources counselor to give you information about any such opportunities.


These opportunities not only provide you with valuable work experience, they allow you to network and get your foot in the door with an ornithology related organization. This will be extremely useful when you apply for graduate school or a permanent job.



Careers Similar to Ornithologist

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to that of Ornithologist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.





Wildlife Biologist




References: How to Become an Ornithologist

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an ornithologist.


Occupations in Alberta:Biologist.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 6, 2020.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 6, 2020.

Careers:Careers in Ornithology- Becoming an Ornithologist.” (n.d.). website. Retrieved January 6, 2020.

Job Research:Ornithologist” (n.d.). ECO Canada website. Retrieved January 6, 2020.



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Scholarships for Becoming an Ornithologist

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming an Ornithologist can be found on our Biology Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming an Ornithologist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming an ornithologist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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