Careers Paths

How to Become an Ornithologist: Salary and Career Information

If you’re passionate about birds and looking for a career in the field of ornithology, there are many paths you can take to become an expert in this fascinating subject. In this article, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide to becoming an ornithologist, including the education and skills you’ll need, potential careers in this field, and the salary you can expect to earn.

To prevent the endangerment of birds, ornithologists do field and lab studies to better understand their behaviors, habitats, and migration patterns. To advance and succeed in the field, you can become an ornithologist by acquiring a variety of abilities, skills, and experiences. If you’re considering a profession as an ornithologist, it can be useful to know what qualifications, abilities, and training are necessary.

To assist you to choose this career option, we will detail the role of an ornithologist, explain how to become one and provide an overview of their typical pay, employment prospects, and work environment.

What is Ornithology?

Ornithology is the scientific study of birds, including their behavior, biology, habitat, and conservation. Ornithologists research, observe, and document the characteristics and behaviors of birds, often working in the field to study birds in their natural habitats.

What is an ornithologist?

An ornithologist is a scientist who studies birds, their behavior, biology, and conservation. Ornithologists research, observe, and document the characteristics and behaviors of birds, often working in the field to study birds in their natural habitats. They may also work in universities, government agencies, or non-profit organizations, teaching ornithology courses or working on bird conservation projects. Ornithologists typically have a background in biology, ecology, or a related field, and possess strong observational, physical, and communication skills.

Ornithologists may invest considerable time observing the behavior of birds and compiling academic reports on their findings. Some ornithologists decide to focus on a particular breed, species, or group of birds, whereas others may opt for a more comprehensive approach in which they examine all varieties of birds in their natural settings.

What is the work of an ornithologist?

An ornithologist studies birds and their behaviors, biology, habitats, and conservation. They may work in the field to observe and document bird behavior and characteristics, collect data, and make observations. Ornithologists may also work in universities, government agencies, or non-profit organizations, teaching ornithology courses or working on bird conservation projects. Their work may involve researching the impact of human activities on bird populations or studying the effects of climate change on birds. Ornithologists may also work as wildlife biologists, studying not only birds but also other wildlife species and their ecosystems. Ultimately, an ornithologist aims to understand and conserve the diverse and fascinating world of birds.

To comprehend the patterns and behaviors of birds, ornithologists closely observe and study them. These researchers utilize their findings to create plans to conserve and save birds from harm or extinction. Although an ornithologist’s duties might vary, they frequently include the following:

  • Carrying out fieldwork to examine migration patterns, habitat requirements, and reproduction rates
  • Keeping track of and assessing the number and health of various bird species
  • Tracking bird movements through capture and branding
  • Collecting and carefully evaluating data on bird populations
  • Constructing developments by doing animal impact analyses
  • Creating laws and putting advocacy campaigns into action to conserve and safeguard birds

How to Pursue a Career in Ornithology

To succeed as an ornithologist, adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Attend a college or university after high school to acquire a bachelor’s degree in zoology, ecology, biology, or wildlife biology. Take classes in various areas during your undergraduate programs, such as arithmetic, statistics, physiology, wildlife management, and animal anatomy, to prepare for a future as an ornithologist. You can learn how to research and take care of various wildlife, including birds, in these programs.

Here are some steps you can take to start building your education and training in ornithology:

  • Take courses in biology, ecology, and zoology during high school to lay a strong foundation for future studies.
  • Pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology or another science-related field. Make sure to take courses in ornithology, animal behavior, and ecology.
  • Consider pursuing a master’s degree or Ph.D. in ornithology or a related field. Graduate research programs in ornithology typically have a strong emphasis on fieldwork and research, providing valuable hands-on experience studying birds in their natural habitats.
  • Participate in fieldwork and research opportunities, such as internships with conservation organizations or government agencies. These experiences will provide valuable hands-on experience and help you build a network of contacts within the field of ornithology.

2. Acquire expertise through an internship

Consider pursuing a lab internship to get practical experience. Look into internships with zoos, wildlife conservation groups, or governmental institutions. You might be able to assist seasoned ornithologists during these internships and work alongside them to gain expertise in the field.

You might learn from seasoned ornithologists how to gather information and bird samples for in-depth laboratory analysis. Either before or after you graduate, gaining practical experience in a lab can be a noteworthy accomplishment to include on your resume. Additionally, it can aid in setting you apart from other applicants.

3. Acquire necessary abilities

You can learn and enhance your abilities to succeed in your profession as an ornithologist. In an entry-level position or internship, strive to learn these abilities. To succeed in the field of ornithology, you’ll need to have a range of skills and qualities, including:

  • Solid observational skills: Ornithologists spend a significant amount of time observing birds in their natural habitats, so it’s important to have a keen eye for detail.
  • Physical fitness: Fieldwork often involves long hours of hiking in remote or rugged terrain, so it’s important to be in good physical condition.
  • Patience and persistence: Studying birds can be a slow process, and it can take a lot of time and effort to get the data and observations you need.
  • Good communication skills: Ornithologists often work in teams, so it’s important to be able to communicate effectively with colleagues and other professionals.
  • Knowledge of statistics and math
  • Knowledge of technology and computers
  • Verbal and written communication
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving abilities in research
  • Information and analytical skills

4. Look into volunteering options.

Volunteering is another way to learn about birds as well as their habitats and gain practical experience. Volunteers are needed by numerous charitable organizations and conservation organizations that care for and study wildlife. You can gain valuable experience, information, and skills by volunteering that will help you if you decide to pursue a career as an ornithologist. On your CV, you can also highlight your volunteer experience. This experience can demonstrate to future employers how passionate you are about working with birds.

5. Earn a graduate degree

You can obtain a master’s degree if you want to develop in the area, research more complicated data sets, carry out sophisticated wildlife experiments, or instruct people about wildlife behavior. A lot of universities will hire you to teach if you have this degree. Think about getting a master’s in wildlife biology or biology. In-depth studies of wildlife conservation are often offered by these postgraduate programs, which also include training in biometry, behavioral ecology, and bird management and conservation.

Ornithologist Pay and employment prospects

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for zoologists and wildlife biologists, including ornithologists, is $64,650. Your ornithologist pay may vary depending on your geographic area, your employer, your level of education, and your level of experience. For instance, studying a specialty or getting a master’s degree can frequently boost your earning potential.

Over the following ten years, the BLS projects that there will be 1,500 job opportunities annually for ornithologists and other wildlife biologists, which corresponds to 1% growth. Even though there may not be much job growth, the agency claims that some firms may need ornithologists who can study ecological changes and create conservation strategies to safeguard animals. As other scientists leave their job to retire or change careers, ornithologists can also find employment.

The salary and job outlook for ornithologists can vary depending on location, experience, and education level. Here are some general salary ranges for ornithology-related careers:

  • Researchers can earn anywhere from $35,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on their level of experience and the organization they work for.
  • Conservationists typically earn between $30,000 and $80,000 per year.
  • Educators can earn between $25,000 and $60,000 per year, depending on their level of education and experience.
  • The median salary for wildlife biologists is around $63,000 per year.

Overall, the job outlook for ornithologists is positive, with growth expected in government and non-profit sectors.

Working Conditions for Ornithologists

Ornithologists often assess their research findings both in laboratories and out in the field. For bird species observation, they might travel to isolated areas of the city, state, or nation. Others could have the choice to visit foreign countries to research birds in unusual environments.

Being an ornithologist requires outstanding physical condition because you move around a lot and spend most of your time outside. Additionally, you can be exposed to a variety of weather situations, some of which could be unpleasant or dangerous. Many ornithologists work full-time jobs and may study birds at particular times, such as during breeding seasons, by working early mornings, late nights, or weekends.

Careers in Ornithology

There are normally several career opportunities available to ornithologists. Some people decide to conduct field research on the habitats and habits of birds. They might work a portion of the shift outside and the remainder of it indoors, evaluating the information and samples they gather. Numerous of these ornithologists are employed by federal or state governments, nonprofit conservation organizations, or land and wildlife organizations.

Other ornithologists who desire to work with birds and possibly other wildlife can work at zoos or wildlife parks as veterinarians or do environmental science research. Some people might choose to teach students at colleges about birds and other wildlife while working in a classroom. Ornithologists can work as researchers, land managers, wildlife biologists, or advocates for legislation.

There are many career paths you can pursue in ornithology, depending on your interests and skills. Here are just a few examples:

  • Researcher: Ornithologists can work as researchers in universities, government agencies, or non-profit organizations. As a researcher, you’ll study bird behavior, biology, and ecology, often working in the field to collect data and make observations.
  • Conservationist: Conservation organizations and government agencies often hire ornithologists to work on bird conservation projects, such as habitat restoration and protection.
  • Educator: Many ornithologists work as educators, teaching ornithology courses at universities or leading birding tours for the public.
  • Wildlife biologists: Ornithologists can work as wildlife biologists, studying not only birds but also other wildlife species and their ecosystems.

Other typical career pathways are listed below:

  • Nonprofit industry. This covers employment with companies like the National Audubon Society. These organizations frequently focus on education and pique the public’s interest to raise money for conservation.
    • The work is frequently well-rounded. Public involvement, teaching, outreach, research, fundraising—it encompasses a variety of activities that all work toward the lofty objective of preserving the environment.
    • Cons: Did you ever wish you could work five jobs and just receive one salary? Then you’ll adore working for nonprofits. Because non-profits frequently lack money, staff members may be overworked and pushed to perform tasks that are occasionally outside of their purview.
  • Public service. Consider the agencies of your local government that deal with the outdoors: national parks, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Geological Service, US Fish and Wildlife, and so on. Pros: Working for the government comes with amazing benefits and a
    • reliable salary. Sound stupid? Work a few field jobs before letting me know your opinion. But seriously, these jobs are a terrific way to get to know America’s public lands more closely.
    • Cons: There is bureaucracy. These positions are frequently competitive and call for prior government experience to advance.
  • Academia. Here are the professors from your college, who frequently divide their time between instructing students and carrying out their research with the aid of graduate students.
    • Pros: When you become a tenured professor, you can brag about having a lifetime job. In addition to having the chance to instruct impressionable, youthful pupils, universities are frequently well-funded for research.
    • Cons: It is becoming increasingly difficult to find jobs in this industry. Academic life is highly demanding, frequently requiring continual publication in publications with high impact.
  • Private Sector. Preferable to consultation. Even though they tend to be the best-paying positions, these contracts call for some of the hardest efforts.
    • Pros: You will undoubtedly earn a ton of money and enjoy watching birds while doing it!
    • Cons: Energy corporations like oil or wind frequently use consulting firms, thus you can be working for people whose morals are in doubt. There are numerous report-writing issues as well.
  • Husbandry. Zookeepers, animal caretakers, and breeders are just a few examples of these jobs.
    • Pros: A bird lover’s paradise! One of the most practical employment experiences is getting acquainted with birds up close and personal.
    • Cons: Working in these positions may force you to treat the birds like your personal slaves, feeding them fancy food and cleaning up a lot of feces.

So, how do you start, and how do you choose the right course for you? A challenging query. The best place to start is by checking out local volunteer opportunities; this is a terrific way to determine which facets of ornithology most appeal to you. These can be as straightforward as participating in bird walks sponsored by your neighborhood Audubon chapter, volunteering at a nearby bird banding station, aiding graduate students with their research, or dedicating one day a week to a wildlife rehabilitation facility. You should just ask people for any wildlife or conservation facility where you can assist because they may be constantly on the lookout for volunteers.

What features do all of these choices share? Starting a career in the field of wildlife biology entails putting in a lot of effort and earning little to no money in the beginning. The majority of workers in this field remain there because they enjoy their jobs rather than because of the salary.


In conclusion, becoming an ornithologist requires dedication, education, and passion for the study of birds. By pursuing a degree in a science-related field, gaining fieldwork experience, and developing strong observational, physical, and communication skills, you can build a successful career in this fascinating field. With various career paths available, the sky’s the limit for those who love birds and are committed to their study and conservation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ornithologists

  • What education is required to become an ornithologist?

A bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field is typically required to become an ornithologist, while more advanced degrees, such as a master’s or Ph.D., are often preferred for research-oriented positions.

  • What skills do I need to become an ornithologist?

Strong observational and analytical skills, as well as the ability to work independently and as part of a team, are important for becoming an ornithologist. Additionally, effective communication skills, both written and oral, are essential for presenting research findings and collaborating with colleagues.

  • What kind of work does an ornithologist do?

Ornithologists study birds, their behavior, distribution, ecology, and evolution. They may conduct research in the field or a laboratory, analyze data, publish papers, and present findings. Ornithologists may also work as conservationists, educators, or consultants.

  • How do I get experience working with birds?

Volunteer work or internships with organizations such as wildlife rehabilitation centers or bird sanctuaries can provide valuable experience working with birds. Local Audubon societies or birding clubs may also offer opportunities to participate in bird surveys or bird banding programs.

  • What types of jobs can I get as an ornithologist?

Ornithologists may work for government agencies, universities, research organizations, conservation groups, or private companies. Some common job titles include wildlife biologist, avian ecologist, conservation scientist, or ornithology professor.

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