BIO 554/754
3 credit hours

Instructor: Gary Ritchison
Office: SCIBD 4221
Office phone: 622-1541

Cover of Gill's ornithology text
Text: Ornithology, 3rd edition 
by Frank B. Gill

Cover of Proctor and Lynch's Manual of Ornithology
Lab Manual: Manual of Ornithology: Avian Structure & Function
by Noble S. Proctor & Patrick J. Lynch

Field Guide: The Sibley Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America by David Allen Sibley is available at the bookstore (but other guides can also be used).

Cover of Sibley's field guide to birds of eastern North America

Lecture Notes:

I - Introduction to Birds

II - Bird Flight  I

III - Bird Flight II and Other Means of Locomotion

IV - The Geography of Birds I

V - The Geography of Birds II

VI - Digestive System: Food & Feeding Habits

VII - Urinary System, Salt Glands, & Osmoregulation

VIII - Circulatory System

IX - Respiratory System

X - Energy Balance & Thermoregulation

XI - Nervous System: Brain & Senses I

XII - Nervous System: Brain & Senses II

XIII - Vocal Communication

XIV - Territorial & Colonial Behavior

XV - Mating Systems

XVI - Avian Reproduction I: Anatomy & the Bird Egg

XVII - Avian Reproduction II: Nests

XVIII - Avian Reproduction III: Clutch Size, Incubation, & Hatching

XIX - Parental Care

Course objectives: To learn the basic principles of ornithology & to learn how to identify most of the birds found in Kentucky & the eastern United States

Image of a flying hawk

Course requirements:

Animated gif of flying duck1) Exams and quizzes. There will be four 75-point lecture exams, three lab exams worth a total of 225 pts, and several lab quizzes worth a total of 120 pts. Lecture exams will be based on lecture material, material from the text, and, possibly, material from student lectures. Review questions, based on material from lecture and in the text, are provided for each exam - Text questions: Exam 1, Exam 2, Exam 3, & Exam 4; Lecture questions: Exam 1, Exam 2, Exam 3, & Exam 4. Tentative dates for the lecture exams, lab exams, and three quizzes are provided below. There will be additional quizzes on dates to be determined by the instructor; these dates may or may not be provided to students prior to the quizzes..

Animated gif of flying duck2) Survey of birds. Beginning on January 28, we'll begin an overview of all the birds that you must be able to identify for lab quizzes and exams ( As part of this process, we'll be reviewing each species. Specifically, for each species, information will be provided concerning their range, migratory status (resident, winter visitor, or just present during the breeding season in Kentucky), habitats used, interesting aspects of their biology, other interesting aspects of behavior and/or ecology, and, of course, how to identify them in the field (important field marks and behaviors useful for identification).

3) Lecture. Each student will present one 20-30-minute lecture (power point presentation) focusing on an ornithology-related topic that I will not be covering (or at least not covering in detail) in lecture. I will provide a list of topics (specifically, a list of questions) from which students will choose their lecture topic. Lectures will be worth 50 points and will be graded based on the quality of the presentation and accuracy of information provided (the evaluation sheet is available at For each lecture, students should introduce the question being addressed, explain its significance or importance, and, using the relevant (primary) literature, provide hypotheses that have been proposed as explanations or provide data from recent papers than provided possible answers. Hypotheses/explanations should always be placed in an evolutionary context (e.g., why would natural selection favor such behavior?). Each presenter will also provide me with a copy of their presentation (sent to me as an e-mail attachment) that I will, in turn, send to everyone in class. Some lecture exam questions may be based on material presented in these presentations. Assigned topics and presentation dates will be provided at:

4) Bird Vocalizations (50 pts). Students will be required to learn the vocalizations/songs of several species of birds. The list of species and the vocalizations you'll need to know are available on the 'Bird Vocalizations' page. Students will be tested on their knowledge of these vocalizations in lab tests (dates provided below).

Animated gif of flying duckGrading: There will be a possible total of 745 pts:,

Animated gif of flying duckDisability Statement: If you are registered with the Office of Services for Individuals with Disabilities, please make an appointment with me to discuss any academic accommodations you need. If you need academic accommodations and are not registered with the Office of Services for Individuals with Disabilities, please contact the office on the third floor of the Student Services Building, by email at, or by telephone at (859) 622-2933 V/TDD. Upon individual request, this syllabus can be made available in alternative forms.

Animated gif of flying duckAttendance policy: Attendance is required only on exam & quiz days.

Image of birds sitting on a utility wire

Tentative Lecture Schedule:

Date Subject  Text

January 14, 16, 21 Introduction; Flight Pp. xxi-xxvii; Ch. 1,2, & 3
(+ lab manual pp. 1 - 6, 13 -21)
Jan. 23, 28, 30; Feb. 4, 6 Flight & other types of locomotion

Ch. 5

Feb. 11 EXAM 1
Feb. 13, 18, 20 Digestion: Food & Feeding Habits Ch. 6
Feb. 25, 27; March 3 Physiology: Circulatory System & Respiration Ch. 6
March 5 EXAM 2*  
March 9 - 13 SPRING BREAK  
March 17, 19, 24 Brain & Senses Ch. 7
March 26, 31; April 2 Vocal communication

Ch. 8

April 7, 9 Social Behavior: Territoriality & coloniality Ch. 11
April 14 EXAM 3** 
April 16, 21 Mating Systems Ch. 12 & 13
April 23, 28, 30 Reproduction & Parental care Ch. 13, 14, 15, 16, & 17
May 7 (8:00 - 10:00) EXAM 4

*Although not covered in lecture, you're also responsible for material in Chapter 10 (Migration) for Exam 2.
**Although not covered in lecture, you're also responsible for material in Chapter 10 (Navigation) for Exam 3.

Drawing of a toucan perched on a branch

Tentative Lab Schedule:

Date Subject Lab Manual Pages 

January 14 External morphology & topography
Pp. 47 - 65
January 16 Feathers & feather tracts & The Life of Birds: To Fly or Not to Fly Pp. 81 - 115
January 21, 23 External structural characteristics & The Life of Birds: The Mastery of Flight Pp. 66 - 79
January 28

Identification techniques & Bird ID videos & Avian taxonomy

+ ID: Anseriformes

All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) - songs & calls of more than 700 species of birds that regularly occur in North America. F or all ID labs, see the Bird ID List
January 30 LAB EXAM 1 (75 pts)
February 4 ID: Galliformes and Gaviiformes  
February 6 Skeleton Ch. 5
February 11, 13 Musculature & internal anatomy + some bird ID Ch. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, & 11
February 18 ID QUIZ 1 (Anseriformes, Galliformes, and Gaviiformes) + ID: Podicipediformes, Suliformes & Pelicaniformes  
February 20 ID: Cathartiformes, Accipitriformes & Falconiformes + Review for Lab Exam 2  
February 25 LAB EXAM 2 (no bird ID on Lab Exam 2, just skeleton, musculature, and internal anatomy) (75 pts)  
February 27; March 3, 5 ID: Gruiformes, Charadriiformes, & Columbiformes
March 9 - 13 SPRING BREAK  
March 17 ID QUIZ 2 (Anseriformes through Gruiformes) + Elmwood's winter birds (short field trip)
March 19 Learning bird vocalizations + Signals and Songs (video)
March 24, 26 ID: Cuculiformes, Strigiformes, Caprimulgiformes, and Apodiformes
March 31 ID QUIZ 3 (must also know Orders) & ID: Coraciiformes & Piciformes
April 2 ID: Passeriformes + possibly birding at Elmwood (weather permitting)
April 7 ID QUIZ 4 (must also know Families & sub-families) & ID: Passeriformes  
April 9, 14, 16 ID: Passeriformes
April 21 Field ID: South Campus
April 23 VOCALIZATION EXAM 1 (20 pts [10 calls or songs]) + ID QUIZ 5
April 28 FIELD QUIZ (20 pts) + Campus/Elmwood 2-Hour Field ID for Bonus points (>35 species = 15 pts, 30 - 35 species = 12 pts, 25- 29 species = 9 pts, 20-24 species = 6 pts, 15 - 19 species = 3 pts, & <15 species = 0 pts)
April 30 VOCALIZATION EXAM 2 (30 pts [15 calls or songs]) + ID: Passeriformes
May 5 (8 - 10 a.m.)  LAB EXAM 3 - ID FINAL (75 pts)

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