Field Ornithology: BIOL-28400
Fall 2010
Kit Muma
Office: 158CNS
Phone: (607) 274-3610

Course web site: use Blackboard

Office Hours:
  • 11:00 am Monday
  • 4:00 pmWednsday
  • or by appointment


Where are the Birds at IC?  (PDF)
Lecture:  TR 10:50-12:05 Friends 306
Lab: T 1-3:50 CNS 202

Textbook: Gill, Frank, Ornithology 3rd Edition, Freeman Publ. (ISBN 978-0-7167-4983-7)

Laboratory Books: A Field Guide to the Birds of North America (or Eastern Region).  Acceptable books include: National Geographic, Sibley, Audubon, or Peterson.

Additional requirements: Field notebook and binoculars (some of these will be made available)




This course counts as a Biology elective for Biology, Biochemistry and Environmental Studies  / Sciences majors.  It also meets the general education science requirement (2a) of the School of Humanities and Sciences.  In the course we will:




A midterm test will be given during the scheduled lecture period and will be based on previous lectures and assigned readings.  A final lecture exam will be given during the final exam period.  The tests will have short-answer and essay questions.  Identification quizzes will be given at the beginning of the lab period during the labs indicated.  During some labs you will hand in a one-two page summary of results.

The class will address an issue concerning birds on campus (I.C. Birds).  In this project we will look at the interaction between humans and birds.         

We will learn about current ornithological literature and how to communicate science to an non-scientist.  Each student will review one peer-reviewed scientific paper by writing a popular science article aimed at the general public.

In a project we will be using on-line data to formulate and test hypotheses relating to some aspect of bird morphology, ecology or behavior.  Sample projects would use digital resources through the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Birds of North America on-line to explore databases.


Specific Biology Departmental Goals and Assessment:

Demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental concepts and principles in biology (organismal biology, population and evolutionary biology, ecology). This will be assessed by selected questions on the midterm  and final exam.

6.  Effectively communicate scientific works in both oral and written form. This will be assessed by the “Science writing” and “Database” projects.


Final grade

Lecture final 25%

Lab I.D quizzes and reports 

I.C Birds 

Science writing 15%

Database Project 
20% (rough draft is worth 5%)

Total 100 %

There are NO “extra credit” assignments.

Grade Scale A = 93-100,  A- = 90-92,
B+ = 87-89, B = 83-86,  B- = 80-82,
C+  = 77-79,  C = 73-76,  C- = 70-72,
D+ = 67-69,  D = 63-66,  D- = 60-62,
F < 60




The Undergraduate Handbook states the general policy that students are expected to attend classes and that they are responsible for all material even when absent.  Both lecture and laboratory are integral and essential parts of the course.  You must attend each lab session.  If for some reason, you cannot attend (i.e. due to medical reasons or college event), you must contact me as soon as possible to make alternate arrangements.  You will be dropped from the course if you have two absences from laboratory without valid reasons.


Standards of Academic Conduct:

These are outlined clearly in the student handbook.  “Academic honesty is a cornerstone of the mission of the College.  Unless it is otherwise stipulated, students may submit for evaluation only that work which is their own and that is submitted originally for a specific course”.  Please familiarize yourself with the definition of plagiarism.  Academic dishonesty can lead to a zero grade on that assignment, a failing grade in the course, academic code probation, suspension or expulsion from the College depending on the gravity of the violation and the decision of the judicial board.


Students with Disabilities: 

“In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation will be provided to students with documented disabilities on a case by case basis.  Students must register with the Office of Academic Support Services (607-274-1005 TDD 607-274-7319, and provide appropriate documentation to the college before any academic adjustment will be provided.”   Students should schedule an appointment with the course instructors as soon as possible to discuss their individual needs.


Missed Tests: 

A test (lecture or lab) missed during an un-excused absence will result in a zero grade for that test.  For an unexpected absence (illness, death in the immediate family, accident), you must inform me before the test if at all possible.  You can phone me (607-274-3610) or the Biology Department (607-274‑3161) to leave a message.  Such notification does not guarantee my accepting your reason for absence, but failing to notify us guarantees you will not be excused.  Oversleeping or "not being prepared" do not constitute valid excuses.  Tests cannot be written earlier than scheduled on the syllabus.  


I.C. Birds:

The class will work together on a project to examine the interaction between birds and humans on the I.C. campus.  The topic will be chosen by the class after discussion based on what you feel is most important or where you think we can make a difference.  Possible topics include:  Window-kills – How can we minimize/prevent them?  Wind tower construction: will it harm migrating birds?  Coffee choices: what’s best for neotropical migrants?  Discussion will be held on August 31st during lecture.  The class will then divide into teams to do background research, collect data, contact college officials and come up with proposals.  Final results will be presented during the last class.


Science Writing:

Choose a peer-reviewed scientific paper written within the past 10 years that deals with some aspect of ornithology.  Avoid review papers and short notes.  Once you have chosen a paper you must get approval by emailing a copy to Kit.  Students must choose different papers and you may not use a paper that you submitted or presented in another class (refer to plagiarism statement above). Write a summary of that paper aimed at a general audience of non-scientists.  You should follow the format of “Science Scope” or “Bird Scope” articles from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology “Living Bird” magazine.  The finished body of the report should be approximately 750 words and may include one picture as long as you have a proper caption and have referenced your source.  Deadline for choosing a paper = Tuesday, Sept. 7th, Deadline for submission of report = Tuesday, Oct. 19th


Database Project:

Each student will formulate an hypothesis, find background information, collect and analyze data and present conclusions based on data gathered from an on-line database.  You will have a chance to ask questions about the databases and possible projects during the field trip to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology on Tuesday, Sept. 21st . 


Sample questions include:


Morphology: How does body mass or wing length vary with habitat or lifestyle?

Breeding: Why do different species have different breeding strategies and clutch sizes?

Feeding/distributions: How have species numbers changed over the years based on bird counts?

Song: How does the structure of a song relate to the environment?

Plumage: What are common color patterns and how do they relate to behavior or habitats?  Why are some species more elaborate than others?

Birds in human landscapes: Have changes in land use altered bird species abundance in NY State?


The format of the project will follow that of a scientific paper that will be handed in by Thursday, Dec. 2nd
The presentation to the class will be a 10-minute Powerpoint slide show given during either lecture or lab on Tuesday, November 30th


The presentation and paper must include:


Sample Databases include:



Saturday Field Trip:

One off-campus birding trip will be held during the term.  The date will be discussed during the first class.  We will leave from campus promptly at 8:00 am and will return by 4:00 pm.  Bring a lunch, binoculars, field guide and notebook.  You will hand in your field journal at the end of the trip.  We will be travelling along Cayuga Lake to the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge.  If you cannot attend this trip due to an unexpected emergency or illness an alternative field trip will be offered.  You must contact me as soon as possible to make other arrangements.

Tentative Lecture Schedule



Lecture Topics

Lab Topic (See lab schedule for details)

Readings (Chapters in Gil unless otherwise stated)

Thurs. Aug 26

A short history of Ornithology

*No lab the first week

Preface: xxi – xxvi

Tues. Aug 31

Identifying birds

*Discuss “I.C. Birds” class project

Bird topography

Chapter 1

Thurs. Sept. 2

Diversity of birds




Tues. Sept. 7

Evolution of modern birds

On-campus field trip

*Discuss and choose paper for science writing project which is due October 19th

Chapter 2

Thurs. Sept. 9




Chapter 4

Tues. Sept. 14

Plumages and molts


Feathers and flight


Thurs. Sept. 16




Chapter 5

Tues. Sept. 21

Flightless birds

Cornell Lab of Ornith.

*Discuss independent database research project


Thurs. Sept. 23




Chapter 8

Tues. Sept. 28

Learning to sing

*1 page proposal for independent database project due in class

Song analysis exercise


Thurs. Sept. 30

Guest lecture: Tim Houck – Condors


*Condor reading on Blackboard + Gil pp. 657-656

*Sat. Oct. 2

Montezuma Wildlife Refuge

*All Day Field Trip


Tues. Oct. 5

Museum collections


Preparing Study Skins


Thurs. Oct. 7

Review for midterm




Tues. Oct. 12

*Midterm Test

*No lab this week

(continue skinning if necessary)

Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5, 8

Thurs. Oct. 14



No classes


Tues. Oct. 19

Annual cycles

On-campus field trip

*Science writing project due at beginning of lab

Chapter 9

Thurs. Oct. 21




Chapter 10

Tues. Oct. 26



Owl phylogeny

Chapter 3

Thurs. Oct. 28



Chapter 12

Tues. Nov. 2

Breeding systems

*No lab this week (rough draft of database project due)

Chapter 13

Thurs. Nov. 4




Chapter 19

Tues. Nov. 9

Hybrid Zones


Lab of O. – Flicker lab


Thurs. Nov. 11

Guest lecture: John Confer - Warblers


*Warbler reading on Blackboard + Gil pp. 594-597

Tues. Nov. 16



Final Identification quiz

Chapter 15

Thurs. Nov. 18





Nov. 22-26


*No lab / no lectures this week


Tues. Nov. 30

Database Project Presentations


Database Project Presentations


Thurs. Dec. 2




Chapter 21

Tues. Dec. 7

Success stories


*No lab this week


Thurs. Dec. 9

Review for Final Exam

Discuss “I.C. Birds” results



Tues. Dec. 14

4:30 pm FINAL EXAM

Chapters 9, 10, 3, 12, 13, 19, 15, 21



Tentative Laboratory Schedule






TOPIC (readings will be posted on Blackboard)




Aug. 31


Lab 1

Identification and Taxonomy

Birds of the week: Group 1

No quiz

Sept. 7

Lab 2

Field trip – on campus

Choose paper for science writing project

Birds of the week:  Group 2

Group 1 (identify by song/call and photo/video)

Sept. 14

Lab 3

Adaptations for flight – skeletons, feathers and wing lift experiment

Birds of the week: Group 3

Groups 1 and 2

Sept. 21

Lab 4

Tour of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Macaulay Library and introduction to databases

No quiz

Sept. 28

Lab 5

Analysis of song : Raven Software

Birds of the week : Group 4

Groups 1-3

Saturday Oct. 2

Off Campus Field Trip

Montezuma Wildlife refuge


Oct. 5

Lab 6

Study Skins

Birds of the week: Group 5

Groups 1-4

Oct. 12


Fall break week

No lab due to field trip




Oct. 19

Lab 7

Field trip – on campus

*Science writing project due

Birds of the week: Group 6

Groups 1-5

Oct. 26

Lab 8

Owl phylogeny and pellet analysis

Birds of the week: Group 7

Groups 1-6

Nov. 2

Lab 9

No lab -  Meet with Kit to go over rough draft of project (5% of grade)



Nov. 9


Lab 10

Cornell Lab of O. – collections - Flicker hybrid zones & banding demonstration



Nov. 16


Lab 11


I.D. Lab

Final identification quiz

Groups 1-7


Nov. 23


Thanksgiving Break J



Nov. 30

Lab 12

Project Presentations – continued from morning lecture period


Dec. 7



No lab due to all day field trip


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