Study birds with the comprehensive ornithology course from the Cornell Lab using the Handbook of Bird Biology, 3rd. Edition as your guide. Read each chapter in the Handbook, explore in more depth using the online materials embedded in this course, then take the exams to earn your badge and certificate.

The Course Experience:

Ornithology, from the Cornell Lab, will deepen your understanding of birds and help you master everything from anatomy and behavior to ecology and conservation. World-wide in scope, the experience will broaden your bird knowledge and give you a strong foundation in all things avian. You will be following in the footsteps of thousands of others who have transformed their perspective on birds with the predecessor to this course, The Home Study Course in Bird Biology, over its forty year history. Designed for those interested in learning university-level ornithology at your own pace, from anywhere, without the university credit price tag.

What’s Inside This Course:

This course steps you through each chapter from the textbook. Lessons contain a short video from your instructors introducing key insights and curated collections of online resources to expand your knowledge base. Exams are divided up into individual quizzes that take 15-20 minutes to complete and provide immediate feedback to correct misconceptions and reinforce important facts. An expanded online glossary helps you learn how to express yourself like an ornithologist. You will also have the opportunity to have your questions answered by course instructors.

View full syllabus

Curious about the exam questions?

Try free sample exam questions


Meet the Course Authors

Kevin McGowan_19Apr09_jwm2406ac_r

Dr. Kevin McGowan, Instructor

Kevin combines deep knowledge about birds with passion for helping others to learn. He is the Project Manager of Distance Learning in Bird Biology, and the instructor and author of many of Bird Academy’s online courses including the Be a Better Birder series. He has worked at Cornell University since 1988 and is one of the world’s foremost experts on the behavior of crows. He helped create the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds web site and wrote the original bird guide section.
Sarah Wagner

Dr. Sarah Wagner

After majoring in Environmental Education at Earlham College, Sarah spent a few years working on a variety of bird research projects before starting a PhD at the University of Colorado, Boulder. There, she studied the foraging behavior of Australian Honeyeaters to explore how a species’ natural history can be used to inform their conservation. During her graduate career, she taught a variety of college level courses and thoroughly enjoys combining outreach and research.

Cover of the Handbook of Bird Biology

Required Textbook, Sold Separately:

Written by the world’s leading ornithologists, the Handbook of Bird Biology is an essential reference to a thorough understanding of birds. For more than 40 years budding ornithologists and bird enthusiasts have been expanding their understanding of avian life with the Handbook. Newly revised and now in full color, the 700 page Handbook of Bird Biology, 3rd Ed. is the required text for this course, and is sold separately from the course. You can buy the text through the Cornell Lab when you purchase the course, or through other outlets.

Sign up for Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology today!

Lab Member Price: $199.99
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Satisfaction Guarantee

Our educators and birding experts take pride in the courses they create. If you're not satisfied with the material for ANY reason, contact us within 30 days of the start of the course or purchase for a full refund.

Course Content

Lessons Status

Chapter 1—Why Study Birds?


Chapter 2—Avian Diversity and Classification


Chapter 3—How Birds Evolve


Chapter 4—Feathers and Plumages


Chapter 5—Avian Flight


Chapter 6—Avian Anatomy


Chapter 7—Bird Physiology


Chapter 8—Avian Food and Foraging


Chapter 9—Avian Mating and Social Behavior


Chapter 10—Avian Vocal Behavior


Chapter 11—Breeding Biology of Birds


Chapter 12—Avian Migration and Dispersal


Chapter 13—Ecology of Bird Populations


Chapter 14—Bird Communities


Chapter 15—Bird Conservation

Course credits

Course authors: Dr. Kevin McGowan, Dr. Sarah Wagner
Course editors: Dr. Kevin McGowan, Dr. Mya Thompson,
Project managers: Dr. Mya Thompson, Dr. Kevin McGowan, Dr. Nancy Trautmann
Instructional designers: Dr. Mya Thompson, Jeff Szuc
Content manager: Lee Ann van Leer
Web designer: Jeff Szuc
Web programmer: Noah Warnke
Scientific illustrator: Andrew Leach
Video producers for Lesson level videos: Karen Rodriguez, Dr. Mya Thompson
Video editing for Lesson level videos: Karen Rodriguez
Videography for Lesson level videos: Christopher Foito
Video transcript editor: Noah Warnke
Advisors: Alex Chang, Diane Traina
Copy editor: Pat Leonard