Why Study Birds? introduces you to the exciting world of ornithology and highlights the variety of ways you can engage with birds, from observing birds at your feeder or in your local park, to contributing data to citizen-science projects and designing studies of your own.

Meet the course authors:

Dr. Kevin McGowan
Hi, I’m Kevin McGowan. I’m a professional ornithologist, an educator, and a total bird-nut. I’ve been a professional bird-nerd for over 45 years.

I started my career studying the dynamics of social development in the Florida Scrub-Jay, for my Ph.D. research. But, I was a birder and bird enthusiast long before that.

My entire family was into the humanities (art, literature, theater), but I only wanted to watch animals. They did theater; I wanted to band birds.

My father told me when I was in junior high that I had to take out at least one book each library period that was about people. I couldn’t do it! All I wanted to read about was science and animals.

I came to Cornell in the late 1980s to be the curator of the bird and mammal collections. Working with the extensive collection of birds of the world was great fun. And I learned lots more about birds, inside and out.

During that time, I started a research program on the social behavior of American Crows that continues to this day. I have followed the lives and successes of over 3,000 individual crows throughout their lifetimes.

I’m interested in just about everything related to birds. Although my specialty is behavior and how it helps birds make a living, I can get excited about evolution, anatomy, physiology, ecology, identification, and lots of other topics.

Birds are cool. You don’t have to be a bird freak like me to love them. They are obvious, and available, right out there in nature, for everyone to see and appreciate.

Most of you who have already made it this far, who are taking this course, already know that birds are awesome and interesting.

I hope we can show you some new things. I hope you enjoy the materials we have put together for you, to enhance your learning about birds. We want to share our excitement and enjoyment of birds, beyond all else.

Please, have a good time and enjoy this course.
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Dr. Sarah Wagner
Hello, I am Sarah Wagner. I have been interested in birds nearly all of my life and I have been serious about studying them since my first Ornithology class in college.

That course opened up my perspective on the world around me. Suddenly, the flatland soybean and corn fields of Indiana became the most interesting place I had ever explored.

I started to cue into landscapes that might support the species I was looking for – learning that fence lines are good places to seek out American woodcocks during breeding season, and that Sandhill cranes forage in cornfields during the day.

I also learned how landscapes shape range and abundance and the role that humans often play in that relationship.

I am most interested in the stories birds can tell us about environmental health.

During my master’s work in the desert southwest, it was exciting to be able to document how birds can be dramatically affected by changes to their habitat. In the San Juan river, the Black-capped Chickadees and the Yellow Warblers vanished where invasive plants took over.

Defining just how much native vegetation was necessary to maintain these bird populations felt like big step toward a good management plan. Each small scientific discovery is rewarding, that’s why I continue to work in both research and conservation outreach.

I am so excited to offer this course in ornithology. We hope that this will enhance your understanding of bird biology worldwide and allow you to take an even closer look at the birds you encounter from day to day.
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Combine what you learn from the textbook with the additional course content. Take your learning beyond the course.

Be sure to look at the Companion Media Library video content that goes with each chapter of the handbook.

Express yourself like an ornithologist with the A-to-Z Glossary of Bird Terms.