Be an Ornithologist


Career fields in ornithology and birding (modified from Flocking Around.)

Unlike more well-known professions, the path to becoming an ornithologist isn't quite as straightforward. There are multiple ways to approach the ornithologist life. Here are a few of the more common career paths:

Non-profit Sector. This includes work for organizations like the National Audubon Society. Often these groups are education-driven, relying on sparking an interest in the general public to help raise funds for conservation.

  1. Pros: This work is often well-rounded. It includes public engagement, education, outreach, research, fundraising, a little bit of everything all contributing to the great goal of saving the planet.

  2. Cons: Ever wished you could work 5 jobs and get paid 1 salary? Then you'll love non-profit work. Non-profits often have limited funding which means employees can be overworked and asked to do jobs sometimes beyond their scope

    Government work. Think about your outdoor government branches: Bureau of Land Management, National Parks, US Fish and Wildlife, US Geological Service, the list goes on.

    1. Pros: Government work has some mad benefits and consistent pay. These jobs are a great way to get to know America's public lands more intimately, if you know what I mean

    2. Cons: Bureaucracy. Your pay is limited but benefits tend to be good.

      Academia. Here you have your college professors, often splitting their time between teaching classes and conducting their own research with the help of graduate students.

      1. Pros: Once you're a tenured professor, talk about job security for life. Universities are often well-funded for research, plus you get the opportunity to teach impressionable, young undergraduates.

      2. Cons: It is difficult to find a job in academia and if you do, ornithology will probably only be a small part of your everyday work but you can do research.

        Private Sector. Better known as consulting. These jobs are often the best paid, but require some of the harder work being privately contracted.

        1. Pros: You will definitely make some mad cash, and get to watch birds while you're at it!

        2. Cons: Consulting companies are often contracted by energy companies like oil or wind, so you might be working for people with some questionable ethics. Also, a lot of report writing to consider. And you never know when you will have a job or get paid.

          Husbandry. These jobs can span anywhere from zookeepers to animal handlers to breeders.

          1. Pros: Bird fondlers delight! This is one of the most hands-on job experiences, getting to know birds from a personal perspective.

          2. Cons: These jobs can require you to become the personal slaves of birds: preparing them gourmet meals and a lot of cleaning poop, like a lot of poop. And low pay.


What does it take to become an ornithologist? An ornithologist is simple a person who studies birds. But that bird study comes in a variety of occupations.  No one is hired just as an ornithologist with that job title. Studying birds may involve education, research, environmental studies, care of birds or involve all four areas. One can be a wildlife biologist, environmental scientist, professor, teacher, nature center worker, bird or wildlife rehabilitator, wildlife protection officer, veterinarian, writer, or film maker. All of those professions can include some, or a substantial amount, of ornithology.

See "You're a What? Ornithologist" from the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections for information on what an ornithologist does and salary projections.

For more details on what an ornithologist does, job descriptions, schools, and lots of other good information, go to Environmental Science.

For listings of current job openings in ornithology, go to Ornithology Exchange.

If you still have questions after reading the above references, you are encouraged to write the ornithologist , Dr. Roger Lederer, who writes this blog and has been an ornithologist for 50 years.

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