How to become an Ornithologist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does an Ornithologist do?
As an ornithologist, you could work in a variety of roles involving study of the behaviour, ecology, classification, physiology and conservation of birds. You could be involved in:
- fieldwork and research
- conservation and habitat management
Your work would vary depending on the particular job, but could include:
- conducting surveys
- monitoring bird species in a particular habitat
- tracking bird movements and biological processes
- collecting, analysing and evaluating data.
You could also work as a warden or officer at a nature reserve, ringing station or observatory.
Your hours and working environment would vary depending on the job. You could spend at least half of your working time outdoors in all weather conditions.
You may have to travel to sites, either in a vehicle or on foot. You could work in remote and isolated locations.
How much does an Ornithologist earn?
- Wardens can earn around £20,000 a year.
- Research fieldworkers can earn around £22,000.
- Senior ornithologists can earn £23,000 to £38,000.
Wardens may be provided with accommodation. Earnings will vary greatly according to the type of job.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Most ornithologists have a degree or postgraduate qualification in subjects such as biology, ecology, environmental biology, zoology or biological science. To get onto a degree course you would usually need:
- at least five GCSEs (A-C), including maths and a science subject, and
- two A levels, preferably in maths, biology or statistics.
You can also do relevant BTEC HNDs and foundation degrees at some colleges and universities.
To search for foundation degree, HND and degree courses, see the UCAS website. Please check with colleges or universities for exact entry requirements.
To become a bird warden, you would need a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ‘A’ permit and experience as a birdwatcher. As an assistant warden you should preferably have some ringing experience and be a reasonably experienced bird watcher.
The BTO offers various courses including short and residential courses in bird survey techniques and bird ringing. See the BTO website for details.
- British Trust for Ornithology
You may be able to gain experience by becoming a volunteer warden with organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)or BTO.
Training and Development
Once you start work you may receive training from your employer. Depending on the job, you could use your research studies to gain a higher degree or PhD.
You can attend BTO Bird Survey Techniques and Bird Identification courses. Check the BTO website for details.
- British Trust for Ornithology
Skills and Knowledge
- a keen interest in birds
- an accurate and methodical approach
- enthusiasm about wildlife conservation
- good analytical and mathematical skills
- the ability to work alone or as part of a team
- good written and spoken communication skills
- the ability to produce clear reports
- IT skills.
You could be employed as an ornithologist by a number of organisations, including:
- ringing stations
- nature reserves
- local authorities
- wildlife trusts
- private conservation organisations.
Competition for jobs is strong.
To become a research officer, you would usually start on a temporary contract as a research student, working on a short-term study or project with organisations like RSPB, BTO or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).