Ornithology Courses

Let your curiosity and keen interest in birds take flight through classes on the identification and natural history of Illinois resident and migratory birds.

While we do still offer classes in this certificate, as of June 2014, we are not accepting new enrollments in the Ornithology Certificate. If there are specific subjects you are interested in, please check out the current classes in this program to see if there is an offering that is right for you.

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Ornithology Certificate Program

Study bird biology, behavior, identification, and conservation, and receive practical birding advice from expert instructors. Be able to identify more than 100 migrant and resident birds common to northern Illinois. During field classes, you will:

  • Gain an understanding of Chicago-area avian ecology and biodiversity.
  • Develop confidence in your ability to identify birds through song, sight, and behavior.
  • Build a strong foundation of natural science knowledge.
  • Share experiences with people of similar interests.
  • Meet regional professionals.
  • Enjoy observing birds in a variety of outdoor settings.


The Ornithology Certificate has eight core courses on field study and natural history of birds. Courses do not have prerequisites, nor are they sequential. The program can be tailored to match your individual areas of interest with twenty-four contact hours of electives.


Field Study: Birds of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall

These four field courses build your skill in identifying birds by size, shape, sound and song, color (plumage), behavior, and field marks. Time will be devoted to choosing and using binoculars, spotting scopes, and field guides. A major portion of each class will be spent birding at locations within the Arboretum as well as some local "hot spots." At completion of the four sessions, participants will know 100-120 local birds by sight and/or song. Courses are not sequential.
O601, O602, O603 and O604.

Natural History of Birds

These four courses combine field and classroom work to build your fundamental knowledge of bird biology, behavior, evolutionary relationships, and conservation. In the classroom, we will focus on basic skills, vocabulary, and concepts. Work in the field or in the lab will be devoted to exploring bird biology and ecology and practicing bird observation skills.

Bird Biology

Gain the skills, vocabulary, and concepts to understand avian structure and function. Flight, feathers, anatomical features such as feet, bills, bones, along with metabolism, muscle structure, and intelligence, will provide a well-rounded understanding of what makes a bird. Indoor sessions will consist of lecture, discussion, and hands-on activities. Outdoor sessions will provide opportunities to see how all these amazing physical features adapt in the wild.
O610. 15 hours. Winter

Bird Behavior

Discover the significance of songs and plumage in determining territory and mate selection. Examine how nest construction and foraging patterns affect reproductive success and daily survival. Discuss the costs and benefits of bird behaviors. A large portion of this class will be spent in the field, observing and analyzing behaviors that link bird species to each other and their environment.
O620. 18 hours. Spring/Summer

Bird Evolution and Distribution

Examine the evolutionary relationships of birds and the theories behind their scientific classification. Topics will include the origin and geographic distribution of birds, how they diversified, and how relationships between birds are determined, including DNA analysis. Observation in local habitats will link bird distribution with the common bird families in the region. Exploring the relationships in selected bird families will illustrate the role of ornithologists in describing bird relationships.
O630. 15 hours. Fall

Bird Conservation

Explore the issues surrounding the preservation of bird life and diversity in northern Illinois. Investigate how bird populations are naturally affected by habitat, competition, and predation and apply those basics of population dynamics to conservation threats. Field work observing neotropical migrants as well as the birds nesting in local grasslands, savannas, and wetlands will focus on regional management and restoration plans. The plans are developed to increase nesting and reproductive success for endangered, threatened, and at-risk species.
O640. 15 hours. Spring/Summer


These short courses focus on birds of specific habitats, specific groups of birds, or new field techniques. Electives are an opportunity to experience important avian natural history sites and events throughout the Midwest, and are designed to expand the experience of the birder beyond the information covered in core courses.

  • Twenty-four contact hours of field electives are required to complete the certificate.
  • You may repeat one of the four Field Study courses for Field Elective credit; credit will be awarded for half the contact hours of the repeated course.



Please contact the Registrars' Office at Registrar-ed@mortonarb.org or 630-719-2468 to enroll in the Ornithology Certificate Program.