ESRM 452 Field Ornithology


                                                                                                Professor: John Marzluff

                                                                                                Office: 123 E Anderson Hall

                                                                                                Phone: 206 616 6883













Class Meets Mondays 8:30-11:20 at various field locations (see schedule) and Fridays 2:30-4:50 in the Burke Museum (location TBD). We will also have 3 additional field trips.  First, October 12, 13, 14 we will travel to eastern Washington departing at 2pm (or earlier per your schedules) on Friday, camping Friday and Saturday night, and returning Sunday by late afternoon.  Second, on Saturday, November 10, we will depart at 7:00 am for full day field trip (expect to return mid to late afternoon) to Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and points between.  Finally, on December 1 (Saturday) at 7:00 we will depart for the Skagit Valley for a second all day field trip (late afternoon return).  The camping trip will depart from the c10 parking lot behind Bloedel Hall, the day trips will depart from the Greenlake Park and Ride at 6601 8th Ave NE (basically under I-5 where 65th Ave NE intersects).


Course Learning Goals are to (1) develop your ability to find and identify birds by sight and sound that occur within Washington, (2) teach the principles of scientific classification as revealed by avian systematics, (3) explore and build an appreciation for the variety within and between bird species, (4) expose you to the avian collections at the Burke Museum, and (5) kindle within you a lifelong passion for bird watching and scientific bird study.  During our explorations afield and in the lab you will have the opportunity to learn nearly 200 species of Washington’s birds.  A list of those you will be exposed to can be found here.  A checklist of these species for use during our field trips is available here.


My Teaching Approach is to lead you to rich sources of information and guide your exploration of that information.  Here I will do this in the lab as we study bird specimens and artifacts as well as in the field as we search for birds and learn to identify them to species by their habits, calls, and appearance. This is a hand’s on, practical, field-based class.


I Expect that you will come to class eager to learn, study the information and readings, work with CDs, phone applications, and imagery to learn calls and physical appearances of birds, and share your knowledge and enthusiasm with others in the class.  It is important that you be on time and prepared for each field trip and stay with the group on the trips so that no one’s time is wasted unnecessarily.


Required Equipment and Texts include a paper and digital field guides.  For field guides I recommend either The Sibley Guide to western birds, or the National Geographic guide to birds of North America.  In addition to a paper guide you will need a source for sound recordings of bird calls.  The best sources are field guide apps for computer or smart phone. I recommend the Audubon Birds app, but there are others that go with your field guides that would also be fine. Just make sure they have photos as well as songs/calls of birds.  You can also purchase from Cornell University Press a set of CDs that has the recordings of Birds Songs of the Pacific Northwest, but if you can use an app you will find it more affordable and a nice addition to your paper guide.


Due to a grant from the UW Student Tech Fee Fund, we are able to supply you with high quality Swarovski EL 10x42 binoculars for use during the class!


COURSE GRADES will be determined by a combination of field and lab identification tests, your field journal, a life history report, and a short field study.


FIELD EXAMS (these will occur during filed excursions and will total approximately 150 Points).  I will point out a bird or a call and you will have to identify the sight or sound to Order, Family (for Passeriformes), and Common Name. 


LAB EXAMS (1 Final worth 200 Points).  The final exam will be in the lab and will test your ability to identify birds from museum preparations, photographs, and sounds.  General questions will also be included about bird identification, behavior, and ecology.


FIELD JOURNAL (due at end of quarter, 30 accounts for 60 total points).  While on field trips or birding on your own you will be required to keep a field journal documenting your sightings.  At a minimum you must include the bird, date, weather, landscape setting, specific habitat surrounding the bird, habitat elements used by the bird, and distinguishing features of the bird.  For example, an account entry for a recent Pileated Woodpecker sighting is as follows:


Species                                    Pileated Woodpecker

Date                                        September 1, 2009

Weather                                   Overcast, calm winds, 55 F, no rain for > 1 week

Landscape Setting                   Suburban neighborhood approximately 40km NW of Seattle, WA

Specific Habitat                      Remnant 2ha patch of 80-year old second growth Douglas-fir

Habitat Elements                    Foraging on 20m tall, broken top, fir snag with peeling bark and shelf fungus; also fed on red huckleberry and on                                                                  suet feeder

Distinguishing Features                      Large size; red crest; black body and white contrasting wings; loud calls; red malar stripe (male); rectangular                                                           foraging holes for ants in tree


LIFE HISTORY REPORT (DUE Nov. 10; 50 points).  For the species of bird of your choice you should prepare a 1 page summary of its life history.  The American Ornithologists’ Union’s Birds of North America online resource is a recommended starting point.  In the page summarize what is known about the bird’s evolution, morphology, behavior, ecology, and conservation concerns.  Then IN A SECOND PAGE provide a summary and bibliography of recent research done on this species (articles published in last decade).  Discuss any changes to the previous life history account that the new information would suggest is needed.


FIELD STUDY (Due Dec. 7; 100 points).  Spend about 10 hours on your own observing a bird species, population, or community of your choice.  This can be the same species as you selected for your life history report.  Provide a field notebook of your observations in chronological order as “raw data,” and then synthesize your findings to raise questions, describe activity, or report on the community composition and the species’ responses to land use, land cover, and human activity.  Relate your observations to what is know about the species in the scientific literature.  Pose questions for future study.  No more than 5 pages in length, not including references.


Grades are assigned as follows, based on a grand total of 460 points:

            95% and higher = 4.0

            90% = 3.5

            80% = 2.5

            70% = 1.5, etc.


Activity Schedule


Date / (Time)

Meeting Place


Notes, Handouts


Monday, Oct 1  (8:30)

Anderson Hall Room 30

Common Birds of Campus

Introduction to Class and Bird Identification

Birds of UW Campus, UW Bird List

Draw 1 bird and ID it

Friday, Oct. 5


Burke Classroom




Orders Anseriformes, Galliformes, Gaviiformes, Podicipediformes, Procelleriformes; Pictures

Slides of interesting biology of orders

Monday, Oct. 8


C10 Parking Lot (SEFS Building Lot)

Walking Field Trip of Campus, especially Montlake Fill

Waterfowl and Gulls on Campus

Gull identification sheet

Gull ID manual

Friday, Oct. 12 (2:30 or earlier) through Sunday, Oct. 14

C10 Parking Lot (Forestry Building Lot)

Field Trip to Cascade Mountain Loop




Oct. 15




Friday Oct 19


Burke Classroom

Orders Pelicaniformes, Ciconiformes, Falconiformes, Gruiformes, Charadriiformes; Pictures

Slides of interesting biology

Monday Oct 22

C10 Parking Lot (Forestry Building Lot)

Walking Field Trip of Campus, especially Montlake Fill



Friday, Oct. 26 (2:30)



Woodland park Zoo

Birds of the World

Monday, Oct. 29 (8:30)




Friday, Nov 2 (2:30)

Burke Classroom


Orders Columbiformes, Cuculiformes, Strigiformes, Caprimulgiformes, Apodiformes, Coraciformes, Piciformes; Pictures

Slides of interesting biology

Monday, Nov 5 (8:30)

C10 Parking Lot (Forestry Building Lot)

Walking Trip to Arboretum



Friday, Nov. 9 (2:30)

Burke Classroom

Order Passeriformes: Families Tyrarnnidae to Turdidae; Pictures

Slides of interesting biology

Saturday, November 10


Greenlake Park and Ride (6601 8th Ave NE)

Field Trip to Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and Urban Parks

Life History Report Due


Monday, Nov. 12 (8:30)

Holiday No Class



Friday, Nov. 16 (2:30)

Burke Classroom

Order Passeriformes: Families Mimidae to Passeridae; Pictures

Slides of interesting biology

Monday, Nov. 19 (8:30)

C10 Parking Lot (Forestry Building Lot)

Walking Trip to Montlake

Friday, Nov. 23 (2:00)

No Class--Thanksgiving


Monday Nov. 26 (8:30)

C10 Parking Lot (Forestry Building Lot)

Netting Demo


Friday, Nov. 30 (2:30)

Burke Classroom

Review All Birds

Saturday, Dec. 1 (7:00)

Greenlake Park and Ride (6601 8th Ave NE)

Field Trip to Skagit Wildlife Recreation Area and coastal areas


Monday Dec. 3

No Class

Friday, Dec. 7


Burke Museum

Review All Birds

Field Study Report Due


Tuesday, Dec. 11


Burke Museum

Final Lab Exam