Field Techniques for Surveying Birds
About the course
This part-time tutored online course offers detailed training in passive and non-passive bird surveying techniques. The course aims to create a rich workshop experience, encouraging direct student and tutor interaction and discussion.
You will receive highly practical expert training, helping you to
- develop skills for indirect counts of traces and nests, group-based counts of colonies, flocks and roosts
- learn how to conduct transect and aerial surveys
- develop skills in mist-netting, cannon-netting, walk-in (cage) traps, active (spring-loaded) traps and entanglement (noose) traps and tagging
- explore new technologies such as acoustic sensors and wireless sensor networks, PIT tags and the use of stable isotope analysis
- refine bird survey design and data collection skills
- understand how to record accurate, unbiased and representative samples in order to reach a conclusion
Who the course is for
Professional ecological consultants, environmental managers and rangers, research and postgraduate students, and volunteers. The techniques covered are universal, and we use international case studies and examples.
Flexible online learning
Students typically study on this course alongside their work.
You can take this online course from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. You can log on at any time of the day and access our specially designed course materials, e-learning resources and tutor-led discussion forums. You will have access to the Bodleian Libraries’ online resources, which include an excellent range of e-books and e-journals, enabling you to conduct your research and reading in your own time.
The course can help you to apply for Chartered Status (such as Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Ecologist), and to meet relevant professional competency thresholds. Further information can be found in our Chartered status and essential skills guide.
- Introduction to birds and bird surveys: Advantages and disadvantages of working with birds; what are birds and how do we identify them?; Importance of knowing the behaviour, ecology and physiology of birds; sources of existing data
- Bird surveys - first principles: Why survey?: Question-driven surveys; context of the survey – am I recording what I aim to record?; preliminary thoughts on survey design; setting up your data collection method – data sheets and what to collect
- Passive survey techniques 1: Introduction to observation-based techniques; indirect counts – traces and nests; group-based counts – colonies, flocks, roosts; point counts; area searches; territory mapping
- Passive survey techniques 2: Transects: Distance sampling; aerial surveys; counting migrants
- Non-passive survey techniques 1: Introduction; playback
- Non-passive survey techniques 2: Catching birds; Mist netting; Cannon netting and hand capture; Nooses and traps
- Non-passive survey techniques 3: Recording morphological data; tagging birds
- New technologies: Acoustic sensors and wireless sensor networks; Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags); stable isotope analysis
- Bird survey design and considerations: Sampling strategies; confounding factors
- Reporting your results: Analytical tools; writing up your findings
Your course tutor will guide you through a series of key topics via reading materials, online activities, and discussion forums. Discussion forums are the primary space where students are able to interact with one another and their tutor to discuss questions, solve problems and share ideas just as they would expect to do in a face-to-face classroom setting.
Level and demands
The course is designed for Master’s-level students, and you are likely to be studying alongside students on our Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques.
You can expect
- to engage with and contribute to the course around ten to 15 hours per week (depending on whether it is taken for credit or not)
- your course tutor will engage online for no less than six hours per week (usually distributed across each week and will focus on particular topics and activities)
- topics to be covered following a suggested calendar of activity (so that activities, discussion and reading are completed within the course week duration, and at an even pace)
- the course can be taken with or without Masters-level credit. Credit enables students to demonstrate their academic achievement and can count towards further postgraduate study
You can choose to study for academic credit or simply for the learning experience.
Students taking the course for credit submit an assignment of up to 2000 words or equivalent.
We offer Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for the course. By contributing to all the forums and successfully completing the assessment you will obtain 10 CATS-equivalent points (FHEQ level 7) which may count towards a Masters-level qualification. You will also receive a University of Oxford Certificate of Attendance.
For information on CATS points and credit transfer, including conversion to US academic credits and European academic credits (ECTS), please visit our CATS Points FAQ page.
Students taking the course not for credit do not submit an assignment.
By actively participating in at least one online course forum post per week, to the satisfaction of the course tutor, and successfully completing the course, you will receive a University of Oxford Certificate of Attendance.
Certificate of Attendance
You may receive a Certificate of Attendance whether you opt for accredited or non-accredited study (provided that you have met the requirements stated above).
This course is delivered online and uses the Department’s online assignment submission system (for the course assignment). In order to meet course requirements, students will need access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.
Accredited study: £770.00
Non-accredited study: £440.00
Student rate (non-accredited): £330.00
Dr Thomas Hesselberg
Course DirectorDr Thomas Hesselberg’s research focuses on behavioural ecology and comparative biomechanics of invertebrates primarily using spiders and their webs as model organisms. In particular, he is interested in how behavioural plasticity has evolved to cope with the constraints imposed by a relatively limited brain capacity and with the biomechanical constraints imposed by morphological and external environmental factors as well as silk material properties.
Dr Holly Kirk
TutorHolly recently finished her DPhil in the Department of Zoology, Oxford University. Her research on seabird movement ecology combined traditional field work techniques with new spatial and behavioural logging technology. Now based in Australia, Holly is working with an interdisciplinary group solving key problems in ecological conservation. Her current research focuses on understanding animal dispersal in the urban environment, using a range ecological survey techniques to study plants, birds and bugs.
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Apply to take the course for academic credit
If you are applying to take this course for academic credit you will need to complete and return the following documents, alongside a copy of your CV. Please ensure you read the guidance notes before completing the application form, as any errors resulting from failure to do so may delay your application.
Apply to take the course not for academic credit
If you do not wish to take this course for academic credit you will need to complete and return the following document, or use the enrol onlinebutton below. Please ensure you read the guidance notes before completing the application form, as any errors resulting from failure to do so may delay your application.
All candidates will need to:
- Hold a minimum qualification equivalent to a first Honours Degree (BA, BSc, etc). Non-graduates may be considered if they are able to demonstrate considerable experience in a relevant field. If in doubt, please email email@example.com;
- Offer some first-hand knowledge and/or experience of field work or conservation issues;
- Satisfy the minimum required English language criteria set by the University, being either a native English speaker, or able to offer test results as specified. Applicants with borderline scores may be accepted on condition that they attend a language course and gain an acceptable score;
- Demonstrate an ability to be able to commit the necessary time to study;
- Have good access to a computer and a fast/reliable internet connection;
- Demonstrate an ability to work alongside fellow students and tutors as part of an online community and independently.
Where requested, this should be supplied with your application. Applicants are advised to email firstname.lastname@example.org should they be unsure about the suitability of the referees they intend to use.
Please note that we do not request submission of written work.
Terms and conditions
Terms and conditions for applicants and students on this course
Sources of funding
Information on financial support
also part of a wider programme of part-time accredited short courses available online.