Ornithologists are specialized zoologists who study the behaviour, ecology, physiology and classification of birds. They are also involved in the conservation of different bird species.

The nature of the work of ornithologists depends on the type of organisation of employment:

Museums: ornithologists collect and display bird collections and give educational talks on birds, answer inquiries about birds, and identify birds donated to the museum. For the collection of birds, ornithologists work in close collaboration with conservation organisations and they need to be familiar with specific legislation applicable to the fauna and flora of the area in which they are working.

Nature conservation organisations: they carry out research on rare and economically important bird species. Birds are captured and then weighed, measured and marked. Aspects such as the density and fluctuation of bird populations are studied. They advise farmers on the needs and management of birds on their farms and are involved in controlling the export and import of birds. They also make an effort to encourage a sense of conservation in the community.

Universities: they give lectures and conduct research.

Ornithologists should not only be zoologists, but also need to know a good deal about Entomology, Botany and Ecology.

Personal Requirements

  • love nature, especially birds
  • inquiring mind
  • self-motivated
  • willing to work for long periods in remote areas conducting research
  • aptitude for figures for data processing

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: BSc degree with Zoology as major subject and Botany or Entomology as second major. Geology, Mathematics and Statistics are recommended.

Post-graduate study: Honours degree in Zoology; Wildlife Management or Conservation Biology - NMMU, UNISA.

Postgraduate research is encouraged by the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology (University of Cape Town), which specialises in the ecology and behaviour of African birds.


  • museums
  • universities
  • national and provincial parks boards
  • zoological gardens
  • Department of Agriculture
Funds are limited in this field, so employment opportunities are not plentiful.

Further Information

Percy Fitzpatrick Institute for African Ornithology
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch, 7701
Tel: (021) 650-3291

The Zoological Society of SA
The Secretary
Department of Zoology
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Scottsville, 3209
Tel: (033) 260-5127

Getting Started

  • visit museums to learn more about endangered species and familiarise yourself with the various bird species
  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work with an ornithologist or at a game park
  • speak to an ornithologist about this career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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