ZOOL 4408/5408 - Ornithology
Spring 2023


Tues and Thurs, 2:30-3:50 p.m., 21 Biology Bldg.
Lecture professor:

Dr. Nancy McIntyre
420A Biology Bldg.
Tel. (806) 834-7977
Office hours: W 11:00-noon, or by appointment
(call or email to set up an in-person or Zoom appointment)


You can follow me @landscape_nancy on Instagram for
daily natural history tidbits.


Tu / Wed / Thurs, 8:00-10:50 a.m., 406 Biology Bldg.

Lab T.A.s:
Chris Johnson
Office: 407 Biology Bldg.
Office hours: by appointment

Chris Johnson


Hannah Wojtysiak Girgente 
Office: 419 Biology Bldg.
Office hours: by appointment

Hannah Wojtysiak

Last updated: 9 March 2023 - URLs to video lectures for 21 March and 23 March added

Recent updates: 22 January 2023 - scheduled updated to deal with snow cancellation; please review the lecture and lab schedules carefully for changes. I have shaded changed cells in light gray.

Materials on this website may be updated at any time, so please be sure to check back prior to each class or lab session for any new or updated information.

Course website: I developed and maintain this website, which is not part of any of TTU’s third-party platforms (e.g. Blackboard, TopHat, Piazza, etc.). Not using these platforms has pros and cons. I do not use one primarily because I make my teaching materials available worldwide and not just to enrolled TTU students (TTU’s third-party platforms require a TTU login whereas this website does not). Please let me know of any dead links ASAP!

Expected learning outcomes:
Birds have delighted and fascinated humans throughout recorded history (and presumably before). Texas has more bird species than any other U.S. state, so we will go on several local field trips to gain an appreciation for this diversity and to study birds in their natural setting. Students will study the phylogenetic origins, taxonomy, anatomy, physiology, behavior, and ecological importance of this unique, abundant, and widespread class of animals. Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to identify locally abundant species by sight and sound, recognize features that allow taxonomic identification to Order (all species worldwide) and Family (local birds), understand the unique physical and behavioral traits of birds, and understand the evolutionary linkage of birds to other animals. There are required local field trips.

Methods for assessing expected learning outcomes:
(1) lecture tests, (2) "test your comprehension" in-class quizzes, (3) lab quizzes, (4) lab homework assignments, (5) lab field identification final, and (6) a cumulative final lecture exam.

Materials needed for this class:

1) Technology: You will need access to a computer with an internet connection. You will be using the internet to access the syllabus and using Google Forms to complete some assignments. TTU recommends using the Chrome browser. I will send out announcements and assignments via email; please make sure that I have your current TTU email address on file, and please check to ensure that emails from me are not going to your Junk folder. Finally, you will need a smartphone with a camera to be able to read QR codes displayed in class for in-class quizzes. (If you do not have a smartphone with a camera, please let me know ASAP; I have a “Plan B” that can be deployed on an individual basis.)
        If you do not have your own computer, there are some in the Main Library's ATLC you can use, and a limited number of laptops are available for loan from TTU's IT Division; use your TTU email address to send an email to verify.ithelpcnetral@ttu.edu and provide your phone number, Tech ID number (R number), and equipment requested.

2) Textbook: Gill, F.B., R.O. Prum, and S.K. Robinson. 2019. Ornithology (4th ed.).

3) Field guide: Dunn, J.L., and J. Alderfer. 2017. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (7th ed.). Good alternative field guide: The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America (get the 2nd printing of 2nd ed.)


Please note that electronic field guides (e.g. e-books or apps) are not acceptable substitutes at this time. (They are best used by more advanced birders.)

4) Binoculars (if you don't have your own, there are some in the lab that are available for loan).
        Shopping for binoculars? Click here for some helpful info for all price ranges.

Helpful resources:

At the end of each chapter of your textbook is a section called “Review Key Concepts” with summaries and important terms, and a section called “Apply Your Knowledge” with review questions. I will draw many test questions from here! I suggest that you look through the “Review Key Concepts” at the end of each chapter and be able to answer the questions in the “Apply Your Knowledge” section at the end of each.

The TTU library has many relevant books (including The Birder’s Handbook, The Encyclopedia of Birds, The Encyclopedia of North American Birds, and others) and scientific journals (Auk, Condor, Ibis, Wilson Bulletin, Journal of Field Ornithology). I recommend the following library books for greater detail about the topics we will cover in lecture and lab:

 There are also countless websites devoted to birds and ornithology, including the following:


The course grade is composed of the following:

5% on in-class ("test your comprehension") QR quizzes

10% on exam I
10% on exam II
10% on exam III
10% on exam IV
20% on cumulative final exam – Friday, May 5, 4:30-7:00 p.m.
35% on lab

Exams are typically mixed-format (i.e., short-answer questions, definitions, essays, multiple-choice, etc.). I use essay questions to gauge your depth of mastery of concepts. Your mastery should demonstrate factual knowledge as well as the ability to synthesize different but related topics. As a senior-level/graduate-level course, I expect answers to display some degree of sophistication. For example, if I were to ask for two similarities between modern birds and Archaeopteryx lithographica, an answer of "beak and wings" would be insufficient. Click here for an example of A, B, C, D, and F answers to a sample question in ornithology.

Topics to be covered in lecture:


There are many ways to approach creating an ornithology class. The subject is too diverse for us to be able to cover everything, and we won’t have time to get through every chapter in the textbook. So I’ve chosen certain topics to be presented in a certain logical order. These topics cluster together into 5 modules: avian diversity and taxonomy, avian phylogeny and derived characteristics, flight, reproduction, and conservation. At the end of each module, there will be a test.


Day Date Topic Textbook reading (Gill & Prum 2019)
Th Jan 12 Introduction: humans’ fascination with birds pp. xvii-xxii; additional fun info may be found at this entry from Wikipedia
Tu Jan 17 Avian characteristics Chapter 1; additional general info may be found here
Th  Jan 19 Nonpasserines part 1 Click here for taxonomy handout (will be used for next 4 lectures)
Table 1-1 and Chapter 3
Tu Jan 24 SCHOOL CANCELLED DUE TO SNOW - schedule pushed ahead by 1 day until Apr. 13 (two lectures combined); schedule starting Apr. 18 is as it was originally -
Th Jan 26 Nonpasserines part 2 Table 1-1 and Chapter 3
Tu Jan 31 Passerines part 1 Table 1-1 and Chapter 3
Th Feb 2 Passerines part 2 Table 1-1 and Chapter 3
Tu Feb 7 EXAM I -
Th Feb 9 Evolutionary origins of birds Chapter 2; more info may be found at the Univ. of California Museum of Paleontology's website
Tu Feb 14 Avian phylogeny Chapters 2 (section 2.3) and 3; check out this website for the most recent analysis of avian genomes, and this video (via Facebook) about some of the recent updates to our understanding of avian phylogeny
Th Feb 16 Brain and sensory systems Chapter 7
Tu Feb 21 Visual and vocal communication Chapter 8; check out this article about birds seeing in UV
Th Feb 23 Adaptations for feeding Chapter 6
Tu Feb 28 EXAM II -
Th Mar 2 Origins of flight Chapters 2 (section 2.7) and 5; additional info may be found at this website from the BBC
Tu Mar 7 Physics of flight Chapter 5; additional helpful info on flight (and not just by birds) may be found at this website and this website from UC-Berkeley; and more than you'll ever want to know about Bernoulli's principle may be found here
Th Mar 9 Feathers Chapters 2 (section 2.6) and 4; additional info may be found at this entry in Wikipedia, and at the superb North American Feather Atlas
Tu Mar 21 Other adaptations for flight - click here for video lecture Chapter 6
Th Mar 23 Migration - click here for video lecture Chapter 10; click here for info about North American flyways
Tu Mar 28 Orientation and navigation Chapter 10
Th Mar 30 EXAM III -
Tu Apr 4 Mating systems Chapters 13-14
Th Apr 6 Reproductive physiology Chapter 12
Tu Apr 11 Raising young Chapters 12, 15-17
Th Apr 13 Brood parasitism & Nest predation Chapter 14; click here for more info about brood parasitism; Chapter 17
Tu Apr 18 EXAM IV -
Th Apr 20 Birds in peril: threats Chapters 18 and 21; click here on how climate change is driving color change in Tawny Owls; click here for the Audubon Birds and Climate Report; and here for how urbanization is changing bird songs
Tu Apr 25 Birds in peril: endangered and extinct species Chapter 21; click here for info on the Heath Hen, here for info on the Passenger Pigeon, and here for info about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Th Apr 27 The future: a silent spring? Chapter 21
Tu May 2 Bird conservation, and what YOU can do Chapters 18 and 21; click here for a scientific paper on ecosystem consequences of bird declines and here for a book on why birds matter
Fri May 5 FINAL EXAM: 4:30-7:00 p.m. -

Lab overview: 

The lab will consist of a general overview of the major taxonomic groups of birds, primarily focusing on those distributed in North America. General form and function of anatomical features and identification of birds (in the lab and field) including class, order, family, and standardized common names will make up the bulk of the material. In addition, some basic natural history, behavior, and vocalizations will also be covered.

Lab will be held in Biology 406. This room is designated by TTU's Department of Environmental Health & Safety as a laboratory, meaning that no food or drinks are allowed inside, and you must wear long pants or long skirts as well as closed-toe shoes (no sandals or flip-flops). There are lab coats provided in the lab, or you may bring your own.

Because this room is officially designated by TTU's Department of Environmental Health & Safety as a laboratory, it is an area in which concealed handguns are forbidden in accordance with the Texas Penal Code, marked by signage compliant with Section 30.06. Violations of this regulation may result in legal actions in compliance with State of Texas law (Class C or Class A Misdemeanor) and/or disciplinary actions compliant with Texas Tech University operating procedures. For more information, please see https://www.ttu.edu/campuscarry/.  

Lab attendance:

Attendance is mandatory; missed labs cannot be made up. More than 2 unexcused absences will result in the forfeiture of all points associated with the lab, which guarantees that you will fail the course. If you are unable to attend lab due to an approved excused absence (see the section below entitled Information for both lecture and lab: Absences/missed assignments about what constitutes an excused absence), please notify your lab instructor immediately to see if you can attend the other lab section that week. DO NOT simply show up at a different lab section without having made prior arrangements and expect to be accommodated.

Topics to be covered in lab:  subject to change due to weather

Date Topic
Jan 10-12 No lab
Jan 17-19 Introduction / Feathers / External anatomy (avian topography) / Nests and eggs / HW1: avian topography and field guide assignment (maps, seasons, ages, etc.)
Jan 31-Feb 2 Quiz 1 / HW1 due / Internal anatomy (skeleton; pigeon dissection) / HW 2: field guide ID assignment  
Feb 7-9 Quiz 2 / Field trip - Note that this trip is staying at its original date; other labs have been moved forward by a week
Feb 14-16 Quiz 3 / HW2 due / Anseriformes, Galliformes, Podicipediformes, Suliformes, Pelecaniformes
Feb 21-23 Accipitriformes, Cathartiformes, Falconiformes, Gruiformes, Procellariiformes, Charadriiformes
Feb 28-Mar 2 Quiz 4 / Columbiformes, Psittaciformes, Cuculiformes, Strigiformes, Caprimulgiformes, Coraciiformes, Piciformes, Passeriformes (Tyrannidae)
Mar 7-9 Quiz 5 / Passeriformes (Laniidae, Vireonidae, Corvidae, Alaudidae, Hirundinidae, Paridae, Troglodytidae, Sittidae, Remizidae, Regulidae, Turdidae, Mimidae, Sturnidae, Bombycillidae, Parulidae)
Mar 14-16 Spring Break
Mar 21-23  Quiz 6 / Passeriformes (Icteriidae, Cardinalidae, Passerellidae, Calcariidae, Icteridae, Fringillidae, Passeridae)
Mar 28-30 Quiz 7: Cumulative lab specimens / Field trip
Apr 4-6 Field trip
Apr 11-13 Field trip
Apr 18-20 Field trip OR Quiz 8: Sounds + field ID
Apr 25-27 Quiz 8: Sounds + field ID OR field trip to the TTU Museum (may be rescheduled earlier in the term to make up a rained-out field trip)



Lab grading:


Lab will comprise 35% of your final course grade: 

    Quizzes 1-6, each worth 50 points, with lowest grade dropped (= max 250 points)

    Quiz 7, worth 50 points

    Quiz 8, worth 100 points

    Two HWs worth 50 pts each (= max 100 points)

    Participation for each of the 7 indoor labs at 20 points each (= max 140 points) 

So the maximum number of points, if you made a perfect score on everything, would be 640 points.  

Students’ performance will be evaluated by quizzes on lab specimens reviewed in the week(s) prior plus a field identification quiz, homework, and participation. No extra credit is available; however, there will likely be bonus questions on each weekly quiz, and the lowest specimen quiz grade will be dropped. In order to have your lowest specimen quiz grade dropped you must take all the quizzes, and quizzes 7 & 8 are exempt from the drop. 

Bird specimens in lab:


You will be given the opportunity to study birds "in the hand" by using specimens borrowed from The Museum of TTU and from the Teaching Collection. These specimens are unique, fragile, and highly valued. Many are more than 100 years old and irreplaceable. Therefore, please handle all specimens with the utmost care. You must follow these guidelines:
    -absolutely NO food or drinks are allowed in lab (this includes drinks with resealable tops and water);
    -make sure your hands are clean (there are hand-washing sinks in lab) and dry;
    -do NOT pick specimens up by the feet, tail, beak, wings, or stick (for "popsicle" birds): instead, you should gently cradle the body;
    -do NOT handle the specimens roughly;
    -place specimens down gently on their flat side (usually the back);
    -make sure that no part of the bird is hanging over the edge of the table.

Mishandling of specimens is taken very seriously and will result in loss of points and a meeting with Dr. McIntyre (the Curator of Birds), the Director of the Natural Science Research Laboratory (natural history division of The Museum of TTU), and the Director of The Museum of TTU.

In addition, taking photos of specimens is NOT allowed.

Lab field trips:

The latter half of the semester will be outdoors on required field trips at destinations in and around the city of Lubbock. Please note the following about field trips:
1) Be on time or we will leave without you. Meeting us at the destination in your own vehicle is not an option due to liability.
2) Field trips will involve walking on non-paved surfaces, so wear appropriate footwear. Sandals or flip-flops are not advisable.
3) Even though we will be outdoors, the same rules of conduct apply as if we were indoors: no idle chitchat, no phones out, etc.
4) Field trips will only be cancelled due to inclement weather (e.g. thunderstorms or dust storms); an announcement will be sent to the class via email as soon as that decision is made. Field trips will not be cancelled due to cold or hot temperatures or even light rain, so please dress appropriately, wearing proper attire that accommodates your particular comfort zone.
5) In order to identify birds in the field, you are required to bring your own field guide and binoculars (there are some available for loan in the lab) on all field trips. Students need to learn how to ID birds using their own skills and this cannot be accomplished by groups huddling around a single book. Failure to bring your field guide for a scheduled field trip will result in an unexcused absence.
6) Disruption or lack of participation will be counted as an unexcused absence with no opportunity to make up points lost. Lack of participation is any activity that prevents you or others from participating in observing birds or listening to your instructors.
7) We will follow the American Birding Association's Code of Birding Ethics.

Sounds to know for lab:

Here are the bird sounds that you are required to know for lab. These are all species common in the Lubbock area (although not all species are present throughout the entire year). Most of the links below are to *.wav files, so you'll need to have some kind of audio player software installed on your computer (like Windows Media, iTunes, Quicktime, etc.) to hear them. You may also wish to find other (online) recordings of each of these species' vocalizations (good sources: Cornell Lab and xeno-canto).

  1. American Robin; HINT: it sounds happy
  2. Belted Kingfisher; HINT: rattle
  3. Blue Jay; HINT: says its name
  4. Brown-headed Cowbird; HINT: bubbly "glug glug glee"
  5. Burrowing Owl; HINT: "coo hoo"
  6. Cedar Waxwing; HINT: thin, high-pitched whistles
  7. Common Nighthawk; HINT: "peent"; wings make a whooshing sound when the bird dives
  8. Eastern Meadowlark (example 1 and example 2); HINT: tumbling whistles
  9. Eastern Screech-owl; HINT: whinny and trill
  10. Eurasian Collared-dove; HINT: "coo hoo-hoo"; they also make a harsh "bleah" call
  11. European Starling; HINT: thin crackling sounds, almost electronic or static-y
  12. Great Horned Owl duet; HINT: "hoo hoo-huh-hoo hooooo hooooo"
  13. Great-tailed Grackle; HINT: loud squawks and squeals
  14. House Finch (example 1 and example 2); HINT: cheeps with a Bronx cheer at end
  15. House Sparrow (example 1 and example 2); HINT: high-pitched, flat cheeps
  16. Inca Dove; HINT: "whirl-pool"
  17. Killdeer; HINT: says its name
  18. Ladder-backed Woodpecker (call and multiple sounds (calling, tapping, drumming)); HINT: call sounds squeaky
  19. Mourning Dove (call example and sound of wings); HINT: sad
  20. Northern Cardinal; HINT: piercing, clear whistle
  21. Northern Flicker (call, multiple sounds (calling, drumming), and duet); HINT: sounds like laughter
  22. Northern Mockingbird; HINT: repeats phrases at least 3 times
  23. Red-winged Blackbird; HINT: "cong-a-ree"
  24. Sandhill Crane guard call (go to this website, scroll down to "Vocalization" and click on "guard call"); HINT: rattling "karoo"
  25. Western Kingbird; HINT: sounds like a squeaky toy
  26. Western Meadowlark; HINT: less structure than E. Meadowlark; sounds a little like R2D2 from Star Wars
  27. White-crowned Sparrow song (go to this website, click on the Sounds tab, then click on the song samples); HINT: faintly buzzy "Poor Jo Jo missed his bus"
  28. White-winged Dove; HINT: "who cooks for you"

Helpful links for learning to ID birds by sight and sound:

Information for both lecture and lab:

COVID-19 safety guidelines:

The University will continue to monitor CDC, State, and TTU System guidelines concerning COVID-19. Any changes affecting class policies or temporary changes to delivery modality will be in accordance with those guidelines and announced as soon as possible. Students will not be required to purchase specialized technology to support a temporary modality change, though students are expected to have access to a computer to access course content and course-specific messaging. For more information about COVID testing, vaccinations, isolation, and quarantine: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/communications/emergency/coronavirus/. If you test positive for COVID-19, report your positive test through TTU's reporting system: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/communications/emergency/coronavirus/. Once you report a positive test, the portal will automatically generate a letter that you can distribute to your instructors.

Absences/missed assignments:


Attendance is required to all lecture and lab sessions. Make-up assignments will be given only in the event of an excused absence. Please note that more than two unexcused absences from lab will result in forfeiture of all points associated with lab, which guarantees that you will fail the course. Please be advised that absences for clubs and club sports teams, even if they are recognized TTU Student Organizations, are technically considered unexcused absences as per the TTU Operating Policies and Procedures Manual 34.06. For University-approved curricular and extracurricular activities, verifiable documentation must be presented to the instructor(s) at least one week prior to the first absence; students are responsible for the material missed. A student who is absent from classes for the observance of a religious holy day shall be allowed to take an examination or complete an assignment scheduled for that day within a reasonable time after the absence. A student who is excused for this may not be penalized for the absence; however, the instructor may respond appropriately if the student fails to complete the assignment satisfactorily. "Religious holy day" means a holy day observed by a religion whose places of worship are exempt from property taxation under Texas Tax Code §11.20.
Students with disabilities:


Please note that this is a class with lab and field components that are centered around identification of birds by sight and sound. As such, it may not be appropriate for all students. Any student who, because of a disability, may require special arrangements in order to meet the course requirements should contact the instructor(s) as soon as possible to determine reasonable accommodations. Students should present appropriate verification from Student Disability Services. Please note that instructors are not allowed to provide classroom accommodations to a student until appropriate verification from Student Disability Services has been provided. For additional information, contact the Student Disability Services office at 130 Weeks Hall, 806-742-2405 or sds@ttu.edu.
Academic integrity:


As Texas Tech’s alma mater (The Matador Song) states, “Strive for honor evermore.” Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, collusion, falsifying academic records, misrepresenting facts, and any act designed to give unfair academic advantage to the student (such as, but not limited to, submission of essentially the same assignment for two courses without the prior permission of the instructor) or the attempt to commit such an act. If a student is involved in any form of academic misconduct and is proven that the action took place, the instructor may initiate a disciplinary action. The penalties for academic dishonesty can include but not limited to a zero or a grade of "F" on the work in question, a grade of "F" in the course, or suspension. The university’s policy on Academic Integrity Policy is available at this link: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/opmanual/OP34.12.php.

Withdrawal/dropping the class:

Students may officially drop a course through the 45th class day of a long semester or the 15th class day of a summer term and receive the grade of W regardless of their progress in the class. Students are responsible for determining the deadline for dropping this semester. After the deadline, the student must complete the course for a grade. The full regulation appears in OP 34.05.


Grades of I may be applicable when circumstances beyond the student's control, such as illness or impairment due to an accident, prevent the student from completing course requirements. The instructor assigning the grade will stipulate in writing at the time the grade is given the conditions under which the I may be removed. The assigned work and a change of grade must be recorded within one calendar year from the date of the I. Failure to do so results in an F for that course. See OP 34.12 on Grading Procedures.

Keys to success in this course:

(1) This course is more than simply “bird appreciation” or bird-watching: it is a rigorous senior-level zoology course that will demand time and dedication. You should devote at least as many hours to studying each week as you spend in class.

(2) Listening is not the same thing as learning: you should be taking detailed notes during both lecture and lab (including labs in the field).


Highly recommended non-technical books on birds: 

Interested in attracting birds to your yard? Check out these resources: 

Get involved in "citizen science" with these free and invaluable programs:

Learn more about bird conservation:

Own a cat? Keep it indoors! Here's why:

Java junkie? The type of coffee you buy can affect birds:

A poisonous bird? What's up with that??

There's an app for that (Dr. McIntyre has several of these on her iPhone if you want to check them out):

  • iBird (I highly recommend the Pro or Ultimate versions, which are complete field guides)
  • BirdsEye (great for finding birds)
  • Sibley eGuide (highly recommended complete field guide)
  • Audubon
  • Merlin (asks a quick series of questions to identify birds; highly recommended)

You mean you can actually get paid to watch birds?!?

And check out these links for other career options in the environmental sciences:


"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to Heaven."
-poet Emily Dickinson


Some photos from past ornithology classes: