Undergrad Majors

There are a variety of college majors that cater to people interested in birds. There are no programs in the United States offering Ornithology as a major, but it is possible to angle your studies towards birds through coursework and research choices. Furthermore, each of these different programs gives a different perspective on conservation, ecology, and bird biology.


Offered as a major almost ubiquitously, biology strives to answer why and how animals (and plants, etc) do what they do. Many larger schools offer field specializations within the biology major. Examples include “Cell and Molecular Biology,” “Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,” and “Neurobiology and Behavior.” Depending on your specific interests within the field of biology, you can choose coursework that best complements your interests. Many biology programs have a strong emphasis on research, both in the lab and field.

Photo by Hope Batcheller

Photo by Hope Batcheller

However, biology programs are often catered toward preparation for medical school. People are often concerned that this increases the program’s competitiveness, as well as ignores biology students who aren’t pre-med. Although this is occasionally true in large introductory classes, it becomes irrelevant in smaller, upper-level courses. Provided that the school offers smaller courses focused on ecology and natural history, the prevalence of the pre-med focus is largely a non-issue.

Example programs: Cornell University, Bowdoin CollegeUC Davis

Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Ecology, and Natural Resources

Similarly to biology, these programs discuss how animals fit into their environment. However, they generally have a strong emphasis on management and policy, in both the governmental and non-profit worlds. They are usually smaller than biology programs, having less overlap with pre-med and pre-vet programs. Research in these programs is frequently field-based, focusing on how animals use their habitats and implications for conservation and management.

Example programs: Cornell UniversityOregon State UniversityU. Wisconson: Stevens Point

Environmental Science

Environmental science programs focus even less on biology, and more on policy and peoples’ interactions with nature. Coursework often covers humanitarian and development issues, as well as discussing physical- and chemical-based environmental problems such erosion and pollution.

Example programs: Arizona State UniversityNorthland CollegeMiddlebury College

Zoology and Animal Science

Zoology is the study of animals, and specifically investigates their phylogenetics, function, behavior, and other aspects of their natural history. Some of these programs emphasize the veterinary aspect of the field, whereas others are closer to wildlife biology.

Art and Film Studies

There are many opportunities for aesthetic, educational, and scientific illustration, photography, and videography of birds. If you are artistically inclined, these programs allow a non-science-oriented approach to the world of ornithology.

Example programs: University of Montana