Tropical Birds (Ornithology)

Universidad Veritas

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Tropical Birds (Ornithology)

  • Host University

    Universidad Veritas

  • Location

    San José, Costa Rica

  • Area of Study

    Biology, Environmental Studies, Wildlife Biology

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    It is recommended, but not required, that students complete a basic biology course prior to entering this course.

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    This course will introduce the major topics in ornithology, with an emphasis on the
    neotropical avifauna. The major topics of the course include those unique features that
    make Neotropical avifauna a highlight among bird studies, including its evolutionary
    relationships, a very high species diversity in the Neotropics, and the natural history of
    Costa Rican birds. With its 900+ species of birds Costa Rica is a unique country as an
    introductory Neotropical ornithological and birding experience. The two field trips will
    introduce the main groups of birds present in Costa Rica, their behavior, and skills to
    identify them.

    1. Understand what are the main features of birds and how are they related to other
    2. What are the systematic relationships among birds, their taxonomy, and the main
    Costa Rican bird’ groups. How are birds distributed worldwide, in the Americas,
    and where is their diversity highest
    3. Learn about bird evolution, and where birds come from.
    4. Study bird behavior and natural history, with an emphasis on Neotropical birds.
    5. To become familiar to the main topics of Tropical bird biology.
    6. What is the conservation status of birds in the world, the Americas and the
    Neotropics conservation

    It is recommended, but not required, that students complete a basic biology course prior
    to entering this course

    Unit 1: Introduction to the Class Aves
    - Introduction to bird history. The link between birds and dinosaurs. Reptilian
    - Evolution of feathers
    - Avian flight
    - Modern birds
    - Evolution of birds

    Unit 2: Phylogeny and Taxonomy
    - Classification and Phylogeny
    - Taxonomy
    - Diversity of birds

    Unit 3: Form and function
    - Feathers
    - Flight
    - Physiology
    - Feeding

    Unit 4: Behavior
    - Senses and neurobiology
    - Visual Communication
    - Vocal Communication
    - Navigation (migration)

    Unit 5: Sex
    - Mates
    - Nesting and parental care
    - Growth and development

    Unit 6: Conservation in the Neotropical Region
    - State of the birds in the Americas, Latin America and Costa Rica
    - Forest vs non-forested habitats
    - Climate change and birds

    Classes will be imparted every week by the professor, and include paper discussions,
    talks (sometimes by invited professors), and laboratory time. Two field trips to different
    locations will be taken.


    Students must be active during the class time, ask questions and give their own opinion
    and experiences during discussions, especially during news presentations, case studies
    and debates performed in class. It is important asking questions after the other partners’
    presentations. This participation enriches the content of the course.

    Field trips

    Field trips are obligatory. The mandatory fieldtrips in this course are not excursions.
    Assistance and behavior during the fieldtrip will be evaluated (punctuality, participation,
    etc.). Students must be on time for all fieldtrip related activities including departure,
    return and scheduled meal times.

    Students must carry small notebooks to write down anything they see or learn while in
    the field and what they think about it. Each person’s journal will be unique to them: each
    person will notice different observations and everyone could interpret similar things

    It is highly recommended that students bring to the trips binoculars. These should be of
    magnification 7,8,10, and with an aperture ranging from 35-45 mm. 8x40 and 10 x42, are
    some of the best. The following site provides information of a wide range of binoculars
    of different qualities and prices (

    Field trip reports
    All written assignments will be uploaded to Moodle. All assignments will have a
    deadline to be sent. It is each student’s responsibility to be aware of the deadline (shown
    on Moodle for each assignment).

    An example of the assignment will be provided on Moodle previous to every field trip.

    Final Assignment

    The final assignment has free topic. The professor will give a list of possible topics; each
    student can choose one of them or propose another one, according to its own interest. The
    final assignment must be based on scientific papers, reports and/or serious web sites.
    Students will present a written report and an oral presentation.
    The assignment includes two parts: the first part is an introduction to the topic (review);
    and the second part includes one or two specific case studies or examples. At the end,
    personal opinion about the topic and conclusions must be included.
    The final written report will be evaluated based on well-defined focus, structure and
    conclusions, should be 9-10 pages (plus images) and should include at least 10
    references. The presentation should be 15 minutes long, plus 5 minutes for questions.

    Final Assignment 15%
    Attendance and Participation 10%
    Midterm Test 15%
    Final Test 15%
    Lab Report 10%
    Paper Discussions 5%
    Field trip 1 15%
    Field trip 2 15 %

    The student will fail the course if he/she has more than two absences. The two absences
    cannot be during the same month. Field trips assistance is obligatory. An unjustified
    absence to a fieldtrip will immediately mean failing the course.

    Please Note
    Professors have the right to expel a student from the classroom should he / she:
    1) be improperly dressed
    2) be under the influence of alcohol
    3) Behaves in a disrespectful way.
    4) The use of mobile phones in class is prohibited


    Garrigues, R. (2007). The birds of Costa Rica. Christopher Helm Publishers Incorporated.
    Gill, F. B. (1995). Ornithology. Macmillan.
    Janzen, D. H. (1983). Costa Rican natural history. University of Chicago Press.
    Stiles, F. G., & Skutch, A. F. (1989). Guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Comstock.
    Stutchbury, B.J. & E.S. Morton. (2001). Behavioral Ecology of Neotropical Birds.
    Academic Press

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Availability of courses is based on enrollment numbers. All students should seek pre-approval for alternate courses in the event of last minute class cancellations


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