Fundamentals of Ornithology

Fundamentals of Ornithology – a course for bird guides and birders. Ornithology Department, National Museums of Kenya, A Rocha Kenya, Tropical Biology Association and NatureKenya (the EANHS).

The Course

Fundamentals of Ornithology course fieldtripStarted in 1996 by Leon Bennun (at the time Head, Ornithology Dept, NMK) and Colin Jackson (working at the Ornithology Dept prior to starting A Rocha Kenya), ‘Fundamentals of Ornithology’ or FoO, is a course designed for birders (both professional and amateur) who want to improve their understanding of birds and their skills in the field.

Birding and bird tourism are growing apace in Kenya and East Africa. Many companies now have specialist units devoted to bird watching safaris, and numerous hotels and lodges have employed resident naturalists. Many people are also discovering bird watching as an educational and enjoyable pursuit. The Important Bird Area programme has also led to a steady increase in the number of local groups with an interest in birds and their conservation over the last few years. 

Njoro & Chege – course leadersMany bird guides and birders are very good at identifying the birds they are used to seeing. However, to be an effective guide, and to make the most of one’s birding, a deeper understanding is required. ‘Fundamentals of Ornithology’ aims to give individuals a grasp of the principles behind bird identification and a sound knowledge of bird biology, thus giving them the capacity for learning more independently. 

Four key conservation institutions: the Ornithology Department of the National Museums of Kenya, A Rocha Kenya, the Tropical Biology Association and NatureKenya (the East Africa Natural History Society), work together to deliver the annual FoO course that is held at the Elsamere Field Studies Centre, Naivasha. Current lecturers on the course include Colin Jackson (A Rocha Kenya/NMK), Anthony Kuria (TBA), Dr Peter Njoroge (NMK), Titus Imboma (NMK), Kariuki Ndang’ang’a (BirdLife Africa), Chege wa Kariuki (freelance guide / NK), Simon Thomsett (NMK – East Africa’s leading raptor conservationist), Don Turner (author of Birds of Kenya & northern Tanzania).

Course Content

Watching European Hobbies in Hells Gate NP‘Fundamentals of Ornithology’ is an intensive, fully residential course based at the Elsamere Field Studies Centre on the shores of Lake Naivasha. Elsamere provides a comfortable environment and an ideal setting for an ornithological course. Wetland, grassland, savannah and forest habitats are within easy reach for practical field sessions. 

The Lake Naivasha ecosystem is also renowned for a wide diversity of local and migrant bird species. Ringing demonstrationTeaching is in English through illustrated lectures (including discussion sessions and short practical exercises), group seminars, demonstrations and field practicals. We try to create an informal environment where participants can share their existing knowledge and learn from each other as well as from the course instructors. 

Participants can expect to gain the following knowledge and skills:

  1. Reliable identification techniques that can be applied anywhere;
  2. A solid general knowledge of bird evolution, classification, behaviour and ecology;
  3. A good overview of the distribution and conservation requirements of birds in Kenya and East Africa;
  4. A better understanding of the interests and needs of bird watching visitors;
  5. The ability to give visitors interesting, detailed and well-rounded background information on birds seen anywhere in the country;
  6. An enhanced sense of professionalism and confidence.

Topics covered include: • birding field craft and ethics • evolution and classification • scientific names • habitat and distribution • identification: parts of a bird; finding the right family; making descriptions and taking field notes; calls; submitting records; using bird guides; wetland, forest and grassland birds • migration and movements • flight, feathers and physiology • feeding strategies • breeding behaviour • bird ringing • habitats and conservation.