Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Semester 2

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Practical 3 x 2 hour practical sessions (timetabled) and 6 hours to be spent on local field surveys in groups
Lecture 3 x 1 hour lectures per week


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Practical assessment.  Practical assessments will involve preparation of local bird reports.  30%
Semester Exam 3 Hours   70%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmission of failed coursework or alternative  30%
Supplementary Exam 3 Hours   70%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Demonstrate an appreciation of the evolutionary origins of avian biology

Describe and exemplify the major orders of the world's birds

Describe and discuss the avian biodiversity of the zoogeographical regions of the world

Demonstrate a knowledge of, and skills for the assessment of avian biodiversity and conservation requirements of UK


As the most visible and popular members of our wild fauna, birds dominate public debates and scientific studies on conservation in the UK. This module is intended for students wishing to make informed ornithological assessments of local or international conservation and biodiversity issues. The theme of the module is avian biodiversity, which will be addressed through explorations of the evolution, systematics and global distribution of birds.

Brief description

The theme of the modules is avian biodiversity, which will be addressed through explorations of the evolution, phylogenetics, global distribution and conservation needs of birds.


Biodiversity needs to be appreciated in an evolutionary context, and the module will first review the exciting progress and controversies of recent years about the origins of birds. Evidence for and against birds as a lineage of theropod dinosaurs will be discussed, along with theories of how avian characters, such as feathers, endothermy, parental care, transactional behaviour and navigational faculties might have been derived from a reptilian ancestry. The fossil record of bird evolution from the Jurassic, Cretaceous and Tertiary epochs will be surveyed, with discussion of issues including the extent to which modern bird orders had evolved before the K-T mass extinction, and the role in avian evolution of the Cretaceous break-up of Gondwanaland into the southern continents.

The orders of living birds will be reviewed within recent phylogenetic frameworks based on molecular, morphological and behavioural characters. The module adopts the latest taxonomic recommendations of the British Ornithologists? Union by separating the Palaeognathae (ratites and tinamous) from other living birds (Neognathae), which in turn can be subdivided into the Galloanserae (land- and water- fowl) and Neoaves (all other birds). Coverage of the Neoaves will assess recent phylogenetic endeavours to determine evolutionary clades within this group. Three lectures each will be devoted to groups sometimes known as the waterbird assemblage (from storks and pelicans to plovers and sandpipers), the near-passerines (from parrots and cuckoos to kingfishers and woodpeckers), and the passerines (the huge order of songbirds).

To complete the appreciation of global avian biodiversity, the final part of the lecture course will review the avifauna of the Earth'r so-called zoogeographical regions. This global emphasis of the module reflects the fact that only 10% of known landbird species breed in our own region, the Palaearctic (Eurasia to the Himalayas and Africa to the Sahara). Lectures will therefore also be devoted to the Neotropical (South-Central America, where 36% of species breed), Afrotropical (21%), Indomalayan (18%), Australasian (17%) and Nearctic (North America, 8%) regions.

Practicals will focus on bird surveying skills, and assessments will involve preparation of local bird reports.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Numerical and statistical skills will be developed for surveying and systematics.
Communication Writing skills will be developed in the writing of reports.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will have to manage effectively information, data and time in order to satisfy the assessment demands.
Information Technology The use of the internet to access data and to prepare reports. The use of subject specific software.
Personal Development and Career planning The modules will develop subject-relevant vocational skills
Problem solving Problems will be set in systematics, species identification and field surveying.
Research skills The collection and collation of material for reports.
Subject Specific Skills Avian systematics Nature conservation
Team work The co-ordination of small groups for fieldwork.


This module is at CQFW Level 6