Ornithology (from Greek ornitha = chicken and logos = word/science) is a branch of Zoology or Biology concerned
with the scientific study of birds, creatures belonging to class Aves. Aristotle was perhaps the first person who wrote on ornithology and mentions
more than 170 birds. The earliest known use of the word Ornithology seems to be in the third edition of Blotints Glossographia (1670). John Ray (I628-1705) wrote the
path-breaking Ornithologia in 1676 and the Synopsis Methodica Avium in 1713. Carolus Linnaeus (1758) was the pioneer in developing a classification system for
birds and animals. He proposed the classification of animals into groups that had things in common. His scientific classification system, with some modification is still being used.|
The science of Ornithology includes the study of classification of birds, evolution, body structure, habits, song, flight and breeding behavior. Birds are generally divided into two major groups. Ostriches, Emus, and Kiwis are ratites, flightless birds that lack keel-like extension on the breast bone. The vast majority of the birds, however, are non-ratites and possess the keel to which the powerful muscles that power the wings are attached. There are over 9200 extant species of birds divided into 30 orders & 174 families. Their ability to fly has allowed them to colonize every land mass on earth including the Arctic and Antarctic and some, like the Penguins have adapted an aquatic lifestyle coming to shore only to breed and raise young. Fossil evidence of the ancestors of modern birds indicates that they were contemporaneous with dinosaurs.
Classifying Bird Species:
The scientific name of a species has two parts. The first name describes the Genus and the second describes the bird specie. The second name may also be a person's name -- often the name of the ornithologist that first discovered the bird. This naming system is called the Binomial nomenclature and a more modern Trinomial nomenclature is now being used in which the third name describes the sub-species.
There is some evidence to suggest that these feathered creatures are in fact the highly evolved living incarnation of the reptiles (see: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin). This long evolutionary history has allowed for the development of the many unique morphological, physical and behavioral attributes in birds that make the science of ornithology such an interesting vocation.
As scientists learn more about birds, they are able to arrange the 10,000+ species of birds into the correct Order, Family and Genus. There is a surprising amount of debate about some birds. Are they really a species or not? They may actually be a race of a similar species in the same genus. Combining two apparent species into just one new species is called "lumping". Separating a species into two or more species is called "splitting". This "splitting" and 'lumping' of species is becoming more frequent today as DNA research is used.
Scientific classification is undergoing a big change. Dr. Charles G. Sibley did research for over twenty years using DNA from bird's blood. He and his associates suggested a new way to classify the birds of the world. His system is called the Sibley/Ahlquist/Monroe classification. Dr. Sibley discovered that some species are more closely related than thought earlier. He also rearranged Orders and Families in an unexpected new way. Additional research being done today is proving that Dr. Sibley is probably right. The SAM classification seems, to many scientists, to be better than the one used for the last 100 years. Scientists want to be very sure this new system is better than the traditional classification before they make an official change.
Dr Salim Ali (1896 - 1987) was India's most well-known Ornithologist and bird watcher.
Today there are many scientists or ornithologists investigating birds. It is certain that their work will make bird species appear and disappear as they continue lumping and
splitting. That is why a computerized list of the world's birds makes more sense than a printed list in a book. You can update your computer and always have the best, most
current classification list possible. A book listing all the birds of the world is obsolete by the time you read it.