The Scientific Wonder of Birds

Course No. 7814
Professor Bruce E. Fleury, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 7814
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What Will You Learn?

  • The science of avian navigation and migration
  • The remarkable brainpower of birds
  • How birds fly

Course Overview

Birds are endlessly compelling and fascinating creatures. Millions of people around the world engage in the organized activity of birding, and countless more enjoy casually watching our avian neighbors in their daily activities. But beyond what we can observe on the surface, birds are phenomenally interesting—and often extremely surprising—in their biology, physiology, aerodynamics, and their multifaceted behavioral adaptations.

Birds are among the most ingenious and resourceful of living creatures, and astonishingly more intelligent than we often imagine. A few amazing aspects of birds and their behaviors include:

  • Avian research reveals sophistication of birds’ tool use and vocal communication that were thought to be exclusive to primates and humans;
  • Birds’ diverse sexual and mating habits show uncanny similarities to human behavior;
  • Among nature’s most amazing vocalists, North America’s brown thrasher can learn and retain over 1,000 songs; and
  • Evidence suggests that birds are able to appreciate aesthetic beauty.

 

In The Scientific Wonder of Birds, biologist and bird expert Professor Bruce E. Fleury of Tulane University guides you in a spirited discovery of the amazing beneath-the-surface world of birds—their evolution, fascinating lives in the wild, and the science that underlies their adaptations and behaviors. The Scientific Wonder of Birds is, in many ways, a companion course to our popular Guide to Birding in North America, casting a wider net as it delves into bird life and behavior around the world, as well as revealing the marvels of birds’ physiology, psychology, brainpower, and the complexities of their remarkable lifestyles and habits.

 

Uncover the Amazing Biophysics of Bird Life and Behavior

In these 12 vividly illustrated lectures, Professor Fleury reveals numerous enthralling aspects and features of bird life. Beginning with an excursion into the ancestry and evolution of birds, you’ll discover how birds are directly descended from dinosaurs. In probing into the process by which agile, bipedal reptiles took to the air, you’ll explore the miraculous mechanics of flight, and the many physiological adaptations that keep birds aloft.

From there, you’ll study the science of their remarkable feats of navigation and the complex matter of avian migration. You’ll delve into further elements of bird life, such as their foraging and feeding strategies, birdsong and bird calls, the language of plumage, courtship behavior, mating and roosting, avian territorial behavior, and more. Professor Fleury presents everything with an infectious passion for the subject, an often humorous perspective, and a deep knowledge based on a lifetime of birding and bird study. Whether you’re an experienced birder or a newcomer to the bird world, these lectures will surprise and delight you, and give you a deeper appreciation for the beauty and diversity of our feathered friends.

 

Take a Broad Look at the Fascinating Elements of Ornithology

Throughout these lectures, Professor Fleury offers you a detailed look at the scope of ornithological study, encompassing the life cycles of birds in the wild, and key subject matter such as:

  • The Miracle of Flight—Beginning with leading views of how flight evolved, learn the aerodynamic properties of birds’ wings, as they produce lift and thrust, and how feathers allow birds to expertly maneuver in the air. Learn how birds’ entire physiology, on multiple levels, adapts them for flight and how a bird’s feathers did not evolve for flight, but were a coincidental adaptation for it.
  • The Science of Avian Navigation and Migration—Penetrate the mysteries of how birds navigate over huge distances, using such aids as Sun and star positions and magnetic fields, and take account of the incredible navigational abilities of species such as homing pigeons, buntings, and albatrosses. Study how ornithologists explain migration and observe the fabulous range of avian migratory behavior across the globe.
  • The Remarkable Brainpower of Birds—Contrast avian brain structure with our own and track the intelligence of birds in numerous surprising and revelatory examples. Note how diverse species can distinguish shapes, colors, and numbers; remember 2,000 seed cache locations; start fires to flush out prey; make hooks to catch food; tie slip knots; and, believe it or not, differentiate between artistic styles such as Cubism and Impressionism.
  • Territoriality and Competition—Among the most dramatic and intriguing avian behavior, delve into the fierce territorial tactics of birds. See how birds stand their ground using specific visual signals regarding threats, courtship, territorial defense, and predators. Learn the many reasons why birds stake out and defend territory, including group and “portable” territories, and note how non-territorial birds establish dominance hierarchies (“pecking orders”).
  • The Avian Arts of Love: Mating and Breeding—Observe the striking ways in which females judge potential mates on abilities such as virtuoso singing, “macho” feats, food offerings, and the outlandish courtship displays of species such as the blue manikin and the bowerbird. Investigate the avian mating systems of monogamy, polygamy, and promiscuity and the colorful variations of sex roles, role reversal, same-sex couples, and avian “infidelity” and “divorce.”

Gain a Richer Understanding and Appreciation of Our Natural World

In addition to his remarkably far-reaching knowledge of the bird world, Professor Fleury brings a delightful accessibility to avian science and has a talent for uncovering a huge range of singular and often astounding aspects of bird life. The Scientific Wonder of Birds is a passion project for Professor Fleury—declining health due to Parkinson’s disease has not stopped him from bringing a beloved subject to life in an endlessly engaging and enlightening series of lectures.

Accompanied by exceptionally rich visuals, from vivid color images and diagrams to video clips of bird behavior, animations, and moving graphics, this course unfolds as a thrilling and many-sided panorama of avian life. Ultimately, this course offers you remarkable insight into some of the most beautiful and extraordinary of living creatures.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 27 minutes each
  • 1
    Birds and Dinosaurs: The Origin of Flight
    Begin by contemplating the integral connections between birds and dinosaurs. Examine mounting evidence that birds not only evolved directly from dinosaurs, but also they are themselves dinosaurs. Consider how bipedal reptiles gained the ability to fly, becoming birds, and how the cursorial (from the ground) and arboreal (gliding) theories of the origin of flight may intersect. x
  • 2
    Birds and Boeings: The Magic of Flight
    Delve into the fascinating aerodynamics of bird flight. Grasp how a bird's wings operate as an airfoil; study the forces of lift, weight, thrust, and drag, and how birds take off, land, and glide. Then explore the astonishing properties of bird feathers, as they control speed, altitude, and direction. Learn about the structure, the types, and the many roles of feathers in bird behavior. x
  • 3
    Burning Bright: Avian Adaptations for Flight
    Discover the remarkable physiological features of birds that undergird flight. First, note how and why feathers evolved. Then, investigate the high metabolism of birds—they must burn energy at an astounding rate. See how birds are adapted for flight by many weight-reducing factors, and how their respiratory, circulatory, and excretory systems, as well as heightened senses, keep them airborne. x
  • 4
    Orientation, Navigation, Migration: Bird Road Trips
    Take account of the miraculous feats of navigation performed by birds, as they migrate huge distances with amazing accuracy. Uncover the ways in which birds use visual landmarks, magnetic fields, Sun position, and the position of constellations in their migratory travels. Consider why birds migrate, the diversity of their migration patterns and habits, and the perils of these epic journeys. x
  • 5
    Bird Brains: Tool Wielders and Snack Stealers
    Humans have tended to underestimate the intelligence of birds. Examine the structure of the avian brain and the extraordinary forms of intelligence birds show, such as memory, complex spatial mapping, and ingenious strategies in food foraging. Observe the role of instinct in bird behavior, their astonishing use of tools, and how bird behavior is correlated with the seasons. x
  • 6
    Birds of a Feather: Flocking and Foraging
    Track the intriguing behavior of birds when they form flocks or colonies. Grasp the diverse benefits of group foraging, and how birds form mixed-species foraging flocks. Investigate group roosting and breeding behavior, and study fossil evidence that suggests some dinosaurs nested just like modern wading birds. Assess why birds form colonies and investigate the advantages and perilous disadvantages of the colonies. x
  • 7
    Avian Turf Wars: Defending a Territory
    Witness the complex nature of competition among birds. Study “display” behavior, which sends a message regarding territory, courtship, or perceived threats. Observe the ways in which birds defend territory, for breeding and feeding, nesting and roosting. Note how territorial defense is highly ritualized and uses a series of recognized signals, and how birds’ territoriality enhances survival. x
  • 8
    Bird Songs and Calls: Music with a Message
    Explore the multifaceted phenomenon of birdsong, distinguishing between birds' songs and calls. Grasp the physics of song/call production, and how some birds can actually sing two songs at once. Learn about the innate versus the learned components of birdsong, how birds need to practice and perfect their songs, and the amazing variety of the individual and social functions of birdsong. x
  • 9
    Avian Mating: Lady's Choice
    Compare models which may explain female birds’ choice of mates. Observe how females “test” potential mates and how males provide a basis for choice, through courtship displays or offering prime territory. Study the intricacies of avian monogamy and polygamy; take account of pair bonding in birds, extra-pair mating, sexual role reversal, and the avian equivalents of “adultery” and “divorce.” x
  • 10
    Avian Mating: Singles Bars and Bachelor Pads
    Investigate three forms of avian polygyny, where one male mates with several females, and the factors that make it a useful adaptation. Then discover “leks,” courtship arenas where males compete for mates, and witness the dramatic courtship displays of some male birds. Marvel at the Australian bowerbirds, who build elaborate, decorated structures whose only purpose is to attract a mate. x
  • 11
    Nests and Eggs: A Home in the Sticks
    Learn how birds mate; then examine the structure of bird eggs, how they are laid, and how laid eggs develop. Observe how nests are constructed, the diverse materials used to build them, the types and functions of nests, and the range of ingenious avian nesting behavior. Finally, explore how birds incubate their clutch, and study brood parasites, who lay eggs in the nests of other birds. x
  • 12
    Parental Care: Bird Family and Friends
    Close with a look at the hatching process and the contrasting conditions for altricial chicks (born naked and helpless) versus precocial chicks (born ready to leave the nest). Delve into how birds feed their young, and the process of educating fledglings for life in the wild. Study the adaptations of siblicide (nestlings killing each other), unmated young who help raise broods, and avian communal breeding. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 128-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 128-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Suggested reading
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Bruce E. Fleury

About Your Professor

Bruce E. Fleury, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Bruce E. Fleury is Professor of the Practice in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University. He earned a B.A. from the University of Rochester in Psychology and General Science, and an M.A. in Library, Media, and Information Studies from the University of South Florida. His career as a college reference librarian led him to Tulane University, where he became head of the university library's...
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Reviews

The Scientific Wonder of Birds is rated 5.0 out of 5 by 2.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Descriptive of product and intent Before ordering this product, I asked a question which was answered, namely about the demonstrated smelling capacities of birds. The prompt response - that Lecture 3 had a brief mention - caused me to buy the DVD with accompanying book because I've found that often the book elaborates on the visual material. No such luck here! In fact, the printed material constituting Lecture 3 had not one mention of birds' olfactory senses. I'm very disappointed in this lack, but I'll view all episodes in the hope that topics not mentioned in the text are mentioned in the video. I had a very specific reason for asking that question; the video "answer" was sufficient to finding other resources. However, more elaboration in the booklet - either in the text or in the bibliography - would have been most welcomed.
Date published: 2018-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lectures by a kind lecturer. I really like this course because of the significant amount of biomechanics in it. And the lecturer is one of my favorite.
Date published: 2018-11-06
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