Mission: Education

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers lifelong opportunities for learning about, enjoying, and conserving birds. People of all ages participate in our projects and courses in classrooms, homes, and neighborhoods around the world.

Here at the Cornell Lab’s Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity, we engage hundreds of students in research, preparing our future leaders in science and conservation. In locations around the world, we lead workshops to train international colleagues in the latest techniques to conserve natural habitats and biodiversity.

Whether you are a beginning bird watcher or a seasoned expert, we invite you to join us in discovering more about birds and nature.

Project Highlights

K-12 Resources

In schoolyards, classrooms, and communities nationwide, young people connect with the outdoors as they investigate birds and science through Cornell Lab projects and curricula.


Students become scientists with the BirdSleuth curriculum. They observe birds, ask questions, and conduct investigations to seek answers. They can publish their research in Classroom BirdScope and help scientists by contributing their bird observations to the Cornell Lab’s citizen-science projects. BirdSleuth students benefit from spending time outdoors, connecting with nature, and learning how they can make a difference.

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Crossing Boundaries

Crossing BoundariesThrough Crossing Boundaries, students in middle school and high school learn science and develop visions of career possibilities through technology-enhanced exploration of biodiversity conservation issues. Using Google Earth, students zoom into remote locations across the planet to observe landscapes change over time and predict impacts on biological communities. With geographic information systems (GIS), they weigh social and biological factors to select the best location for a new biodiversity preserve in the Amazon. In their own communities, they conduct field studies and use GPS to accurately locate their field data on maps and satellite imagery of their study site.

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Physics of Animal Behavior

Curriculum resources for elementary, middle, and high school engage students in investigating questions about how birds and other animals can do things such as produce a complicated song or glide long distances. The lessons use rich media including sounds and videos to spark student interest in understanding the physics underlying biological adaptations. Teachers can download individual lessons or units addressing science standards about waves, forces, and motion.

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Celebrate Urban Birds

Celebrate Urban Birds is a bilingual project focused on engaging underserved urban and rural residents in science, environmental education, and community activities related to birds. Participants observe a small, defined bird-watching area for 10 minutes and report on the presence or absence of 16 species of birds. The project assesses the value of green spaces for birds, ranging in size from a potted plant to half a basketball court. Launched in 2007, Celebrate Urban Birds has partnered with more than 10,000 community organizations and distributed more than 300,000 educational kits in English and Spanish. The project offers mini-grants once a year to support community events involving birds, habitat improvement, and the arts. Seasonal Challenges, including the annual Funky Nests in Funky Places Challenge, offer participants opportunities to share their photos, art, videos, stories, and poems, and win prizes.

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Higher Education

The Cornell Lab is a center for academic research and training, known for its excellence in mentoring students and preparing them for careers in science and conservation.

Student Research at the Cornell Lab

Cornell has been an academic leader in ornithology ever since Arthur Allen was appointed one of the nation's first professors of ornithology at the University, in 1917. The Cornell Lab is a nonacademic unit of Cornell University and does not award academic degrees, but our faculty regularly advise students through their joint appointments with other Cornell units.

We offer students a wealth of stimulating projects at undergraduate and graduate levels, and top-notch advice and collaboration from our scientists and members of their research labs. We also offer a productive environment for postdoctoral scholars. Please contact the following Cornell Lab scientists for information about the specific area you are interested in:

Student Research Using Online Data

In a new project funded by the National Science Foundation, we are developing curricula and tools for use by undergraduate faculty and their students. Without requiring access to field sites or laboratories, students will be able to use real-time online data to investigate questions about animal behavior, avian ecology, and conservation using the eBird and Project FeederWatch citizen-science databases and the Macaulay Library archive of animal sounds and videos.

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Professional Training

We offer workshops and opportunities for researchers, students, educators, and conservationists.

BirdSleuth Workshops: Supporting Student Inquiry

BirdSleuth workshops equip middle school teachers to engage their students in learning science by addressing intriguing questions related to birds. We offer in-person workshops at various education conferences—and interested educators can request a customized workshop for your area. In addition, we offer online professional development opportunities.

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BirdSleuth Online Course: Supporting Student Science Investigations

Inquiry is important in today's classrooms, yet teachers who have never conducted research often feel under-prepared to lead students in formulating questions, designing experiments, and presenting data. In our five-week distance-learning course, middle-school teachers do their own scientific investigations and reflect on how to engage their students in scientific inquiry. Teachers share their challenges, ideas, classroom strategies, and resources with one another. As a result, they become better prepared to help students tackle real-world problems and questions through investigations of their own design.

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Sound Recording Workshops

Sound Recording WorkshopEach year, the Macaulay Library leads recording workshops to teach state-of-the-art techniques for recording the sounds and behavior of animals in the wild. Participants learn through daily field recording sessions, coupled with lectures and demonstrations from our skilled staff. In collaboration the Cornell Lab’s Conservation Program, we also conduct capacity-building workshops in developing nations. To date, participants from Guyana, Cuba, and Guatemala have received training in recording techniques and systems for bioacoustics research and conservation.

Sound Analysis Workshops

To help scientists use the latest technologies to study the sounds of wildlife, we offer professional workshops twice per year at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, and occasionally at other sites in the U.S. and abroad. Our workshops have been attended by participants from more than 30 countries. The next workshop will run from March 28 to April 1, 2016 (inclusive). If you’re interested in attending please contact Liz Rowland, edr6@cornell.edu.

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Lifelong Learning

People of all ages and walks of life enhance their enjoyment and knowledge of birds by delving into our workshops, citizen-science projects, and free online resources.

Home Study Course in Bird Biology

More than 8,500 people have enrolled in the Home Study Course in Bird Biology during the past 15 years, delving into bird biology with guidance from Cornell Lab’s scientists and educators. Learn about bird behavior, ecology, conservation, and many other subjects at your own pace from anywhere in the world, using the Handbook of Bird Biology as your text. The course is written at an introductory college level and is suitable for anyone with a serious interest in learning more about birds.

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Investigating Behavior: Courtship and Rivalry in Birds

Why do birds do what they do? How can we tell what they are doing? This online course uses video, online discussions, and tutorials to help you develop skills and learn concepts that will increase your enjoyment and understanding of birds. Sounds and video are drawn from archives of the Macaulay Library.

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Sound Recording Workshops

Sound Recording WorkshopEach year, the Macaulay Library leads recording workshops to teach state-of-the-art techniques for recording the sounds and behavior of animals in the wild. Participants learn through daily field recording sessions, coupled with lectures and demonstrations from our skilled staff. In collaboration the Cornell Lab’s Conservation Program, we also conduct capacity-building workshops in developing nations. To date, participants from Guyana, Cuba, and Guatemala have received training in recording techniques and systems for bioacoustics research and conservation.

Spring Field Ornithology

Each spring for more than 30 years, new and experienced birders have come together at the Cornell Lab to hone their birding skills and view the diverse range of birds in our region. Learn to identify and understand birds of the Finger Lakes region during our eight-week birding course that includes weekend field trips as well as weekly lectures taught by Stephen Kress (vice president for Bird Conservation at the National Audubon Society and director of Project Puffin) and other Lab staff.

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Lifelong Learning Through Citizen Science

Armed with your own powers of observation, you can use science as a learning tool anywhere, at anytime and any age. Watching birds helps deepen your understanding of the natural world, and the information you gather in our citizen-science projects helps our researchers in their work to understand and protect birds. We have 11 citizen-science projects that span every season, experience level, and time commitment—choose the one that's right for you at our Citizen Science program page.

Educational Products

Birders and nature lovers of all abilities and ages use products developed with sounds and images from the Macaulay Library. For example, the BirdsEye app features sounds from our collection and helps you locate birds and provides birds sounds from our collection. National Geographic’s Handheld Birds is a mobile interactive field guide puts the sounds of more than 800 North American species right on your computer, iPhone or other mobile device. You can learn about the songs of North American birds using the stunning bird song guides by Donald Kroodsma and Les Beletsky. Hear more voices from our collection by squeezing one of the popular singing plush bird toys, listening to one of our regional audio guides, or opening a greeting card that sings like a bird.

Learning with Nature Center Exhibits

Next time you visit a nature center, museum, or wildlife refuge, you might run across one of our interactive exhibits. We design these to help people get more out of their time outdoors—by learning something about the details of birdsong and other animal sounds using our Raven sound analysis software. Or by helping them identify their sightings, using an eBird Trail Tracker kiosk to browse bird photos and facts, pinpoint their sightings on a trail map, and upload the data to aid researchers. We're also involved with artists in creating installations such as Maya Lin's What Is Missing?, a hopeful memorial to endangered species and extinction.

Online Resources for Learning

One way we fulfill our mission to inform the world about birds is by creating rich web resources. Our free All About Birds species guide provides life-history details, photos, sounds, and videos for nearly 600 North American species. All About Birds also offers bird-feeding tips, advice on where to go birding, videos and interactive tutorials on bird identification, and online versions of our member magazine, Living Bird.

We also update and publish The Birds of North America Online. This vast resource, available for subscriptions as low as $5 per month, compiles the complete state of scientific knowledge about more than 700 North American breeding species. We also organize and host Neotropical Birds, a collaborative project to develop the same kinds of detailed life-history accounts for all the birds from Mexico and the Caribbean to South America.

Online Courses

Online webinars and tutorials are now available to feed your hunger for more information about birds. Webinars consist of a live interactive presentation using photographs, videos, sounds, and audience feedback. Each series of five webinars highlights a specific group of birds, including waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors. If you can't attend a live session, the archived versions are also available. The two-part "Be a Better Birder" online tutorial is available to help beginning birders learn how to identify birds on their own time at their own pace. The tutorials focus on how to use size, shape, color, and patterns to identify birds.

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Science Pipes

SciencePipes.org is an interactive website where students, educators, citizens, resource managers, and scientists can create and share analyses and visualizations of biodiversity data. It supports inquiry-based learning, allowing users to analyze results and incorporate visualizations on other websites, such as blogs.

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Evaluation and Research

We develop and evaluate innovative educational programs to engage the public in science.


Our Program Development and Evaluation team launched citizenscience.org, a website that serves as a toolkit for developing, implementing, and evaluating citizen-science projects around the world. The website includes a searchable database of citizen-science projects focusing on many subjects ranging from astronomy to zoology. The toolkit grew from an NSF-sponsored conference at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2007 to describe “best practices” in citizen science.

Using Citizen Science to Understand Climate Change

This project, operated in conjunction with the NSF-funded Communicating Climate Change project based at the Association of Science-Technology Centers, is guiding a variety of science museums and other science education institutions throughout the United States in developing and implementing citizen-science projects that help the public understand local effects of global warming. Watch videos produced as a part of this project.

DEVISE: Developing, Validating, and Implementing Standardized Evaluation Instruments

DEVISE is a new project aimed at helping professional science educators obtain strategies and tools for evaluating the educational and social impacts of informal science education projects with an emphasis on projects that engage the public in scientific research. The project includes a group that worked under the auspices of CAISE (Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education) to produce a landmark report: Public Participation in Scientific Research: Defining the Field and Assessing its Potential for Informal Science Education.

Program Guidance and Evaluation

We conduct evaluations ranging from web-based surveys of project participants, which are used to help improve website structure and usability, to complex evaluations of project impact including pre- and post-project surveys, focus groups, structured web explorations, and construction of “personal birding narratives” by participants. At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, evaluations have been conducted for The Birdhouse Network, the Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird, NestWatch, and BirdSleuth. We have also consulted in program development and guidance at sister institutions including the University of Minnesota (Monarch Larva Monitoring Project), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (Appalachian Trail Megatransect project), the Oakland Museum of California, the Sciencenter of Ithaca, the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, the Cornell University Dept of Entomology (Lost Ladybug Project), and others. Our Program Development and Evaluation team also has a close working relationship with the Institute for Learning Innovation.

Research on Participation in Science with Latino Audiences

What are Latino communities’ attitudes toward science, technology, and citizen science? In a project supported by the National Science Foundation, Karen Purcell conducted research with targeted Latino communities in six cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, New York, Miami, and Houston) in collaboration Cecilia Garibay of Garibay Group and Janis Dickinson at the Cornell Lab. The research included family groups and considered culture and context to understand Latino families’ values. The team plans to work with partners to create programs and a new model of leadership that will embed informal science education within Latino communities.

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Environmental Recreation and Public Participation in Science

Nature recreation benefits people's physical and mental health and connects people with the environment. Millions of Americans are interested in wild birds: they compile lists, travel long distances to see particular species, watch birds at feeders, monitor nests, and photograph birds. We use questionnaires to examine the relationships between demographic patterns and individual motivations, preferences, and skills in these hobbies. This information will help the Cornell Lab better serve the community of bird enthusiasts and help involve under-represented groups. For example, we are investigating gender patterns related to a range of competitive and non-competitive bird hobbies in the United States and United Kingdom.

Sapsucker Woods Events

Families, schoolchildren, and bird enthusiasts come to the Cornell Lab for events, field trips, courses, and children’s book readings. For directions and a calendar of events, see Visit the Lab.

Individuals and Families

Explore interactive exhibits and world-class art in our Visitor Center, and head outside to four miles of trails in our surrounding Sapsucker Woods sanctuary. More information.

Group Visits

The Lab is a great destination for groups of all ages. Your group can have fun while learning from our introductory film, exhibits, indoor wildlife observation area, and trails in the surrounding Sapsucker Woods sanctuary. Make your reservation today! Learn more.


Learn Bird ID

Bird Walks

You can join local birders for a walk in the woods guaranteed to improve your birding skills. Led by Cayuga Bird Club members and Lab staff walks will provide you with information on local species and Lab tools that can help you improve your bird ID skills. Check the schedule.

Spring Field Ornithology

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned birder, you can take your bird ID skills to the next level with this popular 8-week course. Select from lectures in person or online, weekend outings, and special overnight trips to birding hotspots. Find out more.


Learn About the Lab

Building Tours

You may join Lab staff for a special building tour where you will learn about the history and work of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as you are guided behind the scenes for an inside look at this 100-year-old institution.


Programs and Events

Monday Night Seminars

Throughout the year, the Cornell Lab hosts seminars, including our long-running Monday Night Seminar series, a tradition established decades ago by Lab founder Dr. Arthur Allen. Speakers include Cornell Lab staff, book authors, and distinguished scientists from around the world.

Migration Celebration

This family-friendly event gives visitors the unique opportunity to meet Lab staff and scientists right where they work, join in guided bird walks, and enjoy interactive exhibits, live birds, games, face-painting, and hands-on activities. Read more.
A self-paced online tutorial. Learn to ID birds by size and shape
Birds of North America Online, ultimate source for bird info, join for $5/month
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