The Scientific Wonder of Birds

Course No. 7814
Professor Bruce E. Fleury, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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63 Reviews
92% of reviewers would recommend this product
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
Instant Video 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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The Scientific Wonder of Birds is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 63.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned so much! I've always loved birds but I've recently retired and now birds are a hobby. This course is not about colors and feeders and bird gardens-its WAY more. The things I'm learning are nature's miracles. Learning about behaviors, anatomy, flight-wow. I have a new appreciation when I see a hawk in flight or a Robin puffing up its chest. If you want to be floored by the intricacies of birds, this course is for you. As with all Great Courses, when I get to the end, I will start over. There is so much wonderful information to take in.
Date published: 2019-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Amazing World of Birds This course is itself quite amazing, It's short but informative and entertaining. The presenter, Professor Fleury, has a calm, pleasing manner that works well with the subject. And the content goes into about the right depth for an interested amateur birder. There is much to learn, but the course is more than a collection of facts. It also radiates a sense of wonder than draws you in and stimulates your enthusiasm for birding.
Date published: 2019-06-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I get to watch some one read Course is okay. all u do is watch the instructor read a Teleprompter. Not exactly building connection with the audience. This theme of watching instructors read is a growing trend (thriving workplace is another). Reading is fine, all do it to stay on time and message but have to keep some connection That said great courses customer service sucks.... purchases course recently and realized it was not a good fit for me. Have requested a return 4 times to absolute silence. As a customer since the 80s and with 80+ lectures purchase giving them one more time to respond before request a lifetime satisfaction guarantee return on all 80+ courses.
Date published: 2019-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All About Birds I admire the courage of Dr. Fleury in taking on this course given his medical condition. I previously took his course on microbes and once again was impressed by his ability to relate in simple terms for laypersons his vast knowledge of birds and his sense of humor.
Date published: 2019-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Soaring! The wonder of birds is everlasting and unceasingly wonderful.
Date published: 2019-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Things I didn’t know Birds have always been a wonderful thing to me. Watching them as a child and then as a man peeked my interest to this course. It is scientific but that only makes it more interesting. If you are new to ornithology I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2019-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course and well done in all areas This wonderful course is well done in every way. The setting is designed beautifully and interesting. This highlights the professor who sweetly explains his limitations due to Parkinson's Disease. The changing photo angles and the professor's comfortable presentation with humor and great intellect keeps your interest throughout. The professor shares his love for birds and his love for his family and these elements enrich your viewing experience. I love this course and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2019-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this speaker! The subject is great and the speaker's voice is like a bird's song--soothing to listen to. His knowledge and love of birds comes through each lecture.
Date published: 2019-04-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not so stimulating No question the instructor knows his birds. I've finished 5 of the 12 lessons and learned a few interesting tidbits. I was expecting a more image-intensive course. It may be so later in the lessons. I've found I'm not motivated to watch more than one section at a time, however.
Date published: 2019-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deep Survey of Birds I enjoyed this series. It explored birds from many perspectives and provided me with many new insights. I am a very amateur Bird Watcher and I knew little, for instance, of the mechanics of Bird Migration, Behavior, Sexual and Rearing practices. The analysis of Bird Song was enlightening as was birds' links to the dinosaurs. I recommend it to anyone interested in birds at any level.
Date published: 2019-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information The instructor is delightful and so knowledgeable. Great graphics and images. I’m a wildlife educator who specializes in birds. I learn many really fascinating things with every session that add to my own classes and lectures as well as my personal enjoyment of birds. Thank you!
Date published: 2019-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Have always looked to the skies(am a pilot- had to!!), but now the sight and sounds of those that commanded the skies way before we did have my full attention. Profesdor Fleury opened my eyes and ears to really appreciate those I share the skies with. They are truly amazing creatures.
Date published: 2019-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course for “Birders” Having already enjoyed the “Birding”course, I wanted to go further into understanding more about the history, physiology, and general lives of birds I often see in my backyard as well as more exotic species I seldom see. The lectures are fact-filled and you must pay close attention or miss the detailed information presented. I rewound many times! more video and photos of the birds discussed would have been nice, but there were many. Enjoyable from beginning to end!
Date published: 2019-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have listened to to course and I am really enjoying it
Date published: 2019-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concise and packed with information Enjoyed this course a great deal. It presents a great deal of interesting and important information about birds with solid scientific backing, compressed into 12 short lectures, delivered with Prof. Fleury's clarity, wit, charm and an obvious passion for the subject matter. You will view birds very differently after going through this course. I might even take up birding!
Date published: 2019-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Title is right on the mark! Recently purchased this course, started watching and immediately felt like I was back in one of my favorite Biology classes (Biology major). The instructor immediately reminded me of one of my favorite professors.
Date published: 2019-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Short and Sweet - A Wonderful Course! Full disclosure: I normally wouldn't turn around to look at a bird - but I loved everything about this course! In fact, in the brief notes I take to help me write reviews, I wrote something I have never written before: "I smiled throughout!" Professor Fleury is excellent - highly knowledgeable and well-organized, and able to express ideas clearly and at an appropriate level for non-experts. More importantly - and somewhat to my surprise - the material is fascinating. The course description is the best place to see what is covered; I would just like to emphasize its inherent interest, and its wide range from the physics of flight to descriptions of the remarkably variable mating and 'child'-care behaviors of different species. The lectures are information-dense, which is a good thing given the brevity of the course, and the many visuals are wonderful. So - If you have an interest in birds, you will love this course. If you have no interest in birds, you will love this course. Take this course! Thank me later.
Date published: 2019-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating This is one of the best courses I've taken. I will never look at birds the same again. Thank you Professor Fleury
Date published: 2019-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great Birding review I reviewed this in past two weeks, as well as previously finishing the course "The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America". The latter course is very good for beginners, while this is ok for people with more birding knowledge as well. Dr. Fleury, in spite of his Parkinson's limitations, does a good job in describing the various aspects of bird habits, biology, nesting, etc, and does it with very understated humor. I am relatively knowledgeable about birds and view them often, as well as serving on a board of an Important Bird Area in Minnesota, and still learned something from this course, as did my wife watching only part of it. I think both would work well for a introductory course in ornithology, or a nature center, and would be understandable for people with relatively low levels of knowledge but great desire to learn.
Date published: 2019-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expert Information This course is so packed with information that I sat at the computer and copied every idea Professor Fleury presented. He has a thoroughly interesting set of facts and anecdotes for his listeners I didn't want to miss anything.
Date published: 2019-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enchanting Pictures and Fascinating Facts For anyone who loves birds in general and scientific explanations too. The presenter is a very knowledgeable and experienced Ornithologist. The topics are spot on for bird enthusiasts and the course is not overly long with only a dozen lessons.
Date published: 2019-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course on birds--and dinosaurs! This brief but well-planned and surprisingly comprehensive course on the evolution, anatomy, physiology, ecology, and behavior of living birds could justifiably also be thought of as a summary of our current understanding of dinosaurs—those that are extinct, I mean. In each of the subject areas Professor Fleury touches on in this course, knowledge about dinosaurs has exploded in recent decades, along with the certainty that birds are their surviving representatives, and that this knowledge surely applies to both. This link is nicely referenced and explained throughout the course, and this makes each well-illustrated and authoritatively presented lecture even more interesting. The photographs, video clips, and sound recordings that augment the spoken content are truly outstanding. Hats off to Dr. Fleury for presenting a fascinating, instructive, and uplifting course, and also to The Teaching Company for facilitating and making it available to us.
Date published: 2019-02-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It all makes sense!! I ended up just reading the course book and gaining my new knowledge from it. I found that the professor's physical disabilities made it difficult for me to listen to him. I realize that this is not his fault and I hope that others don't find his impairment bothersome to them.
Date published: 2019-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Intro Course on Birds I have a back log of Great Courses that I need to complete. My problem is that every time I get half way through one - another great deal comes along, and "boom" I buy it. That is what happened with "The Scientific Wonder of Birds." Then after I streamed it (to make sure that I could actually access it in "My Courses" I was hooked and could not stop watching it. This is the perfect short course. The lectures are short and easily understandable. The graphics are good. And it answers so many questions I didn't know I had about birds. The price is good, especially when you get it on sale. This is a great course and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever sat and watch birds out a window in their house or apartment.
Date published: 2019-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic for all scopes of birders I am a very amateur birder and was anxious to view the tapes. I was afraid that much of this would be over my head. However, Professor Fleury brings his humor and love of the subject right to you. I learned so much on the first lecture that I binged watched the next four. After finishing the lectures for the 2nd time, I plan on watching them again. Every time I pick up on something I missed the time before. I hope he does a follow up series as I would definitely buy them
Date published: 2019-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you love birds you’ll love this course I haven’t been able to view the entire course yet. But so far I am very impressed. I love the fact that it included a booklet to add to the presentations. The professor is terrific, very knowledgeable and a very good presenter. I’m very happy with this course. I love birds and this has added to my knowledge.
Date published: 2019-01-29
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome! BIRDS ARE DINOSAURS! Clearly expounded and documented. Good visuals. Voluminous yet fascinating research.
Date published: 2019-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great info A lot of useful information to add to my birding knowledge
Date published: 2019-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I brought this to share with my grandsons. We often go out and take pictures of birds while hiking. So far they have not had time for a visit but I know they will love the information. My husband, who never has had an interest in watching any of my Great Courses, has set enthralled with this one. It is great family viewing. Be sure to listen for the subtle jokes that the lecturer slyly adds every now and again. There was just enough fascinating information, pictures, and humor to keep my husband watching for a very long time. (The lecturer has Parkinson Disease which might be distracting for some people. But his love of the topic shines through and you soon forget his different style of talking because of his disability.)
Date published: 2019-01-16
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