The Scientific Wonder of Birds

Course No. 7814
Professor Bruce E. Fleury, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Share This Course
4.7 out of 5
80 Reviews
91% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 7814
Video Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • numbers The science of avian navigation and migration
  • numbers The remarkable brainpower of birds
  • numbers 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.

Hide Full Description
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

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

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

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

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...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


The Scientific Wonder of Birds is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 80.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good Course, Maybe Too Short I usually feel that the Great Courses lectures are too long, but in this case I think the series was too short because there is so much more that could have been covered. Examples are hummingbirds living at ultra-high speeds or vultures adapting to a life of scavenging or an eagle chick taking its first flight off a perch that is hundreds of feet above ground. I was very impressed with Dr. Fleury's previous series, "Mysteries of The Microscopic World." This was excellent so I had to get these lectures, and I was not disappointed. Unfortunately, Dr. Fleury's presentation is not as good now due to an issue that he explains at the beginning of these lectures. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about birds. The content is loaded with facts that are entertaining as well as educational. He covers diverse areas such as metabolism, sight, hearing, breathing, digestion, et cetera. In particular, I enjoyed the lectures on bird calls, egg laying, and nests. He explains how vultures soar, how some birds can sing two different songs at the same time, how eggs pass through the same canal as body wastes, how an arctic tern migrates from the north pole to the south pole and back even though the total distance is 25,000 miles. One fact that he discussed too briefly was the mass extinction of dinosaurs in the metazoic era. He discounts this theory, but never explained why? Finally, the course is very well organized with many excellent illustrations, and as usual, the guidebook is outstanding. While at times, he seems to be reading and his pace is too fast, overall Dr. Fleury reaches the goal of an excellent course. Enjoy this course - I recommend it.
Date published: 2020-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Course I haven't reviewed a course before on The Great Courses. I've taken a boatload of courses with them, starting when it was called The Teaching Company and you got your courses on Video Tape. This course is a standout because the professor packs an amazing amount of information into only 12 sessions. He's fascinated with birds and his love of the topic is communicated constantly but I think unconsciously. I didn't realized how unique the avian physiology is until it was explained to me clearly and succinctly. I reviewed this part several times to take it all in. The professor's presentation style is affected by his medical problems, but after the first 10 minutes I didn't even notice it. The only complaint, if you can call it that, is that the course was too short. There are so many areas that could be covered in more depth and others are are avoided because of the volume of material and the shortness of time. Avians are so markedly different from other vertebrates that they deserve more courses. I for one would be sure to purchase and enjoy them.
Date published: 2020-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed this immensely! This was the first Great Course I have watched. I thought it was excellent and I will certainly re-watch it in the future! The instructor is amazing and has a great teaching style! Thank you Professor Fleury for a wonderful experience with a topic you clearly love!
Date published: 2019-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely Informative! The teacher of this course really knows his subject matter. He is most informative and has amazed us with some surprising facts. Thoroughly enjoyable and binge watchable.
Date published: 2019-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Presentation Professor Fleury assembled this course in spite of being afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, so the presentation is admittedly not for all tastes. I expected his condition to be a distraction, but was pleasantly surprised. For me, the clarity in his subdued narration made the material easy to absorb, and his enthusiasm in the subject matter was anything but diminished. The material is dense, so tightly edited that I had to mentally catch my breath after each lecture due to the volume of detailed insights. I’ve watched courses that took twice as many lectures to exposit a similar amount of content. I have watched about 200 Great Courses, but this is only the second one I have been moved to review. It is actually two courses in one, a great introduction to bird science, but also a Better Living course on overcoming disability to craft an inspired first-rate presentation. This is a must-have, an excellent example of the joy of learning.
Date published: 2019-12-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I bought this course to give to my son who is teaching aviation theory to middle schoolers. We agreed that the professor's delivery would not hold the attention of 12 year old boys. It certainly did not hold our attention. I have returned the DVD to Great Courses for credit./
Date published: 2019-11-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, detailed info The information is detailed enough for anyone who wants to learn all about the subject. The monotone voice made it difficult to listen. It took persistence and stamina to get through a lecture.
Date published: 2019-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect Love professor Flurry. So sad cause of his disability but he still manages to make me smile. You go Dr Flurry. You are an inspiration and really encourage my birding adventures. Pray for your peace and hope for more courses. I wan an Infection Control nurse and a birder. Our lives are similar. That’s why I like you so much! Blessings and thank you.
Date published: 2019-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Win–Win–Win I had no interest in birds, and prior to this course couldn’t tell a tufted titmouse from a water buffalo. Yet this is one of the most wonderful productions in any medium. Professor Fleury gets in and out of his personal struggles in two minutes, and by the end of Lecture One it’s clear why he did so. Other professors of The Great Courses have ticks and issues with their affect, usually due to their overwhelming intelligence, but they feel no need to mention them. Parkinson’s is unique and complex, thus this wonderful teacher and his profound view. The idea of a TelePrompTer never entered my mind and that one bad review confuses me. Professor Fleury’s locution is crisp. He can sit perfectly still as a delightful chatterbox summing his deeply meaningful career, but does risk and succeed with enough movement while making his mind-blowing points. He looks great and his voice is smooth, natural, pleasantly clear. If you want birds, you name it, Professor Fleury has it all in one easygoing course with enough science to drive the jet’s shaft. If Professor Fleury needs images (named birds), video (flight, egg hatching), jargon spelled in captions, or a scientific diagram, he’s got it; and in Lecture Eight the birdsong is so loud and clear I scrambled for the volume control. I forgot my interest in nest construction as a child greeting mockingbird attacks with water pistols, and he explained every twig, horse hair, cigarette butt, and other detritus that goes into them, how many hours and miles they put in, and precisely why. Every lecture could not be more satisfying. His brilliant literacy also gilds the text and imagination. And most importantly, a grief counselor once told me to listen to the birds; so whatever we’re going through, they make the most beautiful music and lift our spirits. A win-win-win for the professor, the company, and the next purchaser. . . . Congratulations!
Date published: 2019-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information Very happy with it except in all the courses I have purchased the sound is not coordinated with the instructor’s lips.
Date published: 2019-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great addition He does a great job in examining the topic and have learned many new facts about our feathered friends, the bird
Date published: 2019-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this course for my 16 year old son and he loves it! The instructor is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject. The added graphics help make the lectures even more interesting. I would recommend this course to anyone who loves birds and is eager to learn more about them.
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable and Educational I've only watched the first two lessons and I find it so educational. The instructor, Prof. Bruce E. Fleury, PhD is well versed in the subject and his enthusiasm is catchy. I wish I had an instructor like him when I was in college.
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More ornithology than birding. This was a very interesting course. It was nice to have a professor stricken with Parkinson's. His limitaions meant that he used significanly more video segments than others courses use. That was extreemly helpful especially after having the wonderful but unilustatively verbose National Parks a Geology of the United States. A coures where he routinely flashed a picture said that's xxx national park or here is a piece of gabro and moving right along..... In this couse we get to see pictures and videos to ilustrate his instruction. His passion and knowledge of the subject where intoxicating. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Small Gem Professor Fleury has one "problem" as a presenter: he is so smooth in his delivery that it is sometimes harder to catch the information presented than it is with presenters who modulate their cadence. With that said, however, this is a delightful presentation of his favorite subject--Birding. I am very pleased that I was able to share his passion for twelve wonderful lectures.
Date published: 2019-06-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Those marvellous avians. I am enjoying watching this course at my leisure. The professor is passionate and knowledgeable about his subjec.
Date published: 2019-06-19
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
  • y_2020, m_6, d_5, h_15
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.8
  • cp_2, bvpage2n
  • co_hasreviews, tv_1, tr_79
  • loc_en_US, sid_7814, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 65.99ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought