Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds. Etymologically, the word "ornithology" derives from the ancient Greek ὄρνις ornis ("bird") and λόγος logos ("rationale" or "explanation"). Several aspects of ornithology differ from related disciplines, due partly to the high visibility and the aesthetic appeal of birds. Most marked among these is the extent of studies undertaken by amateurs working within the parameters of strict scientific methodology.
The science of ornithology has a long history and studies on birds have helped develop several key concepts in evolution, behaviour and ecology such as the definition of species, the process of speciation, instinct, learning, ecological niches, guilds, island biogeography, phylogeography and conservation. While early ornithology was principally concerned with descriptions and distributions of species, ornithologists today seek answers to very specific questions, often using birds as models to test hypotheses or predictions based on theories. Most modern biological theories apply across taxonomic groups and the number of professional scientists who identify themselves as "ornithologists" has therefore declined. A wide range of tools and techniques are used in ornithology, both inside the laboratory and out in the field, and innovations are constantly made.
Birds (class Aves) are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate animals. With around 10,000 living species, they are the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. All present species belong to the subclass Neornithes, and inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) Bee Hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds emerged within theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 160 million years (Ma) ago. Paleontologists regard birds as the only clade of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 65.5 Ma (million years) ago.
Modern birds are characterised by feathers, a beak with no teeth, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton. All living species of birds have wings; the most recent species without wings was the moa, which is generally considered to have become extinct in the 16th century. Wings are evolved forelimbs, and most bird species can fly. Flightless birds include ratites, penguins, and a number of diverse endemic island species. Birds also have unique digestive and respiratory systems that are highly adapted for flight. Some birds, especially corvids and parrots, are among the most intelligent animal species; a number of bird species have been observed manufacturing and using tools, and many social species exhibit cultural transmission of knowledge across generations.