Expand your knowledge of the diversity and ecology of songbirds and the processes that will enable you to identify them and use your skills for all-important recording and conservation.

This course will be delivered through a range of methods including practical field work, laboratory identification sessions and seminars with our expert tutor. Birds are an important indicator species – their presence is considered a good measure of the health of the environment and accurate identification data is essential in monitoring these telling population trends.

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Spring in the Welsh Borderlands is a the perfect time to hear and observe songbirds in all their glory, with the course providing you the opportunity to practice your new skills in the countryside surrounding the Preston Montford Centre. The Centre is nestled in the heart of Shropshire surrounded by a broad range of habitats, including the River Severn and semi-ancient woodland, with views disappearing into Wales.

What will be covered during this course?

Songbird evolution and how it relates to their taxonomic order (Passeriformes)
Techniques for species identification using close observation of morphology, song, calls, behaviour and habitat, as well as the opportunity to observe voucher specimens for reference

Surveying and biological recording techniques

How to put your recordings to use – exploration of recording schemes

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Distinguish songbirds from other orders using their key features
  • Identify songbird species using observational techniques learned and standard texts/keys
  • Design and carry out a species survey
  • Evaluate recording schemes and their uses

Who Should Attend?  – Natural history enthusiasts, students, rangers, ecologists, and environmental professionals. This intermediate level course is open to anyone with some background knowledge of the subject. This course is for those aged 18 and over only.

Knowledge Level – Intermediate. Level descriptors can be found on the following web-page: Framework and Course Level Descriptor

There are two booking options which all include course tuition, meals and refreshments:

  • Non-Resident (Breakfast not included)
  • Resident (Sole Occupancy)

For course bookings including accommodation please note that bathroom facilities may be shared.

MMU Students


This is one of a series of courses (units) run jointly with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) contributing to the MSc ‘Biological Recording and Ecological Monitoring’ and the ‘Postgraduate Certificate in Biological Recording’. MMU students will complete assessed work after the course. For further details about Manchester Metropolitan University degree programmes please contact:

Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, (Shrewsbury Office). Email:  [email protected]

Please email [email protected] if you have any questions

For Manchester Metropolitan University students, the Unit will be assessed through, for example, identification tests, survey reports, field journals, production of keys, essays or other forms of assessment. In course tests are optional and less formal for participants who are not MMU students.

MMU students will be required to complete a portfolio comprising of two parts:

Part 1: At the end of the course, complete a test which will include identifying species and their ecology, and comparing diagnostic features of different species. (Equivalent to 500 words)

Part 2: Produce fully annotated sketches for five species identified in the field over the course of the weekend. For each sketch you should indicate key diagnostic features which discriminate between species, and write a set of field notes suitable for submission to a national records committee (to be detailed by the tutor over the teaching weekend). (1500 words)

Example Timetable

This timetable is subject to change but should give an outline of what to expect.
If you have booked accommodation with the centre your bedroom will be ready from 3.00 pm onwards on the day of arrival and we ask that you vacate by 9.30 am on the morning of departure.
If numbers are sufficient a station pick up will be arranged at 5.30 pm from Shrewsbury Station.
Please arrive in time for the evening meal at 6.30 pm
The course starts after dinner with a classroom session 7.00 pm - 9.00 pm
The course ends at 4.00 pm on the final day.

Time will be made available for eating packed lunches during the day.

19:00 Lab. What is a Songbird?
Background to classification & morphology

09:00 Lab. Equipped for a day in the field, including packed lunch:
AM: Earls Hill (Shropshire Wildlife Trust)
PM: Venus Pool (Shropshire Ornithological Society)
19:00 Lab. Introduction to Bird Song
05:30 Darwin common room equipped for an hour or so listening to and identifying birds in Preston Montford grounds
09:30 Lab. Recording techniques
Field recording
Lunch and breaks as required
16:00 Lab. More bird song
19:00 Lab. Records and recording schemes
Introduction to MacKinnon List Technique

09:00 Lab. Equipped for a morning in the field: MacKinnon List survey at Benthall Edge Wood, Ironbridge
13:00 Lab. Analyse MacKinnon List survey results
Course Review
14:15 Assignment 1 (1.5 hours)
16:00 Finish

What's Included

  • Expert Tuition
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Hot and Cold Drinks
  • In Course Transport
  • Picnic Lunch

What’s included?

  • Classroom learning covering the theory of the subject
  • Field excursions to apply new knowledge
  • Expert tuition for which we are renowned
  • Clear objectives and progression
  • All meals provided

You can rest assured that the absolute best content from an expert in environmental education will be provided. In choosing this course, you will be joining thousands of people who learn with us each year.


Before You Attend

There will be a member of staff with first aid training and access to a first aid kit on site. If you have special medical or access requirements, please let us know as soon as possible so we can make any necessary adjustments.

What to Bring

  • Binoculars are essential, preferably between 8x30 and 10x50 – 8x40 are ideal, but miniature binoculars are not suitable.
  • You may wish to bring a telescope if you have one, but this is not essential.
  • Field Guide – you will need one for the Class Test.
  • Notebook and pen/pencil.
  • Warm waterproof clothing and footwear, but not too brightly coloured or rustly.
  • Warm hat and gloves for inclement weather and sunhat and sun cream for sunny days
  • A sandwich box, flask and/or water bottle and a rucksack or similar to carry your kit.

Recommended Reading

Any background reading is useful and most birding magazines have good identification articles. The following books are recommended:

  • Beaman, M. and Madge, S. (1998) The handbook of Bird Identification for Europe and the Western Paleartic. Helm
  • Sample, G. (2006) Wildlife Sounds: Britain and Ireland. Collins
  • Sample, G. (2006) Bird Songs and Calls of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins
  • Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. eds. (1998) The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Oxford University Press

Opportunities to attend this course

  • Fri 28, April 2023 18:30 - Mon 01, May 2023 16:00

    West Midlands
    £360 - £570
    Kevin Clements

Progress Your Learning

This is a training course from the Field Studies Council, delivered by expert tutors with an approachable learning style. After attending this course, you may like to progress your learning with further relevant courses or branch out into other areas of natural history. The Field Studies Council offers both online and in person courses, so you can choose the learning style that suits you best.

The course gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new subject and acquire novel skills. Our online portal gives you time to study at your own pace and fit the lessons around your own schedule.

If you have any questions about our online courses please check our Frequently Asked Questions
Please email [email protected] if you have any questions.

Group Bookings Made Easy

If you have a group of 10 or more individuals wanting to complete one of our courses, our team are available to discuss your options – from discounts to private team courses. Find out more!

You can rest assured that the absolute best content from an expert in environmental education will be at your fingertips. In choosing a Field Studies Council course, you will be joining thousands of people who learn with us each year.