Society wouldn't understand the behavior, migration and breeding habits of birds without ornithologists, who are also known as zoologists or wildlife biologists. They study living environments of birds and what they eat, and determine how endangered they are from scavengers or new construction projects, sometimes intervening to protect birds' natural habitats. If you want to become an ornithologist, you will need at least a bachelor's degree in zoology or wildlife biology. In return, expect to earn a decent salary when you graduate.
Salary and Benefits
Ornithologists earned average annual salaries of $61,888 as of May 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10 percent in this field made over $94,070 annually. Your pay is usually contingent upon experience, geographic area and your employer's salary budget. Since most ornithologists work full-time, expect to earn benefits such as medical insurance, paid holidays and vacations, and a retirement savings plan.
Salary by Industry
Your salary as an ornithologist can vary somewhat by industry. Some of the highest annual salaries of $77,590 are in the federal executive branch of government, according to the BLS. If you work in the scientific and research development services industry, you would earn $70,480 per year as an ornithologist. Local government agencies would pay average salaries of $61,590 per year, and you would earn $55,420 per year working for a college or university. State government jobs for ornithologists, however, paid only $52,180.
Salary by State
In 2011, ornithologists earned the highest average salaries in Maryland, according to the BLS -- $97,940 per year. You would also earn a comparatively high salary in Connecticut or Massachusetts at $87,250 or $78,930, respectively. Your annual salary would be less in either Washington, Arkansas or Montana -- $68,580, $66,360 or $58,500 per year, respectively.
Jobs for zoologists and wildlife biologists, including ornithologists, are expected to increase seven percent through 2020, according to the BLS, which is slower than the average growth rate of 14 percent for all occupations. Your job opportunities in this field are contingent on local, state and federal agency funds. Also, large population growth among humans, a trend occurring in the United States, can decimate bird populations. As an ornithologist, you will need to research the diseases and migration changes that affect various bird species, and develop wildlife and conservation plans to protect them. This endeavor should increase employment opportunities in ornithology.
2016 Salary Information for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $60,520 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $48,360, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $76,320, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 19,400 people were employed in the U.S. as zoologists and wildlife biologists.