International Ornithologists' Union

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International Ornithologists' Union
Main organ
Committee of Representatives and International Ornithological Congress
AffiliationsInternational Union of Biological Sciences
Formerly called
International Ornithological Committee


Ornithology is the scientific discipline that explores all aspects of avian biology in birds, ranging from ecosystems to molecules. It links basic and applied research and nurtures education and outreach activities. The IOU has the objective of supporting, promoting, and advancing avian biology by disseminating ornithological knowledge to the scientific community and the public; interacting with other scientific organizations, foundations, and institutions that share similar interests and goals; stimulating and strengthening locally-based research that includes the participation of amateur ornithologists who contribute valuable data and insights; cultivating collegiate, collaborative, and mutually supportive relationships among ornithologists internationally, without restrictions imposed by cultural or political differences that may hinder scientific progress; fostering knowledge transfer between basic research and applied sciences, such as conservation, that can benefit from the findings and recommendations of ornithology.

Objectives and purposes of the IOU[edit]

The IOU is an international organization that carries out the following activities: it organizes and funds global congresses on ornithology at regular intervals; it sets up and supports commissions and committees on various aspects of avian biology and conservation; it initiates and backs other international ornithological activities with specific aims consistent with the mission and goals of the IOU; it acts as the Ornithology Section of the I U B S; and it discloses the names and professional affiliations of its current members on its website to encourage international collaboration and networking among ornithologists.


Science strives to be international, and one of the best ways to accomplish that is through international meetings where scientists can network and collaborate with each other. However, international congresses in science were rare until the late nineteenth century. One of the first ones was the 1st International Ornithological Congress in 1884, which was motivated by a borderless problem in avian biology: avian migration. This is one of the most remarkable aspects of avian biology, as many bird species travel north and south every year, but little was understood about it at that time. In Europe, where many countries were involved, studying avian migration demanded an international effort. Rudolf Blasius and Gustav von Hayek devised a grand plan for a multi-nation program on avian migration in Europe, secured the support of Crown-Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary, and arranged the 1st International Congress of Ornithology in Vienna, April 1884, which concentrated mainly on migration studies. They established a complicated system to collect and publish migration data from Europe, but it collapsed in the 1890s due to too much information that was not analyzed.

The 2nd Congress in Budapest in 1891 focused mainly on avian migration, but also included other areas of avian biology such as a major summary of avian classification by Richard Bowdler Sharpe. The 3rd Congress in Paris covered the whole range of ornithological research, and this was followed in London, 1905 and Berlin, 1910 where the next congress, planned for Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1915 became a sign of the upcoming First World War. Ernst Hartert was largely responsible for reviving the congresses in Copenhagen, in 1926, where future meetings were set at every four years. The Règlement des Congrès Ornithologiques Internationaux, adopted in 1932, was only published at the Rouen Congress in 1938. It formalized the establishment and operation of the International Ornithological Committee. World events again prevented the staging of the 1942 Congress scheduled for the USA, and the next congress to be held was the 10th in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1950.

Plenary lectures by world specialists giving summaries of advances in the various fields of ornithology at the time have been a highlight of congresses: Heinroth on the ethology of ducks and Lucanus on avian physiology at the 5th Congress; Lambrecht on avian physiology and Dunker on avian genetics at the 7th; Nice on the life history of the Song Sparrow at the 8th; Mayr on avian speciation, Dorst on avian migration, Tinbergen on behavior and Lack on ecology at the 10th; Sibley and Ahlquist with The Tapestry – the first molecular phylogeny of the Aves – at the 19th; Schodde and Christidis on the Gondwanan origin of the Australasian avifauna and global implications at the 20th; Walter Bock’s Presidential debate between Martin and Sereno on the origin of birds from reptilian ancestors at the 23rd ; and Bairlein on migration, illustrating the huge advances since Dorst, at the 26th. Presidential addresses, moreover, sometimes reviewed important historical aspects in ornithology, such as the contribution of amateurs in biology, the role of museum development, and, as at the 23rd Congress, the history of the international ornithological congresses themselves.

The first congress outside Europe was held in Ithaca, New York, in 1962, and the first for the southern hemisphere was held in Canberra, Australia, in 1974. Congresses in their current format began in Berlin, 1978, where Donald Farner set up the first International Scientific Program Committee, and formulated new organizational Statutes and bylaws to replace the Règlement. A pattern of plenary lectures, symposia, contributed papers, and round table discussions was established there too. By 1986, it became clear that the tasks of secretaries-general appointed to arrange congresses had become too extensive, and that more organizational continuity was needed for managing the International Ornithological Committee. That led to the creation of the position of permanent secretary at the Ottawa Congress in Canada in 1986; Walter Bock was the foundation appointee, holding the position until 1998, when Dr. Dominique Homberger took over at the Durban Congress in South Africa.

Ornithological congresses have become bigger and more complex over time and also more expensive for members, making it hard for many interested ornithologists to participate. So the future of such congresses as a main way of international contact among ornithologists requires on-going support, and much effort needs to go into solving major organizational and programming issues so that ornithologists can look forward to another century of these valuable and enjoyable meetings. It is out of this need, to work for the improvement of international ornithology that the International Ornithologists’ Union has now been established. Its legacy is the institution of international ornithological congresses and the rules, committees, office-bearers, and workers that made those congresses and other functions possible. And its future now lies in both Congresses and beyond. To grow its international role in ornithology today, it is creating specialist Working groups in different areas of ornithological endeavor, funding global ornithological programs, and supporting the publication of benchmark research and information to enhance and spread scientific knowledge of birds, their biology, and conservation needs.

International Ornithological Congress[edit]

Organized by the International Ornithologists’ Union, the International Ornithological Congress series is the oldest and largest series of international meetings for bird scientists. The series started in 1884 and has been held every four years since 1926, except for two times when the Second World War disrupted the schedule.


IOU Memberships[edit]

IOU members can enjoy access to the IOU webinars by distinguished ornithologists; discounts on books by selected publishers; members-only registration fees to the International Ornithological Congresses (IO Congresses) and other IOU-sponsored events; participation in and/or establishment of working groups to address specific projects or issues; voting rights on particular IOU matters and more.

The IOU offers different membership options based on the World Bank economic income categorization. Members can also support the IOU’s mission and programs through donations.

IOU Webinars[edit]

The IOU webinars are a series of online lectures that showcase the latest research and developments in ornithology. The webinars feature speakers from different countries and institutions who share their insights and findings on various topics related to bird biology, ecology, behavior, conservation, and education. The webinars are free and open to members. The webinars are also recorded and uploaded on the IOU website and YouTube channel, where they can be accessed anytime. The IOU webinars are a great way to stay updated and inspired by the amazing diversity and complexity of birds and their interactions with humans and the environment.

Working Groups[edit]

The International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU) provides platforms for working groups that focus on specific topics and are led by experts in their field and specialists. The working groups aim to support, promote, and advance avian biology by reaching out to ornithologists, conservationists, policy makers, non-governmental organizations, educators, and other stakeholders. Some of the current working groups are:

  • Avian Checklists: This working group produces and maintains an open-access global checklist of bird species and subspecies based on rigorous taxonomic principles and transparent decision-making processes.
  • Avian Morphology: This working group fosters collaboration and communication among researchers who study the form and function of birds, including anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, development, and evolution.
  • Bird Marking: This working group promotes the use of standardized methods and best practices for marking birds for scientific and conservation purposes.
  • Birds as Peacemakers: This working group explores the potential of birds as catalysts for peace-building and conflict resolution in regions affected by violence and instability.
  • Ethics in Ornithology: This working group develops and disseminates ethical guidelines for ornithological research, education, and outreach.
  • Psittaciformes: This working group addresses the conservation challenges and research needs of parrots, one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world.
  • Gondwanan Ornithology: This working group facilitates collaboration and exchange among ornithologists from the southern continents that were once part of Gondwana, such as Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, and India.

The IOU Newsletter: The Flutter[edit]

The Flutter is the official newsletter of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU), which provides information and updates on the IOU’s activities, events, publications, working groups, and members. The Flutter also features news, stories, and insights from the global ornithological community, covering various aspects of bird research, conservation, and education. It is published four times a year and is available online on the IOU website. The current editor-in-chief of The Flutter is Dr. Vidya Padmakumar, an Ornithologist and a senior data reviewer in toxicology at the Charles River Laboratories in Montreal, Canada. She is also a renowned author, speaker, and consultant in ecology and biological diversity.


President - Lei Fumin (China)

Immediate Past President - Dominique G. Homberger (USA)

Membership Chair - Dra. Patricia Escalante-Pliego

Treasurer - Eli Bridge (USA)

Membership Secretariat - Sunisha Naidoo

See also[edit]