Jane Goodall, the famous scientist known for her work with chimpanzees, spent much of her time in the field observing these intriguing animals. Through her observations, she learned many things about chimpanzee behavior, such as their creation and use of tools, a discovery that shifted our view of this species. Ethology is the study of animal behavior, and ethologists, like Jane Goodall, work to answer important questions such as how do animals communicate and interact with each other, how do animals find food, and where and when do animals migrate. Understanding these types of animal behaviors helps us to better understand what animals need to survive, which plays an important role in animal conservation.
Like many scientists, ethologists often start with a question. What do they want to know about an animal’s behavior? Do you have any questions about the animals living near you? You might ask how much time does a squirrel spend foraging for food, are bluejays social animals or are they solitary, or even, do green anoles and brown anoles behave differently? After you have thought of your question (or questions), it’s time to collect some data. If you cannot think of a question right away, that’s okay, too. Sometimes starting with observing an animal’s behavior may lead you to a question to explore more later.
An ethogram is one tool that scientists can use to help study behavior in a systematic way, and it is an excellent tool for collecting data on the behavior of animals in your backyard. There are several approaches to doing an ethogram, but one way that is often used is to record an animal’s behavior at pre-set time intervals during your observation. This can be thought of asmtaking a “snapshot” of an animal’s behavior every thirty seconds, one minute, five minutes, or whatever time interval you select. Use the link for instructions to help you get started on your backyard ethogram. A sample ethogram template is provided, but feel free to make modifications so the ethogram fits the animal you are observing. Remember that observing animals takes patience and practice, and whenever you are observing wild animals, be respectful and give them lots of space. Share your completed ethogram with us in the comments below and have fun building your ethology skills! Age: 8+ Title of Activity: Backyard Ethograms