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Ornithology, a branch of zoology dealing with the study of birds. Most of the early writings on birds are more anecdotal than scientific, but they represent a broad foundation of knowledge, including much folklore, on which later work was based. In the European Middle Ages many treatises dealt with the practical aspects of ornithology, particularly falconry and game-bird management. From the mid-18th to the late 19th century, the major thrust was the description and classification of new species, as scientific expeditions made collections in tropical areas rich in bird species. By the early 20th century the large majority of birds were known to science, although the biology of many species was virtually unknown. In the latter half of the 19th century much study was done on the internal anatomy of birds, primarily for its application to taxonomy. Anatomical study was overshadowed in the first half of the 20th century by the rising fields of ecology and ethology (the study of behaviour) but underwent a resurgence beginning in the 1960s with more emphasis on the functional adaptations of birds.
Ornithology is one of the few scientific fields in which nonprofessionals make substantial contributions. Much research is carried out at universities and museums, which house and maintain the collections of bird skins, skeletons, and preserved specimens upon which most taxonomists and anatomists depend. Field research, on the other hand, is conducted by both professionals and amateurs, the latter providing valuable information on behaviour, ecology, distribution, and migration.