Assignment For Behavioral Observation

Assignment for Behavioral Observation
One of the most important techniques employed by ethologists (individuals that study animal behavior) is the observation of animal behavior.  Observing animal behavior involves systematic recording of the activities of particular animals.  To familiarize students with this common technique, each student will be required to complete a series of observations of an animal’s behavior.  Each observation will consist of a detailed description of an animal’s behavior for at least 30 minutes (Observation 1) and 1 hour (Observation 2) over the course of several sessions.  Record your observations in a digital journal (document).  Any animal can be observed for these exercises.

  • The same individual animal can be used for the 2 observations
  • Domestic animals (dogs, cats, livestock, etc.) can be used for your observations
  • Non-domestic captive animals (zoo animals, etc.) can be used for your observations
  • Observation 1 must be at least 30 minutes long
  • Observation 2 must be at least 1 hour long, over the course of several sessions (at least 2)

You will be using focal-animal sampling where the actions of a focal animal are observed and recorded during a prescribed time period.
Recording Behavioral Observations
Your observations must include the following:
Location: be specific enough for me to find your location
Conditions:  cloud cover, approximate temperature, moon phase (if observation occurs at night), wind speed, etc. (include anything that may influence or alter behavior)
Subject: species, include if subject is within a group or isolated
Sample frequency: e.g., every 30 seconds, 1 minute, etc. (This gives you time to write in your journal in between observations.  For example, you choose to sample behavior every other minute.  For one minute just observe, then the next minute you write your observations in your journal, then return to observing for a minute, then writing in your journal for a minute, and so on until you get 30 minutes of behavior.  This would mean a total of an HOUR- 30 minutes of animal behavior observation, 30 minutes of writing observations in journal).
Description/name of behaviors: e.g., alert – animal sits up and scans area, grooming – animal cleans fur, aggressive – animal chases/bites others, greeting – animal smells others
Start time:
Stop time:
Summary: At the end of your journal, include a summary of your findings. Write down your observations, then, ask researchable questions about your animal’s behavior.  Avoid anthropomorphic questions/comments.
Behavior Chart

  • It may be useful to create a behavior chart
  • You should include the behaviors on the list below (and may also include others that are not listed there e.g. sexual behaviors- see textbook for addition behaviors that can be observed)
  • Write one behavior at the top of each of the seven columns below: resting/sleeping, eating/drinking, grooming, traveling, aggression, social interaction or not visible.
  • Choose one individual (focal animal) to watch for several minutes. After each 15 second interval (or your desired interval), put a mark under the behavior you observe the focal animal doing at that moment.
  • If you see any other behaviors you think are interesting or noteworthy, describe them in the “Behavior Notes” section.

Behavior Notes:
  Behavior List:                      

Type of Behavior Behavior Code Description of Behavior
Solitary Sleep S Animal assumes species-specific position for sleep, stays in one place and is not alert to environmental changes.
  Rest R Animal stays in one place but may be roused easily by environmental changes.
  Groom self GS Animal engages in washing or smoothing its own fur or hair using tongue or forelimbs.
  Maintenance M Animal urinates or defecates.
  Travel T Animal moves from place to place.
Food Related Eat E Animal consumes food it finds in its environment.
  Drink D Animal consumes water or other liquids found in its environment.
  Look for food LF Animal searches the environment for food items.
Social Groom
GO Animal engages in washing or smoothing the fur or hair of another animal in its environment.
  Play P Animal engages in interactions with another animal that may involve locomotion, climbing, manipulating objects or other activities that show a relationship between two or more interacting animals.
  Contact C Animal comes in contact with another animal while engaging in a solitary behavior.
Aggressive Fight F Animal engages in physical conflict with another animal in its environment.
  Steal food SF Animal approaches another animal that has located food in the environment and either by physical force or distraction, removes that food item from the vicinity of the other animal.
Off Exhibit Off exhibit O Animal is not visible in exhibit.



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