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Bird species in animal experimentation


Admission requirements

MSc Biology


The study of biology aims to understand life in all its forms and functions. Research on the whole organism level - be it of the fundamental or applied kind- involves study of living organisms. These should at all times be treated and handled with outmost concern and respect. For experimental animals both Dutch and EU legislation have set up strict procedures for reviewing and licensing experiments and to monitor animals’ welfare throughout. The course covers legal and ethical frameworks for the use of laboratory animals and scientists’ responsibilities in the design, and conduct of experiments and with special emphasis on the monitoring of the welfare and health of the animals.

An important feature of this legislation is to ensure that no animal research is conducted without previous review and approval of the research and welfare monitoring plan. This course provides basic knowledge on the use and care of birds as laboratory animals for MSc-students, PhD-students and researchers and is obligatory before starting an internship that involves handling or experimental use of bird species.

The program will broadly cover different research areas involving bird species, and in depth review of the use of zebra finches for neurobiological and behavioural research. In a series of lectures, the course participants will be introduced to bird development, anatomy and physiology, the immune system, recognition of discomfort, stress and pain, disease symptoms and health monitoring, anesthesia/euthanasia methods, behavioral research and experiments with birds in the wild. The course will also entail an introduction to zebra finch facility management and husbandry.

Course objectives

After completion of the course, students can:

  • reproduce and discuss the ethical and legal considerations that apply to experiments on birds in the laboratory or in the wild.

  • categorize and evaluate the levels of discomfort, stress and pain in experiments involving birds.

  • name, explain and discuss scientists’ responsibilities in the design and conduct of experiments and how this entails monitoring of the welfare and health of the animals throughout.

  • name and recognise factors that may directly or indirectly impact birds’ behaviour and welfare in the laboratory or during experiments.

  • name and compare procedures for analgesia, anesthesia and euthanasia and assess when to apply humane endpoints.

  • list and explain requirements for husbandry and handling of birds.

  • reproduce the basic characteristics of bird development, anatomy, sensory systems and physiology, list avian specific adaptations and explain how these features affect the results of an animal study.

  • name the commonly used bird species in animal experimentation and give examples of their use in behavioral, ecological and cognitive research.

  • explain experimental procedures.


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Mode of instruction

This is a 2 week program with lectures, group assignments and practical assignments.
The course consists of a lecture program given by various teachers, written group assignments and practical assignments in the bird facility.

Assessment method

The final grade consists of the following partial grades:

  • Written examination 75%

  • Written assignment 25%

  • Practical program is pass/fail.
    Attendance to all lectures and the practical is compulsory in order to receive the certificate.

Minimum grade:
Courses require a minimum, unrounded 5.5 grade to complete.
If a course has 2 or more written partial exams, the minimum grade only applies to the weighted average of the exams.
For partial grades from components other than exams (e.g. practicals, seminars, writing assignments), the bottom grade does apply to the individual components.
Please refer to the Student Charter for an overview of regulations.

Reading list

General introduction on animal experimentation:

Species-specific bird course: A general reading list and lecture specific literature will be announced via Brightspace.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Daily coordinator for questions and administrative issues: G.C. van der Velden MSc

Course coordinator: Dr. K. Riebel