Lesson: Observing and Documenting Behavior in a Group of Animals (non-human)

Teacher Resource

learner section

Observing and Documenting Behavior in a Group of Animals (non-human)

Kathryn Orzech
  • Support Material Type:
    • Learner Section


Part 1 Ad lib Qualitative Data Collection and Research Design Construction

  1. Observe your selected animal(s) for one hour using the ad lib method of data collection (see the support material "Kinds of Sampling" for definition of this method)
    • Take notes on all observed behaviors. Attach these notes when you turn in Part 1 to the instructor.
    • Write a paragraph that gives the common and scientific names of your selected animal and that briefly summarizes your observations.
  2. Construct a research design based on your ad-lib data. Provide the following information:
    • Research question/hypothesis [Paragraph] State your research question and define your sample for additional study of the same animal(s). State what kind of sampling method you will use. Most questions will probably require focal animal sampling (See "Kinds of Sampling" in Support Materials section for definition of this method), but if you wish to use another sampling method like intantaneous scan sampling (See "Kinds of Sampling" in Support Materials section for definition of this method), state it and explain why here.
    • Context /environment [Paragraph] Describe the environment in which the animal lives with a focus on biological, social and physical contexts that are relevant to your research question. Consider, if the animal is in captivity, how their current environment might differ from their natural environment.
    • Life ways and life cycle [Paragraph]Describe the major life ways (behaviors the animal engages in to survive) and life cycle pattern  of your selected species that are relevant to your research question.
    • Ethogram [Table] Provide an ethogram (list of behavioral and other categories with definitions) that is relevant to your research question and will be used in your research. (See "Sample Ethogram" in Support Materials Section)
    • Data sheet [Usable Data Sheet] Construct a data sheet that is suitable for recording your observations using a focal animal sampling method (unless you have chosen another sampling method). Your data sheet should have places to record information on individuals, times, behaviors, and environmental contexts. (See "Sample Data Sheet" in Support Materials section)

Part 1 total to be turned in:

  • 4 paragraphs
  • 1 ethogram table and 1 data sheet
  • Field notes from 1 hour of observation.

The instructor should provide feedback on Part 1 before students embark on Part 2 to make sure they are on the right track with their research design.

Part 2 Quantitative Data collection, Statistical Analysis and Interpretations

  1. Data collection: Observe your animal(s) for two additional hours. Record observations on your data sheet using the ethogram created for part 1.
    • Submit your notes when you turn the final project in to the instructor.
    • HOW TO OBSERVE: Focus on your animal or animals and record everything your focal animal does or has done to it. Make a note of exact times when behaviors change. You will need a watch or stopwatch.
    • This kind of data collection is labor intensive and the observer should take at least one 5-minute break in an hour of observation. Indicate this gap in data collection on your data sheet.
  2. Statistical analysis: Calculate the following items from your 2-hour observation period. Use the Statistical Analysis primer in the Support Materials section to guide you through the calculations.
    • Percentages of time spent in different behaviors [Table]
    • Durations of behaviors [Table]
    • Typical sequences of behaviors [Paragraph]
  3. Interpretations: Answer the following questions.
    • Did you answer your research question? How was the question answered? If you formulated hypotheses, which were supported? Which rejected? [Paragraph]
    • Summarize the biobehavioral strategies used by your animal in this particular environment during your observation period. [Paragraph]
    • What is the significance of your research project? [Paragraph]
    • What new questions emerge from your work? [Paragraph]

Part 2 total to be turned in:

  • 3 types of data analysis
  • 4 interpretive paragraphs
  • Notes from 2 hours of observation.

Support Materials

Information on the Internet


Morbeck, Mary Ellen, Alison Galloway and Adrienne L. Zihlman, Eds. 1997. The Evolving Female: A Life History Perspective. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ.

Patterson, J.D. 2001. Primate Behavior: An Exercise Workbook, 2nd Edition. Waveland Press. Prospect Heights, Illinois.

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University of Arizona

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Kathryn Orzech at

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