Animal Behaviour - Course Advice - Biological Sciences - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Studying Animal Behaviour at Canterbury

KeaAnimal Behaviour is the scientific study of the "how" and "why" of what animals do.

This can range from answering questions about how animals communicate and how neural mechanisms control behaviour, to questions about why animals are altruistic to family members, why some animals look after their offspring while others do not, or why species differ in their mating systems.

Humans have always been facinated by the behavour of animals. By studying animal behaviour through a scientific framework, we can understand the reasons for the rich behavioural repertoire seen across the animal kingdom and in the process perhaps learn something about our own sometimes perplexing behaviour. Understanding the behaviour of animals in nature also is becoming increasingly important in conservation biology programmes to ensure that they survive and reproduce.

Career paths

Graduates who specialise in Behaviour generally also take courses in Ecology and Evolution. Some of our recent graduates have taken up careers such as:

  • Monitoring endangered species like the Chatham Island taiko for the Department of Conservation
  • Working on nature documentaries for the BBC
  • Conducting research projects for Wool Research
  • Biosecurity officer for the Department of Conservation in Wellington
  • Researching behavioural means to control agricultural pest insects in Australia
  • Conducting research on spider monkeys in Panama
  • Teaching animal behaviour courses in Fiji
  • Curator at the Canterbury Museum


  • BSc (Hons) - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers and a research project.
  • PGDipSc - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers.
  • MSc - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers (part I), followed by a one year research project (part II), written up as a thesis.
  • PhD - Students complete a 3 year research project written up as a thesis. Entry is after successful completion of either BSc(Hons) or an MSc.

Planning Your Degree

Below is a guide to help you select courses that will give you a well rounded degree in animal behaviour.

Year 1



  • BCHM 112 Structure and Reactivity in Chemistry and Biochemistry [1] (aka CHEM 112)
  • MATH 101 Methods of Mathematics [2]
  • PSYC 105 Introductory Psychology - Brain, Behaviour and Cognition

Year 2



Year 3


  • BIOL 309 Experimental Design and Data Analysis for Biologists
  • BIOL 355 Neurons, Hormones and Behaviour
  • BIOL 371 Evolutionary Ecology
  • BIOL 383 Behavioural Ecology


[1] If you have fewer than 14 credits of NCEA level 3 chemistry take CHEM 114 before starting BCHM/CHEM 112.
[2] MATH101 is strongly recommended unless you have good NCEA level 3 maths credits.
[3] BIOL309 is essential for postgraduate biology.