What Does a Wildlife Biologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Lara Antal © The Balance 2019

Wildlife biologists are primarily responsible for studying the biology, behavior, and habitats of a variety of animal populations in the wild.

If they hold advanced degrees, wildlife biologists may find employment in higher education, usually as college professors. They may also work for the state or federal government in conservation or research roles, often within agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Private-sector employment may be secured at zoos, community centers, environmental research facilities, and consulting firms.

Wildlife Biologist Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following:

  • Conduct census projects, research studies, and complex data analysis.
  • Study ecosystems.
  • Trap, tag, or relocate animals for conservation purposes.
  • Develop land and water use plans.
  • Work to save endangered species.
  • Evaluate the impact of commercial ventures on local wildlife.
  • Study wildlife disease transmission.
  • Interact with fish and game wardens and wildlife rehabilitators to coordinate the management of local wildlife.
  • Write research papers, scientific reports, and scholarly articles to explain findings.
  • Present findings to academics, the general public, and other stakeholders.

Wildlife biologists have many diverse duties that could include the tasks above and more. In general, they must use their knowledge of wildlife and habitats to manage and study animal populations.

Wildlife Biologist Salary

The salary for wildlife biologists varies based on factors such as the type of employment, level of education, and the duties required by their specific position. Wildlife biologists holding advanced degrees or with specialized knowledge tend to earn higher salaries. (Hourly rates are based on a 40-hour work week.)

  • Median Annual Salary: $62,290 ($29.95 per hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $99,700 ($47.93 per hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $39,620 ($19.05 per hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

A wildlife biologist usually has a degree in wildlife or fisheries management or a related area.

  • Education: A bachelor’s degree is required at minimum, while a master's degree or doctorate is generally preferred by most governmental and private employers. These degrees typically involve the completion of coursework in wildlife conservation and management, population dynamics, animal behavior, genetics, zoology, ecology, anatomy and physiology, biology, botany, chemistry, statistics, and wildlife or environmental law.
  • Certification: The Wildlife Society offers the field’s professional designation: Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB). CWB applicants must meet educational requirements and have at least five years of professional experience. Wildlife biologists who have not yet achieved the requisite professional experience may be granted Associate Wildlife Biologist (AWB) certification status. Once certified, the wildlife biologist must complete at least 80 hours of continuing education every five years.

Wildlife Biologist Skills & Competencies

Wildlife biologists need the following skills in order to perform their duties:

  • Communication skills: Wildlife biologists must be able to effectively write research papers and reports. They also need to communicate clearly—verbally and in writing—with the public, policymakers, and other stakeholders.
  • Observation skills: It's critical to notice slight changes in an animal’s behavior or appearance and observe several elements in animals' surroundings.
  • Critical-thinking skills: Wildlife biologists must be able to draw conclusions from experiments, research results, and scientific observations.
  • Problem-solving skills: Wildlife biologists must find solutions to help protect animals and wildlife from possible threats.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for wildlife biologists will grow slightly more than the average for all professions, at 8 percent through the year 2026 compared to 7 percent for all occupations. Wildlife biologists who hold master's or doctorate degrees will have the greatest number of career options over the next decade, especially in the areas of research or academia.

Work Environment

In addition to their routine administrative office duties, wildlife biologists frequently work outdoors in potentially harsh weather conditions. They may interact with and study any number of animal species in the population of local wildlife, including deer, moose, raccoons, opossums, migratory birds, birds of prey, reptiles, marine mammals, bats, big cats, fish, and amphibians.

Work Schedule

Most wildlife biologists work full-time, and they may work long or irregular hours, especially when working in the field.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming wildlife biologists may also be interested in the following careers, listed with their median annual salaries:

  • Animal care and service worker: $23,160
  • Veterinarian: $90,420
  • Biochemist and biophysicist: $91,190
  • Environmental scientist and specialist: $69,400

How to Get the Job

Become an Intern

Complete an internship in wildlife conservation to gain the experience for certification.

Get Certified

Apply to become an Associate Wildlife Biologist® or Certified Wildlife Biologist® through The Wildlife Society.

Apply to Jobs

Leverage your internship to be connected to job opportunities or look for jobs and apply on sites such as Indeed and LinkedIn.