Migrant Landbird Study Group

Promoting collaborative research for migratory landbirds across flyways

Will Cresswell

Study species: All migrants

Institution locations: APLORI, Jos, Nigeria; University of St Andrews, Scotland

One third of European breeding bird species winter in Africa including iconic species that add to our quality of life (e.g. swallows, nightingales, warblers). Nearly all Western European populations are declining and for many species this is almost certainly related to changing conditions in Africa or on migration.

Study species: All migrants

Institution locations: University of St Andrews, Scotland; APLORI, Jos, Nigeria

One third of European breeding bird species winter in Africa including iconic species that add to our quality of life (e.g. swallows, nightingales, warblers). Nearly all Western European populations are declining and for many species this is almost certainly related to changing conditions in Africa or on migration.

I carry out fundamental research into their ecology directly in Africa and during migration. I also engage in capacity building to promote biodiversity research in West Africa for the future. I have been engaged in studying the factors determining the density and distribution of Palearctic migrants in West Africa for over 25 years and have published a number of papers that have contributed to the primary literature (see below).

I helped set up, am Director of Teaching and been a primary manager for the only ornithological research institute in West Africa for the last 20 years (the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, University of Jos, Nigeria Funded by the APLORI Foundation (of which I was appointed a trustee in 2008) and external bench fees, we have trained over 120 Masters students (on competitive scholarship) to date: our degree is in conservation biology and is vetted each year by an external examiner from a European University (e.g. Groningen, Oxford, Edinburgh). Of the 78 graduates until 2016 for which I have current information, 30% have completed or are doing PhDs at universities external to Nigeria (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Lund, Upsalla, Copenhagen, Canterbury NZ, Oslo, Cape Town) and a further 20% with PhDs at universities within Nigeria. 22% are in active research positions (PhDs or post-docs or funded research projects, many of which will lead to PhDs), 27% teach in higher education and 9% at school level, and 19% work for government and 23% for NGOs on conservation issues in Africa. Almost all graduates remain working in Africa. I therefore contribute directly to our quality of life here in Europe by identifying the problems facing our migrant birds and helping to solve those problems by conservation capacity building in West Africa.

In Africa, I have studied the migration ecology of whinchats and common whitethroats in detail, and have carried out habitat use, habitat change and survey work for many migrant landbird species that winter in West Africa, with my students and former students, Claudia Tapia-Harris, Emma Blackburn, Sam Ivande, Daniel Cox, Chima Nwaogu, Matt Stevens, Ross Macgregor and Jared Wilson.

I am also involved in a long-term study of the breeding, migration and population ecology of the endemic Cyprus Wheatear with my student and former students Robert Patchett, Patrick Styles and Marina Xenophontos.

Relevant publications

  • Pototsky, P.C. & Cresswell, W. (2020) Conservation research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa is improving, although only in a few countries. Oryx. In press.
  • Cresswell, W., Nanchin, W., & Patchett, R. (2020) Local human population increase in the non-breeding areas of long-distance migrant bird species is only weakly associated with their declines, even for synanthropic species. Diversity and Distributions. 26:340–351. DOI: 10.1111/ ddi.13006
  • Blackburn, E, Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C. & Cresswell, W. (2019). Light stalks increase the precision and accuracy of non-breeding locations calculated from geolocator tags: a field test from a long-distance migrant. Bird Study 66:353-365. 10.1080/00063657.2019.1690421
  • Chase JM, Liebergesell M, Sagouis A, May F, Blowes SA, Berg Å, Bernard E, Brosi BJ, Cadotte MW, Cayuela L, Chiarello AG, Cosson J-F, Cresswell W, Dami FD, Dauber J, Dickman CR, Didham RK, Edwards DP, Farneda FZ, Gavish Y, Gonçalves-Souza T, Guadagnin DL, Henry M, López-Baucells A, Kappes H, Mac Nally R, Manu S, Martensen AC, McCollin D, Meyer CFJ, Neckel-Oliveira S, Nogueira A, Pons J-M, Raheem DC, Ramos FN, Rocha R, Sam K, Slade E, Stireman III JO, Struebig MJ, Vasconcelos H & Ziv Y (2019) FragSAD: A database of diversity and species abundance distributions from habitat fragments. Ecology 0:e02861, DOI: 10.1002/ecy.2861
  1. Blackburn, E, Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C. & Cresswell, W. (2019). Spring migration strategies of Whinchat Saxicola rubetra when successfully crossing potential barriers of the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea. Ibis 141:131-146. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12610
  2. Patchett, R. ,Finch, T. & Cresswell, W. (2018) Population consequences of migratory variability differ between flyways. Current Biology 28:R340-R341. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2018.03.018
  3. Cresswell, W. (2018) The continuing lack of ornithological research capacity in almost all of West Africa. Ostrich 89: 123-129. DOI:10.2989/00306525.2017.1388301
  4. Blackburn, E, Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C. & Cresswell, W. (2017). Low and annually variable migratory connectivity in a long distance migrant: Whinchats Saxicola rubetra may show a bet-hedging strategy. Ibis 159:902-918. 10.1111/ibi.12509
  5. Finch, T., Butler, S., Franco, A. & Cresswell, W. (2017) Low migratory connectivity is common in long-distance migrant birds. Journal of Animal Ecology 86: 662-673. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12635
  6. Xenophontos, M., Blackburn, E. & Cresswell, W. (2017) Cyprus Wheatears Oenanthe cypriaca likely reach sub-Saharan African wintering grounds in a single migratory flight. Journal of Avian Biology 48:529-535. DOI: 10.1111/jav.01119
  7. Blackburn, E, Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C. & Cresswell, W. (2016). An experimental evaluation of the effects of geolocator design and attachment method on between-year survival on Whinchats Saxicola rubetra. Journal of Avian Biology 47: 530-539. 10.1111/jav.00871
  8. Xenophontos, M. & Cresswell, W. (2016) Survival and dispersal of the Cyprus Wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca, an endemic migrant. Journal of Ornithology 157: 707-719. DOI: 10.1007/s10336-015-1315-1
  9. Blackburn, E. & Cresswell, W. (2016) High site fidelity in Northern Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe wintering in Africa revealed through colour marking. Bird Study 63:284-288. DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2016.1180343
  10. Ivande, S.T. & Cresswell, W. (2016) Temperate migrants and resident species in Afro-tropical savannahs show similar levels of ecological generalism. Ibis 158:496-505.
  11. Blackburn, E. & Cresswell, W. (2016) High within-winter and annual survival rates in a declining Afro-Palaearctic migratory bird suggest that wintering conditions do not limit populations. Ibis 158: 92-105. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12319
  12. Xenophontos, M. & Cresswell, W. (2016) Reproductive success and productivity of the Cyprus Wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca, a migratory, island endemic. Journal of Ornithology. 157:721-731. DOI: 10.1007/s10336-015-1322-2
  13. Blackburn, E. & Cresswell, W. (2016) High winter site fidelity in a long-distance migrant: implications for wintering ecology and survival estimates. Journal of Ornithology 157:93-108. DOI 10.1007/s10336-015-1252-z
  14. Nwaogu, C.H. & Cresswell, W. (2016) Body reserves in intra-African migrants. Journal of Ornithology 157: 125-135. DOI 10.1007/s10336-015-1259-5.
  15. Blackburn, E. & Cresswell, W. (2015) Fine-scale habitat use during the non-breeding season suggests that winter habitat does not limit breeding populations of a declining long-distance Palearctic migrant. Journal of Avian Biology 46:622-633.
  16. Risely, A., Blackburn, E. & Cresswell, W. (2015) Patterns in departure phenology and mass gain on African non-breeding territories prior to the Sahara crossing for a long-distance migrant. Ibis 157:808-822.
  • Cresswell, W. (2014). Migratory connectivity of Palearctic-African migratory birds and their 20131112_071004responses to environmental change: the serial residency hypothesis. Ibis. 156: 493-510.
  • Atkinson, P.W., Adams, W.M., Brouwer, J., Buchanan, G., Cheke, R.A., Cresswell, W., Hewson, C.M., Hulme, M. F., Manvell, A., Sheehan, D.K., Small, R.D.S, Sutherland, W.J. & Vickery, J.A. (2014) Defining the key wintering habitats in the Sahel for declining African-Eurasian migrants using expert assessment. Bird Conservation International in press.
  • Hulme, M. & Cresswell, W. (2012) Density and behaviour of Whinchats Saxicola rubetra on African farmland suggest that winter habitat conditions do not limit European breeding populations. Ibis 154:680-692.
  • Wilson, J.M. & Cresswell, W. (2010) Densities of Palearctic warblers and Afrotropical species within the same guild in Sahelian West Africa. Ostrich 81:225-232.
  • Wilson, J.M. & Cresswell, W. (2010) The Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe in the Sahel of West Africa: distribution, seasonal variation in abundance and habitat associations. Ostrich 81:115-121.
  • Stevens, M.C., Sheehan, D.K., Wilson, J.M., Buchanan, G.M. & Cresswell, W. (2010) Changes in Sahelian bird biodiversity and tree density over a five year period in Northern Nigeria. Bird Study 57:156-174.
  • Jones, T. & Cresswell, W. (2010) The phenology mismatch hypothesis: Are declines of migrant birds linked to uneven global change? Journal of Animal Ecology 79:98-108.
  • Cresswell, W., Boyd, M. & Stevens, M. (2009). Movements of Palearctic and Afrotropical bird species during the dry season (November–February) within Nigeria. pp. 18–28. In: Harebottle, D.M., Craig, A.J.F.K., Anderson, M.D., Rakotomanana, H. & Muchai. (eds). Proceedings of the 12th Pan African Ornithological Congress, 2008. Cape Town, Animal Demography Unit.
  • Cresswell, W., Wilson, J.M., Vickery J., Jones, P. & Holt, S. (2007) Changes in densities of Sahelian bird species in response to recent habitat degradation. Ostrich 78:247-253.
  • Wilson, J.M. & Cresswell, W. (2007) Identification of potentially competing Afrotropical and Palearctic bird species in the Sahel. Ostrich 78:363-368.
  • Wilson, J.M. & Cresswell, W. (2006) How robust are Palearctic migrants to habitat loss and degradation in the Sahel? Ibis 148:789-800.
  • Lind, J. & Cresswell, W. (2006) Anti-predation behaviour during bird migration; the benefit of studying multiple behavioural dimensions. Journal of Ornithology 147:310-316.20121110_083255
  • Catry, P., Campos, A., Almada, V. & Cresswell, W. (2004) Winter segregation of migrant European Robins Erithacus rubecula in relation to sex, age and size. Journal of Avian Biology 35:204-209.
  • Manu, S. & Cresswell, W. (2002). The effects of forest fragmentation on Palearctic migrants in south western Nigeria. In Wings Over Africa: Proceedings of the International Seminar on Bird Migration: Research, Conservation, Education and Flight Safety (Eds. Leshem, Y., Froneman, A., Mundy, P. Shamir, H.), pp 143 – 150. International Center for the Study of Bird Migration, Israel.
  • Vickery, J., Thomas D., Rowcliffe, M., Cresswell, W., Jones, P. & Holt, S. (1999) Habitat selection of whitethroats during spring passage in the Sahel zone of northern Nigeria. Bird Study 46: 348-355.
  • Jones, P., Vickery, J., Holt, S., & Cresswell, W. (1996) A preliminary assessment of some factors influencing the density and distribution of Palearctic passerine migrants wintering in the Sahel zone of West Africa. Bird Study 43:73-84.

Website links:

Will Cresswell at St Andrews University