Migrant Landbird Study Group

Promoting collaborative research for migratory landbirds across flyways

Will Cresswell – University of St Andrews, Scotland and APLORI, 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 20 years and have published a number of papers that have contributed to the primary literature (see below).

WillC 20131113 073116

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 12 years (the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, University of Jos, Nigeria http://www.aplori.org/). Funded by the APLORI Foundation (of which I was appointed a trustee in 2008) and external bench fees, we have trained 66 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 66 graduates until 2013, 23% 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 21% with PhDs at universities within Nigeria (see http://www.aplori.org/masters/outcomes.html. Of 58 graduates for which I have current information: 57% are in active research positions (PhDs or post-docs or funded research projects, many of which will lead to PhDs), 16% teach in higher education and 7% at school level, and 3% work for government and 12% for NGOs on conservation issues in Africa. All graduates except one 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.

There is an outline of some research topics here on the APLORI website; see also my current students’ work Emma Blackburn (mostly wintering whinchats) and Sam Ivande (a wide range of passerine migrants and their density and habitat use in Nigeria).

I am also involved in a long term study of the breeding, migration and population ecology of the endemic Cyprus Wheatear with my student Marina Xenophontos. We will be publishing preliminary results on this system over the next couple of years.


Relevant publications

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Wilson, J.M. & Cresswell, W. (2007) Identification of potentially competing Afrotropical and Palearctic bird species in the Sahel. Ostrich 78:363-368.

  11. Wilson, J.M. & Cresswell, W. (2006) How robust are Palearctic migrants to habitat loss and degradation in the Sahel? Ibis 148:789-800.

  12. Lind, J. & Cresswell, W. (2006) Anti-predation behaviour during bird migration; the benefit of studying multiple behavioural

  13. dimensions. Journal of Ornithology 147:310-316.20121110_083255

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.


St Andrews Institute web page

St Andrews research profile

APLORI Institute web page


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