By Samuel Temidayo Osinubi, FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology
Migration strategies within the tropics are still poorly understood as are the drivers of movement and the degree of connectivity between sites in migrant birds that have their global range and life cycle exclusively on a single continent – intra-continental migrants. On this side of the Atlantic, the plan is to establish an intra-African bird migration project.
With much less known about intra-African migratory systems in comparison to Palearctic patterns, drivers and conservation concerns, the intra-African bird migration project is all the more important. This initiative is currently being advanced as part of a postdoctoral research project at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. The research goal is to investigate the movement patterns of migratory landbird species like the Woodland Kingfisher, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Didric Cuckoo and Klaas Cuckoo. With limited background datasets, the approach is collaborative and interdisciplinary, utilizing myriad techniques such as ringing data, genetics, stable isotopes, geolocators and acoustic recordings. The main questions centre on spatial-based variation, phylogeography, connectivity and phenology. The project officially started in late 2015 with support from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa and the International Foundation for Science, and has grown steadily. Supporting institutions now include the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute in Nigeria, the Ghana Wildlife Society in Ghana, the Makerere University and the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Uganda, the Swiss Ornithological Institute (Vogelwarte) in Switzerland and the Natural History Museum of Denmark. The highly collaborative nature of this project allows us to tackle a wide range of questions, making optimal use of every field season to gather as much information and collect as many samples as possible from target species. Doing so, expands the expected output of research information beyond what a single researcher is capable of achieving. The focus on intra-African migration within this project furthermore supports existing initiatives like the South African and East African Ringing Schemes, as well as the South African and Nigerian Bird Atlas projects. In addition, since the target species are mainly insectivorous, the project also provides a platform for cross-taxa studies through which the annual sub-regional cycle, timing and movement of invertebrate prey species can be investigated. Ultimately, the intention is to contribute towards a viable research network that links institutions across Africa, as well as to foster linkages with other continents, providing a near-regional operating base for research to address diverse questions concerning intra-African migrant birds. Such networks will serve to support the objectives of both research capacity development and a holistic ecological paradigm in global conservation efforts.