Migrant Landbird Study Group

Promoting collaborative research for migratory landbirds across flyways

Dutch English French German Spanish Turkish

Joining and being involved with the MLSG is simple. Just sign up now and prepare and post your profile detailing who you are, what you work on and any specifics of getting involved in meetings, training and mentoring. You will then be part of the MLSG network: people can find you to collaborate and share knowledge, and of course, you can also do the same. There is no membership fee: maintaining your profile annually is the only criteria for active membership, which puts you on the list for early information and reduced rates at MLSG meetings and events.

The MLSG – Migratory Landbird Study Group – is a network to connect people working on migrant landbirds, whether pure research or their conservation, to facilitate both. Collaboration and communication make a difference – particularly when the solution to understanding and conserving migrants must involve all of us on the flyways working together.

Why are so many migratory birds spending the European Winter in the belt just south of the Sahara, a drought-stricken zone? While anywhere further south wintering conditions seem to be much better? It took eight years (2007-2015), 2000 plots to walk and 308,000 trees to check exhaustively for birds, to shed some light on this question, known as Moreau’s paradox. Recently we published the results in Ardea 103.

In West-Africa, tree preferences of wintering migratory birds (and African residents) were quantified in order to assess the importance of wintering conditions on distribution, abundance and trends of insectivorous woodland birds. Canopy surface and presence of birds were determined in thousands of trees and shrubs.

We found that birds were highly selective in their tree choice, with no insectivorous birds at all in 65% of the woody species. Bird density was four times higher in acacias and other thorny species than in non-thorny trees, and seven times higher in trees with leaves having a low crude fibre content than in trees with high crude fibre foliage. Overall, densities of migratory woodland birds were highest in the (thorny) trees of the Sahelian vegetation zone. This counterintuitive finding, with highest numbers of wintering birds in the driest and most desiccated parts of West-Africa - short of the Sahara - can be explained by the foliage palatability hypothesis.

The Sahelian vegetation zone has always been subject to heavy grazing from large herbivores, and as a consequence woody species have evolved mechanical defences (thorns) to withstand grazing of large herbivores, at the expense of chemical defence against arthropods. South of the Sahel, with a much lower grazing pressure, thorny trees -rich in arthropods- are replaced by -usually non-thorny- trees with less palatable foliage and a higher crude fibre content, and hence with less arthropod food for insectivorous birds.

Field work in Africa on habitat preferences of migratory land birds is scarce. This work brings us a step closer to understanding the winter distribution of migratory birds. It provides the groundwork for future analyses of the distribution, abundance and trends of Palearctic woodland birds wintering in the Sahel and the Sudan vegetation zone. It also informs landscape restoration and tree planting schemes on how tree species choice can benefit birds and biodiversity.

Researchers: Leo Zwarts1, Rob Bijlsma2, Jan van der Kamp1, Marten Sikkema1 & Eddy Wymenga1

  1. Altenburg & Wymenga ecological consultants
  2. Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences

More information: Leo Zwarts (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Eddy Wymenga (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Zwarts L. & Bijlsma R.G. 2015. Detection probabilities and absolute densities of birds in trees. Ardea 103: 99–122.

Zwarts L., Bijlsma R.G., van der Kamp J., Sikkema M. & Wymenga E. 2015. Moreau’s paradox reversed, or why insectivorous birds reach high densities in savanna trees. Ardea 103: 123–144.

Latest news

Following up on the successful MLSG symposia at EOU conferences since 2015, we are ready for another dose of inspiring community-building preceding EOU2022 in Giessen, Germany, on March 12th -13th. The aim of the MLSG is to promote collaborative research to help advance flyway-scale understanding of and conservation actions for migrant landbirds. We believe knowledge-sharing is essential to achieve this. Thus, during our symposium we will actively engage all attendants to partake in a dynamic program of presentations, workshops, and group discussions. We will focus on data sharing and collaboration, new tracking technologies and priorities for migrant landbird research and conservation.

Join us and register here:

In our 3th webinar, Kaan Özgencil (MLSG outreach & social media) talked about functional responses to habitat degradation in waterbirds. Kaan’s work is based at the METU in Ankara, Turkey, and includes the monitoring of breeding waterbirds and conservation aspects in wetlands. In Turkey, many wetland habitats are decreasing due to human induced degradation and climate change, e.g. in the Konya Closed Basin, where agriculture changes from wheat production to sugar beet cultivation, temperatures are rising, salinity is increasing, and lakes are drying earlier in the season. These factors caused a decline in species richness of 20 % and  functional richness of 65 % within 20 years.

blog webinar4 2


The webinar was opened by Sandra Goded, MLSG international networker. She is working in Africa assessing the population status of migratory species in different habitats within protected and non-protected areas. She also presented her efforts and success in empowering local people to the monitoring and conservation of birds in Ghana throughout the year.

 We are working on developing a broad network between scientists, citizen-scientists, stakeholders, economists and have a specific interest in integrating underrepresented African and European countries. By involving people from all across the flyways we aim to bridge the conservation continuum from local solutions to global solutions and to formulate species action plans. By offering workshops and symposia during ornithological conferences we started to share our knowledge with a broader audience. Now, in these contact free times, we still want to connect globally and so we have set up the opportunity to attend virtual lectures and discussions on current research. Perhaps, you would like some feedback on your own research or to promote a new project? Let us know and we can give you the opportunity to speak up!

Latest blog entries

Search website

MigrantLandbird Want to meet with fellow researchers working on the same bird species? 🐦🇪🇺🌍Come and join the @MigrantLandbird sympo…
MigrantLandbird Today! Talks by @ivandesamtee, Nico Arcilla from @IBCPbirds & Wender Bil. Join for free at 3pm (cet) via zoom. Link…
MigrantLandbird RT @HeimWieland: Interested in migratory #landbirds? Join our free @MigrantLandbird webinar 24 November 3-5 pm CET
MigrantLandbird RT @MigrantLandbird: Don't miss our next free #webinar on 24th November! #landbird #migration across #flyways. Want to present your #resear
MigrantLandbird RT @S_Lisovski: That is a lot of money 🥴….
MigrantLandbird Don't miss our next free #webinar on 24th November! #landbird #migration across #flyways. Want to present your…
MigrantLandbird RT @HeimWieland: Super interesting story: Richard´s Pipits from western Siberia now migrate to Europe instead of South-east Asia! Congrats…
MigrantLandbird RT @HedenstrmAnders: Inside @J_Exp_Biol by Kathryn Knight! Migrating European nightjars explorer altitude to find optimal wind conditions |…