Migrant Landbird Study Group

Promoting collaborative research for migratory landbirds across flyways

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Will Cresswell

Study species: All migrants

Research topics: Migration routes; Migratory connectivity; Non-breeding ecology

Institution locations: University of St Andrews; APLORI (AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute

Research locations: APLORI, Jos, Nigeria; Liberia

Will Cresswell is Professor of Biology at St Andrews University and has been studying predator-prey interactions, and the ecology of migrant birds for the last 30 years. Current research priorities are to understand the factors determining the density and distribution of Palearctic migrants wintering in West Africa so that we can address their continuing declines in the face of anthropogenic habitat and climate change. As part of the solution he is also involved with capacity building in the region through helping to run the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute that trains future African ornithologists.

Will Cresswell has been involved in management, teaching and research at APLORI from the very start when a chance meeting with Tasso Leventis on a rain forest trail in Ibadan in 1999 led to the initial partnership between APLORI and Oxford University. Will developed the curriculum and initial teaching program for the Masters in Conservation Biology at APLORI, and his then PhD students, Ross MacGregor and Jared Wilson were the first researchers on site at Amurum, setting up the long term ringing and survey program that continues to this day. Will has taught almost all of the hundred and twenty plus Masters students at one time or another, and has had eleven PhD students carrying out research based at APLORI, including three APLORI graduates, Sam Ivande, Murna Tela and Chima Nwaogu. Will is on the Management and Scientific Committees for APLORI, and is a Trustee of the APLORI Foundation that oversees the endowment that provides APLORI’s core funding.

The migration ecology of Afro-European birds, with particular interest in what determines the density and distribution of migrant birds within Africa. Research at APLORI has been conducted with Jared Wilson, Mark Hulme, Emma Blackburn, Sam Ivande, Nanchin Winifred and Claudia Tapia-Harris. Research on Cyprus wheatear migration ecology has been carried out with Robert Patchett. Recent papers include:

Patchett, R., & Cresswell, W. (2020) Regional wind patterns likely shape a seasonal migration detour. Journal of Avian Biology. 51:

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). 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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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 responses to environmental change: the serial residency hypothesis. Ibis. 156: 493-510. DOI 10.1111/ibi.12168

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.

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

Life history traits of tropical birds. Research at APLORI has been conducted with Ross MacGregor, Matt Stevens, Miriam Brandt, Daniel Cox, Braimoh Bukola and Chima Nwaogu.

Nwaogu, C.H. & Cresswell, W. (2021) Local timing of rainfall predicts the timing of moult within a single locality and the progress of moult among localities that vary in the onset of the wet season in a year-round breeding tropical songbird. Journal of Ornithology. 165: 265-276.

Chima J. N., Cresswell W. & Tieleman I.B. (2020). Geographic variation in baseline innate immune function does not follow variation in aridity along a tropical environmental gradient. Scientific Reports 10.1038/s41598-020-62806-1

Chima J. N., Galema, A., Cresswell W., Dietz, M., & Tieleman I.B. (2020). A fruit diet rather than invertebrate diet maintains a robust innate immunity in an omnivorous tropical songbird. Journal of Animal Ecology 89: 867-883. DOI:

Chima J. N., Cresswell W., Versteegh, M.A. & Tieleman I.B. (2019). Seasonal differences in baseline innate immune function are better explained by environment than annual cycle stage in a year-round breeding tropical songbird Journal of Animal Ecology 88: 537-553. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12948

Chima J. N., Tieleman I.B., & Cresswell W. (2019). Weak breeding seasonality of a songbird in a seasonally arid tropical environment arises from individual flexibility and strongly seasonal moult. Ibis 161:533-545. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12661

Braimoh, B., Iwajomo, S., Wilson, M, Chaskda, A., Ajang, A. & Cresswell, W. (2018) Managing human disturbance: factors influencing flight-initiation distance of birds in a West African nature reserve. Ostrich 89:56-69. DOI: 10.2989/00306525.2017.1388300

Nwaogu, C.H. & Cresswell, W. (2017) Breeding limits foraging time: evidence of interrupted foraging response from body mass variation in a tropical environment. Journal of Avian Biology 48: 563-569. DOI: 10.1111/jav.01132.

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.

Cox, D.T. & Cresswell, W. (2014) Mass gained during breeding positively correlates with adult survival because both reflect life history adaptation to seasonal food availability. Oecologia 174:1197-1204.

Cox, D.T.C, Brandt, M.J., McGregor, R., Ottosson, U., Stevens, M.C. & Cresswell, W. (2013) The seasonality of breeding in savannah birds of West Africa assessed from brood patch and juvenile occurrence. Journal of Ornithology 154: 671-683.

Stevens, M.C., Ottosson, U., McGregor, R. & Brandt, M. & Cresswell, W. (2013) Survival rates in West African savannah birds. Ostrich 84:11-25.

Cox, D.T.C, Brandt, M.J., McGregor, R., Ottosson, U., Stevens, M.C. & Cresswell, W. (2011) Patterns of seasonal and yearly mass variation in West African tropical savannah birds. Ibis 153:672-683.

McGregor, R., Whittingham, M.J. & Cresswell, W. (2007) Survival rates of tropical birds in Nigeria, West Africa. Ibis 149:615-618.

The development of conservation research capacity in Africa.

Pototsky, P.C. & Cresswell, W. (2020) Conservation research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa is improving, although only in a few countries. Oryx.

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

The ecology and conservation of West African birds. Research at APLORI has been conducted with Miriam Brandt, Matt Stevens, Jared Wilson, Sunday Imong, Yadok Biplang, Ulf Ottosson, Yahkat Barshap and Shiiwua Manu.

Yadok, B.G., Barshep, Y. & Cresswell, W. (2014) The importance of anthropogenic effects in habitat use and territory size of Northern Anteater-chats (Myrmecocihla aeithiops) near Amurum Forest Reserve, Jos-plateau, Nigeria. Ostrich 85: 147-151.

Manu, S. & Cresswell, W. (2013) Diurnal patterns of mass gain in tropical granivores suggest avoidance of high midday temperatures during foraging rather than the starvation-predation risk trade-off. Ostrich 84: 95-100.

Manu, S., Imong, I.S. & Cresswell W. (2010) Bird species richness and diversity at montane IBA sites in South Eastern Nigeria. Bird Conservation International 20:231-239.

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.

Brandt, M.J. & Cresswell W. (2009) Diurnal foraging routines in a tropical bird, the rock finch Lagonosticta sanguinodorsalis: how important is predation risk? Journal of Avian Biology 40:90-94.

Brandt, M.J. & Cresswell W. (2008) Breeding behaviour, home range and habitat selection in Rock Firefinches (Lagonosticta sanguinodorsalis) in the wet and dry season in central Nigeria. Ibis 150:495-507.

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.

McGregor, R.M., Ottosson, U. & Cresswell W. (2007) Moult of guinea savanna passerines in West Africa. Ostrich 78:287-290.

Manu, S. & Cresswell W. (2007) Addressing sampling bias in counting forest birds: a West African case study. Ostrich 78:281-286.

Manu, S., Peach, W. & Cresswell, W. (2007) The effects of fragment size and degree of isolation on avian species richness in highly fragmented forest in West Africa. Ibis 149:287-297.

Manu, S., Peach, W., Bowden, C. & Cresswell W. (2005) The effects of forest fragmentation on the population density and distribution of the globally endangered Ibadan Malimbe Malimbus ibadanensis. Bird Conservation International 15: 275-285.