Latest edition of African Birdlife
News from the FitzPatrick Institute
opportunity: Assessing the impacts of boat-based tourism on waterbirds
at De Hoop Vlei
invited for the above study opportunity at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute,
a world-renowned, national Centre of Excellence (CoE) in ornithological
research with a strong emphasis on postgraduate studies.
are looking for a dynamic, enthusiastic student to undertake a study of the
impacts of boat-based tourism on waterbirds. The study will take place on De
Hoop Vlei, a RAMSAR wetland in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Comparative data
will be collected from other wetlands in the Western Cape. Fieldwork will
commence in 2015 and last approximately 15 months, with accommodation
available within De Hoop Reserve.
Funding is secured for an annual R90 000 bursary for two years and adequate
project running costs
A strong BSc Honours degree
An interest in environmental impacts
A desire to spend time in the field
Ability to swim
Ability to identify waterbirds
Experience with canoes and small boats
Further details of the project are available on request. Please send a
letter of motivation and a CV, including contact details for at least three
referees, to Prof. Peter Ryan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For enquiries, call +27 21 650-3290/1.
Closing date: January 15, 2015
A Murder of crows? Press release on
crow study conducted by researchers at the FitzPatrick Institute
Photos: Peter Ryan
They steal, raid nests, and keep the company of witches. But the unpopular
crow may not be as big a menace as people think. A new study has found that
crows – along with their avian cousins the magpie and the raven – have
surprisingly little impact on the abundance of other bird species.
Collectively known as corvids, these birds are in fact being menaced by
mankind in the mistaken belief that removing them is good for conservation.
The new study
was led by researchers at the University of Cape Town and published this
week in the leading ornithological journal Ibis1. It found that
in the vast majority of cases (82 percent), corvids had no impact at all on
their potential prey species. "Many nature lovers have been distressed to
witness a crow or magpie raiding the nests of their beloved garden
songbirds, stealing their eggs or eating their defenceless chicks," said
study co-author Dr Arjun Amar2 from the Percy FitzPatrick
Institute of Ornithology3. "Although this predation is entirely
natural, these observations can be upsetting to witness and often leave
people wondering if these predators might be reducing bird numbers."
global review suggests that we should be cautious before jumping to
conclusions over the impacts these species may have. Just because a predator
eats something occasionally does not always mean that they have an impact,”
Dr Amar said. The study, the first of its kind, reviewed all published
evidence on whether predation by corvids actually reduces the overall
breeding performance of birds or, more importantly from a conservation
perspective, reduces their numbers. Data were collated from 42 studies of
corvid predation conducted across the globe over the last sixty years.
Not only were corvids unlikely to have any impact on their potential prey
species, if there was an impact it most often affected the breeding success
of the prey species rather than their subsequent numbers. Half of cases
found that corvids reduced breeding success whereas less than 10% of cases
found that they reduced prey numbers in the long term.
results have big implications for the likely benefits of corvid control,” Dr
Amar said. “They suggest that killing corvids will be of most benefit to
those interested in gamebird shooting rather than conservationists.” He
added: “Bird hunters are usually most interested in increasing numbers of
birds available to shoot immediately after the breeding season and this
appears to be where corvids have most impact”. “Conservationists on the
other hand, are usually interested in increasing a species population size
and our results suggest that only in a very few cases did corvids have an
influence on this aspect of their prey,” Dr Amar said.
The review analysed the impact of six corvid species on a variety of prey
species including gamebirds, songbirds, waders, herons, cranes, sea birds,
waterfowl and raptors. The 42 studies incorporated into the review included
326 cases of corvid – bird prey interaction Most of the data stemmed from
field research in the UK, France and the United States. The impacts were
determined partly by comparing bird counts before and after corvids were
either removed or their numbers reduced.
The review also found large differences between the impacts of crows,
historically considered the most 'cunning' corvid, and magpies which are
sometimes killed by home owners hoping to protect songbirds in their
gardens. Crow species were six times more likely to have an impact on bird
prey species than Magpies. Mistaken assumptions about corvid predation
were possibly explained by the birds' diurnal nature and the fact that they
are conspicuous nest predators: “Their importance in prey population
regulation is often assumed prior to any assessment of the evidence,” the
Madden4, the lead author on the paper, hoped that the review
would challenge the perception that all corvids were bad, thereby preventing
needless killing: “Our results suggest that this is a mistaken belief and
that generally speaking people would be wasting their time killing corvids
to increase bird numbers”. “Overall therefore, our study points to the fact
that we are often too quick to jump to the conclusion that crows and magpies
may be the cause of bird population declines,” she said.
For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Dr Arjun Amar – email@example.com, Phone: +27-(0)21-6503304,
1. The Ibis is a peer reviewed scientific journal published by the British
Ornithologists’ Union. It has been published since 1859 and is one of the
highest ranked international Ornithological journals in the world.
2. Dr Arjun Amar is a Senior Lecturer at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute
and was the lead supervisor of this research project. Dr Amar has previously
worked for both the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK BirdLife
partner), the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (UK NGO), and the US Fish
and Wildlife Service, where he worked on a critically endangered species of
crow (the Mariana Crow on the Pacific island of Rota, CNMI).
3. The Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology is a research
institute situated in the Biological Sciences Department of Cape Town
University. It is one of the world’s leading ornithological research
institutes and is a South African Department of Science and
Technology-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence.
4. Chrissie Madden is the lead author of the paper. The research was
undertaken as part of her Conservation Biology Masters research at the
University of Cape Town.
The full paper is freely available via open access.The full reference for
the paper is: Madden, C.F., Arroyo, B. & Amar, A. (in press) A review of the
impact of corvids on bird productivity and abundance, Ibis. doi:
Full free access: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ibi.12223/abstract
Please report any sightings of ringed Swift Terns
Swift Terns are one of the few
locally-breeding seabirds whose numbers are increasing., To help understand
the main factors driving the positive trend of this species, a team of
researchers from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and the Animal Demography
Unit at the University of Cape Town marked 500 Swift Tern chicks from Robben
Island in April 2013 and 2014 with metal and individually engraved colour
rings. In 2013, members of the public reported how these birds dispersed,
providing information on the fledging success, survival and dispersal of
juvenile Swift Terns, which were re-sighted from Namibia to the Eastern
Cape. Gathering dispersal records is a time consuming but important task
that relies on assistance from volunteers across southern Africa.
Rings in 2014 are orange and yellow
(with black text) and green and blue (with white text), and are engraved
with an “A” followed by a letter and a number (e.g. AU2). Rings from 2013
are yellow and white (with black text) and green and blue (with white text),
and bear a code of one letter and one number (e.g. U2). The majority of the
colour rings are top-down and all are on the right leg.
If you see any ringed birds please
record their location as accurately as possible (ideally GPS), the date and
time of sighting, ring colour, letters on the ring (if legible) and age
class (juvenile or immature). If a bird is found dead, please also record
the number of the metal ring. Send the
information to Davide Gaglio at
Thanks for your help!
Copyright: Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology 2014
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