Fitz Seminars: 2012

BirdLife South Africa's Important Bird Areas Programme in the Western Cape

Date: Tuesday 23 October 2012
Time: 13h00
Venue: Niven Library
Speaker: Dale Wright, Western Cape Regional Conservation Manager, BirdLife South Africa

Dale Wright was employed at the beginning of 2012 as BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Manager for the Western Cape. His position is focused on the Important Bird Areas Programme, one of BirdLife International’s flagship conservation programmes. Dale will provide an introduction to the organisation BirdLife South Africa, and the identification of Important Bird Areas. Following this Dale will expand on establishing the IBA Programme in the Western Cape and other regional conservation work currently underway. Finally he will describe aspects of his career development thus far and how a background and training in science has facilitated his work in the NGO sector.

'Individual rules for social animals: integrating state with decisions about interactions' - by Dr Sean Rands

Date: Tuesday 11 September 2012
Time: 13h00
Venue: Niven Library
Speaker: Sean Rands, University of Bristol, UKSean Rands, University of Bristol, UK (

Synopsis: Organisms have to make decisions about their actions throughout their lives, and these decisions can take many forms. Some can be choices related to key events in their life histories, whilst others are choices about what behaviours to perform from moment to moment. The optimal choice for an organism to perform will depend upon both its internal state (such as its physiology), as well as the state of the environment. Within behavioural ecology, well-characterised techniques exist for identifying consecutive optimal decisions, such as dynamic programming. The decisions made by many organisms are also dependent upon the state and actions of other individuals, which are themselves attempting to optimise their behaviour. Here, I will explore a series of dynamic games that consider the social behaviour of pairs of animals, looking at cases where interacting individuals have a common interest and similar rewards (such as social foragers). If time permits, I will also briefly consider what happens when interacting individuals have differing and conflictatory interests, looking at the uneasy alliance between a parasite and its host. These dynamic games give an optimal rule-set for each individual to follow given that it knows its own state and that of its colleagues. I will also consider what happens if this rule-set breaks down, and ask whether simpler rules-of-thumb can be used to approximate optimal behaviour.

Frontiers in South African Ornithology Conference

Frontiers in South African Ornithology: Conference Announcement and call for paper/poster titles and abstracts


Invited speakers include Professor Andrew McKechnie on climate change implications for bird conservation in South Africa, and Dr Mandy Ridley on Southern Pied Babbler sociobiology.

The conference is co-organised by BirdLife South Africa and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, with a special emphasis on showcasing cutting-edge student research.

Birdwatchers, citizen scientists and conservationists are encouraged to attend, as this conference is not only aimed at the professional ornithologist. The event is hosted by BirdLife Eastern Cape.

Call for paper/poster titles and abstracts

Please start preparing your proposed paper/poster titles and a short abstract (max. 500 words).  Proposals for discussion/debate, outings, and demonstrations may be sent to Dr Hanneline Smit at


The conference precedes Flock 2012, BirdLife South Africa’s AGM, which is being organised and hosted by BirdLife Eastern Cape, on 17 and 18 March at the same venue. Keep visiting for information about Flock 2012, Port Elizabeth 2012.

The Annual Gathering of Members of BirdLife South Africa as well as details of birding activities and popular talks and outings that will take place during the weekend.

More information will be provided on and this site.


Conference Announcement [PDF]
Registration Form [MSWord]

'Deceptive strategies of the fork-tailed drongo' - by Dr Tom Flower

Date: Thursday 26 January 2012
Time: 13h00
Venue: Niven Library
Speaker: Dr Tom Flower, Postdoctoral Fellow, PFIAO

Animals commonly deceive each other, but just as in Aesop's fable 'The boy who cried wolf', they cease responding to deceptive signals that are made too frequently. This constrains deceptive behaviour, but where species can change their deceptive signal, deception rackets might be maintained? I show that Fork-tailed drongos deceive other animals, using both their own and mimicked alarm calls, to scare other animals and steal their food. Furthermore, I demonstrate that other species are more likely to be deceived by mimicked alarm calls, and that by employing vocal mimicry to vary their false alarms, drongos may maintain deception. This work illustrates the sophisticated strategies employed by animals in deceptive communication and provides evidence of function for vocal mimicry, a common but little understood behaviour. I conclude by discussing my current research plans investigating the extent to which drongos strategically adjust their deceptive behaviour, and how drongos acquire the ability to make deceptive mimicked alarm calls.