Current Research Programmes

Intra-African bird migration

Migrant birds are at greater risk of extinction globally than are resident species. To date, most emphasis gloablly has been on long-distance, inter-continental migrants – and indeed populations of many of these species are decreasing rapidly due to human impacts across their migratory ranges. This project, started in 2015, used a broad-scale spatial approach to address questions of phylogeography, movement ecology, phenotypic and genetic variation in intra-African migrant birds that have seasonal breeding ranges across western, eastern and southern Africa.

Little is known about the migratory routes, timing, drivers, connectivity and environmental prescriptions of intra-continental migrant birds in Africa compared to inter-continental migrants. This project was initiated by Dr Phoebe Barnard, who recruited post-doc Dayo Osinubi, to investigate the migratory patterns of focal intra-African migrant birds. The main focus has been on Woodland Kingfishers Halcyon senegalensis, which have been sampled at three main sites throughout their range, but additional data have been collected on African Pygmy Kingfishers Ispidina picta, and Diederik Chrysococcyx caprius and Klaas’s C. klaas Cuckoos.

Activities in 2019

  • After the fourth southern African field season in January 2019, Dayo Osinubi resigned his postdoctoral fellowship to take up a position with BirdLife International as the Conservation Programme Coordinator – Africa, based in Accra, Ghana. Dayo will use his new position to link the project to broader flyway conservation actions, and work in his spare time to publish the research conducted over the last four years.
  • Abigail Ramudzuli completed work on her MSc project to explore moult patterns of Woodland Kingfishers and the use of stable isotope markers in their flight feathers, with a view to determining whether stable isotopes can indicate where migratory birds spend the non-breeding season. She will submit her thesis in early 2020.


  • Four geolocators deployed on Woodland Kingfishers breeding in northern South Africa have been retrieved from the 28 deployed over three years. A follow-up field season is planned for December 2020 to try to recover more loggers. However, with the support of Vogelwarte (the Swiss Ornithological Institute) the data on all four geolocators have been downloaded and are being analysed to identify the migration routes, timing and stop-over sites.
  • Several papers are being developed for presentation at the 15th Pan-African Ornithological Congress to be held in Zimbabwe in November 2020.

Impact of the project

This project addresses some of the research, conservation and policy gaps concerning intra-African migrant birds. It also facilitates a research network that links research institutions across Africa, providing a near-regional operating base for other students and researchers to utilise in answering diverse questions about intra-African migrant birds. This network serves to support the objectives of the UNEP/CMS African-Eurasian Migratory Land-birds Action Plan (AEMLAP) and the Migrant Landbird Study Group (MLSG).

Key co-supporters
DST-NRF CoE grant; National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG); International Foundation for Science; BirdLife International; A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute; Swiss Ornithological Institute (Vogelwarte), African Bird Club, British Ecological Society; iThemba LABS.

Research team 2019
Dr Samuel Temidayo Osinubi (FIAO, UCT)
Prof. Desire Dalton (NZG)
Dr Phoebe Barnard (FIAO, UCT)
Prof. Peter Ryan (FIAO, UCT)

Student: Abigail Ramudzuli (MSc, UCT)