Honorary Research Associates

Dr Rob Simmons

Dr Robert E. Simmons
BSc (Hons) (London), MSc (Acadia), PhD (Witwatersrand)

John Day Building: 3.14
Tel: +27 (0)21 650 3310
Fax: +27 (0)21 650 3295


Rob is a behavioural ecologist, conservation biologist and ornithologist specialising in the ecology of raptorial birds, cats and giraffe. His studies have taken him from the UK to Canada, and Sweden to Africa with his main interests being mating systems of harriers, sibling aggression in eagles, reproductive constraints in subtropical species, the evolution of giraffe, the impact of cats and climate change effects on birds. He moved from Windhoek in 2003 where he was part of the Biodiversity Programme for 14 years, specializing on the conservation of endemic, montane and wetland birds in Namibia. He now lives in Cape Town drawn here by black harriers, black eagles, whales and a stimulating research environment. His academic research on harrier ecology span both hemispheres and resulted in the publication of his first book Harriers of the World: their behaviour and ecology, published by Oxford University Press. He is continuing that work in collaboration with Fitz students with a 15-yr genetic, ecological and satellite-tagging study of endemic black harriers. A film of this work was completed in 2011 (The Secret Life of the Circler - HomeBrew Films). Rob's studies of climate change effects on birds include vultures and fynbos-endemics (with Phoebe Barnard) and he has also initiated the African continents' first studies of the impact of domestic cats on the biodiversity in greater Cape Town. Following his long-term studies of threatened birds in Namibia he has written his second book on Namibia's threatened birds, Birds to Watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species, with Chris Brown, and Jessica Kemper due for publication in 2015. He watches buzzards, whales and cats in between environmental impact assessments, from Constantia with his partner Marlei and two daughters.

50/50 aired an insert on Rob and Frances Morling's work on the impact of domestic cats on biodiversity in the Western Cape. Watch it here.

Research programmes

Raptor Research, Life History Strategies, Seabird Research,

Current students


Marie-Sophie Garcia-Heras: Integrating ecological parameters, foraging strategies and health status for the conservation of avian predators: the case of the threatened Black Harrier Circus maurus. (Co-supervisors: Beatriz Arroyo (IREC), Francois Mougeot (IREC) Arjun Amar)

Francisco Cervantes:  A kernel approach for analysing flight trajectories observed from vantage points. (Co-supervisors, Birgit Erni, Theoni Photopoulou)

Graduated students


Sonja Krüger. 2014. Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis population dynamics and conservation in the 21st Century (Co-supervisor: Arjun Amar)

Conservation Biology Masters

Dara Sands: December 2015. Avian sensitivity map for Lesotho: a tool to aid planning and conservation in relation to the development of wind farms and associated wind energy infrastructure. (Co-supervisors: Arjun Amar, Samantha Ralston)

Frances Morling. June 2014. Cape Town’s cats: re-assessing predation through kitty-cams (Co-supervisor: Justin O’Riain)

Masumi Gudka. June 2012. The effects of pesticides on the breeding success and population of African Fish Eagles at Lake Naivasha, Kenya (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan)

Sharon George. December 2010. Cape Town's domestic cats: prey and movement patterns in deep-urban and urban-edge areas (Co-supervisor: Justin O’Riain)

Recent peer-reviewed publications

For a more comprehensive list see Google Scholar profile


Garcia-Heras, M-S., Arroyo, B., Simmons, R.E., Camerero, P.B., Mateo, R., Garcia, J.T. and Mougeot, F. 2017. Pollutants and diet influence carotenoid levels and integument coloration in nestlings of an endangered raptor. Science of the Total Environment 603-604:299-307. Download here

Garcia-Heras, M-S., Arroyo, B., Mougeot, F., Amar, A. and Simmons, R. 2016. Does timing of breeding matter less where the grass is greener? Seasonal declines in breeding performance differ between regions in an endangered endemic raptor. Nature Conservation, 15:23-45.

Garcia-Heras, M-S., Mougeot, F., Arroyo, B., Avery, G., Avery, M. and Simmons R.E. 2016. Is the black Harrier Circus maurus a specialist predator? Assessing the diet of a threatened raptor species endemic to Southern Africa. Ostrich


Kruger, S.J., Simmons, R.E. & Amar, A., (2015) Anthropogenic activities influence the abandonment of Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) territories in southern Africa. Condor 117:94-107.

Oatley, G., Simmons, R.E. & Fuchs, J. (2015) A molecular phylogeny of the harriers (Circus, Accipitridae) indicate the role of long distance dispersal and migration in diversification. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2015.01.013.

Seymour, C., Simmons, R.E., Joseph, G. & Slingsby, J. (in press) On bird functional diversity: species richness and functional differentiation show contrasting responses to rainfall and vegetation structure across an arid Landscape. Ecosystems.

Simmons, R.E., C.J.& Kemper, J. (2015) Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species. Ministry of Environment & Tourism and Namibia Nature Foundation, Windhoek.

Simmons, R.E., Kolberg, H., Braby, R. & Erni, B. (2015) Declines in migrant shorebird populations from a winter-quarter perspective. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12493.


Collingham, Y.C.. Huntley, B., Altwegg, R., Barnard, P., Beveridge, O.S., Gregory, R.D., Mason, L., Oschadleus, H.D., Simmons, R.E., Willis, S.G. & Green, R.E. (2014). Prediction of mean adult survival rates of southern African birds from demographic and ecological covariates. Ibis 156:741-754.

Fuchs, J., Mindell, D.P., Bowie, R.C.K., Oatley, G. & Simmons, R.E. 2014. Lack of mtDNA genetic diversity in the Black Harrier (Circus maurus), a Southern African endemic. Ibis 156:227-230.


Jenkins, J.,Simmons, R.E., Curtis, O., Atyeo, M., Raimondo, D. & Jenkins, A.R. 2013. The value of the Black Harrier (Circus maurus) as predictors of biodiversity in the plant-rich Cape Floral Kingdom, South Africa. Bird Conservation International 23:66-77


Goulding W., Pettifor R.A. & Simmons, R.E. 2012. High mite burdens in an island population of Cape Wagtails Motacilla capensis: release from predation pressure? Ostrich 83:85-89.

Turner, R.C., Midgley, J.J., Barnard, P., Simmons, R.E. & Johnson, S.D. 2012. Experimental evidence for bird pollination and corolla damage by ants in the short-tubed flowers of Erica halicacaba (Ericaceae). South African Journal of Botany 79:25-31.


Braby, J., Underhill, L.G. & Simmons, R.E. 2011. Prey capture success and chick diet of Damara Terns Sterna baleanarum in Namibia. African Journal of Marine Science 33(2):247-254.

Simmons, R.E. 2011. Greater Kestrel survives impact with power lines. Ostrich 82:75-76.

Simmons, R.E., Retief, K. & van Beuningen, D. 2011. Blade runner: Jackal Buzzard Buteo rufofuscus and other birds in a wind farm environment in South Africa. Gabar 22 11-18.


Jeltsch, F., Blaum, N., Classen, N., Eschenbach, A., Grohmann, C., Gröngröft, A., Joubert , D.F., Horn A., Lohmann, D., Linsenmair, K.E., Lück-Vogel, M., Medinski, T.V., Meyfarth, S., Mills, A., Petersen, A., Popp A., Poschlod, P., Reisch, C., Rossmanith, E., Rubilar, H., Schütze, S., Seymour, C, Simmons, R.E., Smit, G.N., Strohbach, M., Tews, J., Tietjen, B., Wesuls, D., Wichmann, M., Wieczorek, M., Zimmermann, I. 2010. Impacts of landuse and climate change on the dynamics and biodiversity in the Thornbush Savanna Biome. In: Hoffman, M. T., Schmiedel, U., Jürgens, N. (eds.) Biodiversity in southern Africa. Volume 3: Implications for landuse and management: pp. 33–74, Klaus Hess Publishers, Göttingen & Windhoek.

Simmons, R.E. 2010. The nest, eggs and diet of the Papuan Harrier from Eastern New Guinea. Journal of Raptor Research 44: 12-18.

Simmons, R.E. 2010. First breeding records for Damara Terns and density of other shorebirds on Angola's Namib Desert coast. Ostrich 81:19–23.

Simmons, R.E. 2010 African Wahlberg's Eagle and its single egg. In: The Eagle watchers: Observing and Conserving Raptors around the World. Ruth E. Tingay (Editor); Todd E. Katzner (Editor); Keith L. Bildstein (Foreword); Jemima Parry-Jones , MBE (Foreword) ISBN: 978-0-8014-4873-7. Cornell University Press. New York.

Simmons, R.E. & Altwegg, R. 2010. Necks-for-sex or competing browsers? A critique of ideas on the evolution of giraffe. Journal of Zoology 282:6-12.

Semi-popular publications:

Simmons R. and Martins M. 2016. Harriers in the Hoanib. African Birdlife 4:61-63.