Project highlights

  • Although some birds are well-adapted to life in our cities, extreme weather may be particularly challenging to them  
  • This project sets out to examine the movements of an urban-adapted species and how locomotory responses to climatic events impact daily activity budgets and ultimate breeding performance (i.e. productivity)  
  • The doctoral researcher will work locally with birds in the hand and at nests, and nationally with secondary datasets to advance our understanding of how urban birds might be impacted by the emerging challenges of increased urbanisation, and frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. 


Global environmental changes are having a pressing impact on birds though the combined impacts of humans on climate and land use (Rurangwa et al., 2021). These are known to influence avian biodiversity in terms of assemblage changes (Stewart et al., 2022) and productivity (Halupka et al., 2023). While macroscale climate is associated with changes in avian biodiversity, it is heavily mediated by local climate and land-use configuration (Howard et al., 2023) and the influence of extreme climatic events (Royan et al., 2014; Cohen et al., 2021). 

These impacts are perhaps most apparent in urban areas where humans have significantly modified the landscape, markedly changing habitat composition by supplanting green with grey infrastructure, exerting demographic impacts on avian assemblages (Sol et al., 2014), productivity and functional ecology (Sol et al., 2020). Such dramatic changes in habitat composition have led to modified microclimates that amplify macroscale climate patterns via the urban heat island (UHI) effect (Sumasgutner et al., 2023).  

Superimposed on this is variability in artificial light at night (ALAN) that has profound impacts on organismal chronobiology, including circadian rhythms (Gaston and Bennie, 2014). In birds ALAN affects behaviour and physiology, impacting breeding success (Dominoni et al., 2013) and patterns of foraging (Dominoni et al., 2014). Differences in perceived changes in daylength between urban and non-urban birds could dramatically impact activity levels (e.g. Common Blackbirds [Turdus merula]; Dominoni and Partecke, 2015). 

The interaction between macroclimate extremes, local microclimate, variability in green infrastructure and ALAN leads to the possibility of climate extremes impacting urban bird productivity through dramatic modifications to foraging patterns during breeding attempts. Here, we track movements of birds in the city of Birmingham and examine productivity from both local nest monitoring (primary data) and those from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO’s) Nest Record Scheme (NRS) to test the following hypotheses. As breeding sites become more urbanised, birds: (i) will be active over increasingly extended periods (primary data); (ii) will forage at cooler times of the day for food of lower quality (primary data); and (iii) suffer declines in productivity (primary and secondary data). 

A photograph of a male Common Blackbird on the left and on the right an aerial view of wooded networks in the city of Birmingham, UK.

Figure 1: (left) A male Common Blackbird (Source: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0), a model species to be investigated in this study of avian productivity and how it is impacted by its use of green space such as (right) wooded networks in the city of Birmingham, UK (Source: Google). 


University of Birmingham


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Organisms and Ecosystems


Project investigator

Dr S. James Reynolds (University of Birmingham [UoB], [email protected])


Prof. Jon Sadler (UoB, [email protected])

Dr Laura Graham (UoB, [email protected])

Dr Tom Matthews (UoB, [email protected])

Dr Dave Leech (British Trust for Ornithology [BTO], Thetford, UK, [email protected])

Dr Jesko Partecke (Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Radolfzell, Germany, [email protected])

How to apply


This PhD project will focus on Common Blackbirds breeding in Birmingham, UK. We test the research hypotheses using data at both national and local scales. Nationally, we use data from the BTO’s NRS and MIRAS weather data mapped to the local weather station nearest to focal nest sites to evaluate the impact of extreme weather events on nest outcomes. We innovate by utilising NIMROD weather radar data to spatialise and temporalise rainfall intensity and Sentinel-3A/SLSTR surface temperature data to quantify variability, the latter at fine-scale resolution.  

Locally, we use remote sensing data to quantify green infrastructure data in the West Midlands conurbation to generate a sample of blackbird breeding sites across the UHI. We will use GPS trackers to examine the daily patterns of breeding movements to identify whether extreme weather events are compensated for by extended diurnal and nocturnal foraging. Nest monitoring will reveal breeding outcomes (i.e. productivity). 

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.  

The project combines aspects of avian productivity monitoring, behavioural ecology, spatial and network statistics. Training will be offered in each of these areas within the host institutions. It will comprise postgraduate training and external training including using R for the analysis of complex spatial environmental datasets, and the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing data (via Google Earth Engine) to capture and depict variability of treescapes in Birmingham. The candidate will also be trained in bird handling by city ringers to obtain a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing licence and a range of biometric measures from the bird ‘in the hand’. 

Further details

Further details on how to contact the supervisor for this project and how to apply for this project can be found here: 

For any enquiries related to this project please contact Dr S. James Reynolds ([email protected]) or Professor Jon Sadler ([email protected]).

To apply to this project: 

  • You must include a CENTA studentship application form, downloadable from: CENTA Studentship Application Form 2024. 
  • You must include a CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three) who can comment on your academic abilities. 
  • Please submit your application and complete the host institution application process via:   Please select the PhD Bioscience (CENTA) 2024/25 Apply Now button. The CENTA application form 2024 and CV can be uploaded to the Application Information section of the online form.  Please quote CENTA 2024-B40  when completing the application form. 

Applications must be submitted by 23:59 GMT on Wednesday 10th January 2024. 

Possible timeline

Year 1

Project development and DR training (e.g. statistics, bird handling). Data capture using remote sensing datasets (e.g. Google Earth Engine) to characterise the urban treescape network, selection of field sites for ringing work, nest monitoring etc.

Year 2

Paper writing. Fieldwork at Birmingham sites, including nest monitoring and working with adult and nestling blackbirds to elucidate mechanistic drivers of productivity. Conference attendance (national).

Year 3

Ongoing fieldwork, data analysis, modelling, and paper- and thesis-writing. Conference attendance (international).

Further reading

Cohen, J.M., Fink, D. and Zuckerberg, B. (2021) Extreme winter weather disrupts bird occurrence and abundance patterns at geographic scales. Ecography, 44, 1143–1155. 

Dominoni, D.M, Carmona‐Wagner, E.O., Hofmann, M., Kranstauber, B. and Partecke, J. (2014) Individual‐based measurements of light intensity provide new insights into the effects of artificial light at night on daily rhythms of urban‐dwelling songbirds. Journal of Animal Ecology, 83, 681–692. 

Dominoni, D.M. and Partecke, J. (2015) Does light pollution alter daylength? A test using light loggers on free-ranging European Blackbirds (Turdus merula). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370, 20140118. 

Dominoni, D., Quetting, M. and Partecke, J. (2013) Artificial light at night advances avian reproductive physiology. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280, 20123017. 

Gaston, K.J. and Bennie, J. (2014) Demographic effects of artificial nighttime lighting on animal populations. Environmental Reviews, 22, 323–330. 

Halupka, L., Arlt, D., Tolvanen, J., Millon, A., Bize, P., Adamík, P., Albert, P. et al. (2023) The effect of climate change on avian offspring production: A global meta-analysis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 120, e2208389120. 

Howard, C., Marjakangas, E.-L., Morán-Ordóñez, A., Milanesi, P., Abuladze, A., Aghababyan, K., Ajder, V. et al. (2023) Local colonisations and extinctions of European birds are poorly explained by changes in climate suitability. Nature Communications, 14, 4304. 

Royan, A., Hannah, D.M., Reynolds, S.J., Noble, D.G. and Sadler, J.P. (2014) River birds’ response to hydrological extremes: New vulnerability index and conservation implications. Biological Conservation, 177, 64–73.  

Rurangwa, M.L., Aguirre-Gutiérrez, J., Matthews, T.J., Niyigaba, P., Wayman, J.P., Tobias, J.A. and Whittaker, R.J. (2021) Effects of land-use change on avian taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity in a tropical montane rainforest. Diversity and Distributions, 27, 1732–1746. 

Sol, D., González‐Lagos, C., Moreira, D., Maspons, J. and Lapiedra, O. (2014) Urbanisation tolerance and the loss of avian diversity. Ecology Letters, 17, 942–950. 

Sol, D., Trisos, C., Múrria, C., Jeliazkov, A., González‐Lagos, C., Pigot, A.L., Ricotta, C., Swan, C.M., Tobias, J.A. and Pavoine, S. (2020) The worldwide impact of urbanisation on avian functional diversity. Ecology Letters, 23, 962–972. 

Stewart, P.S., Voskamp, A., Santini, L., Biber, M.F., Devenish, A.J.M., Hof, C., Willis, S.G. and Tobias, J.A. (2022) Global impacts of climate change on avian functional diversity. Ecology Letters, 25, 673–685. 

Sumasgutner, P., Cunningham, S.J., Hegemann, A., Amar, A., Watson, H., Nilsson, J.F., Andersson, M.N. and Isaksson, C. (2023) Interactive effects of rising temperatures and urbanisation on birds across different climate zones: A mechanistic perspective. Global Change Biology, 29, 2399–2420.