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Dr Hugh Hanmer

Doctoral Researcher

My background lies strongly in ecology and especially ornithology, having been involved in bird research most of my life. I've been a birdwatcher since I was very young and a BTO bird ringer for more than 10 years, ringing over 20000 birds of over 350 species in 9 countries across 4 continents. I have been involved in various UK based projects mostly in my home county of Northumberland, including reed bed Constant Effort Site (CES) ringing, island seabird ringing, autumn coastal migration monitoring and winter garden ringing. In addition with my father I helped set up a large scale long term Barn Owl box monitoring scheme that is active across north Northumberland.

I did both my undergraduate degree in BSc Zoology (Hons) and my master's degree in MRes Environmental Biology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. My undergraduate degree dissertation focused on Redshank winter foraging ranging behaviour and my master's dissertation looked at survival in tropical rainforest birds in Trinidad and included three weeks of tropical fieldwork.

I am also a keen whitewater kayaker and was Vice President of Reading University Canoe Club (RKCC) for the 2014/15 academic year.

Research Project - Improving the conservation value of urban areas for garden birds

A key way that urban areas differ from rural areas is the widespread provision of supplementary food. Feeding garden birds is extremely popular and worth in excess of £200M annually in the UK. We know feeding adult birds can directly increase their survival and it has been linked to expansions in some bird populations and ranges. However, despite the scale of bird feeding we know little about the ecological side effects. Some animals that benefit from feeders are potential nest predators such as corvids (e.g. Magpies and Crows) and Grey Squirrels. It is possible that attracting in these predators may risk nearby nests, but if we can successfully exclude these species from feeders is it possible that any increases in predation risks can be countered? My first experiment tested this using feeders, remote cameras and artificial nests on the university campus and found evidence that bird feeders were indeed associated with increased nest predation. From there during the first two years of my PhD I moved on to looking at bird feeder usage in actual urban gardens and the possibility of disease spread at bird feeders.

My PhD is funded by the Keith Duckworth Scholarship from the charity SongBird Survival.

2016 Research

The third and final year of my PhD will focus on two research projects away from supplementary feeding. In the first I will be exploring nests in garden nest boxes using Blue and Great Tits as study species. There are more than 5 million nest boxes in UK gardens many of them in urban and suburban gardens but we know relatively little about how urbanisation effects nest construction and the parasite burden.

Numerous ectoparasites commonly live in bird nests and in some circumstances they can reduce breeding success. The level and importance of this nest parasitism may vary across the urban gradient and could be an important factor influencing the breeding success of our garden birds. Nesting materials available to birds will also vary across the urban gradient due to changes in the availability of plant material and more urban birds may even incorporate more manmade materials into their nests.

In the other project I will be looking at the ranging behaviour of an animal that may have a direct impact on urban bird populations, the domestic cat! Cats are beloved family pets to many of us but past research has found they take a large toll on our native wildlife. Despite the sheer numbers of cats found in urban areas globally we still know relatively little about their daily movements across different levels of urbanisation. I will be recruiting a number of cat owners in selected areas in urban and suburban Reading as well as a more rural area nearby and supplying them with a simple collar mounted GPS trackers for a week. This will allow me to work out exactly where cats spend their time both in terms of territory sizes and habitat usage which may in turn have important implications for urban bird success. As a bonus I’ll be able to prove cat owners with a detailed map of where their cat goes when they’re about town.


Hanmer, H. J., Thomas, R. L. and Fellowes, M. D. E. (2018) Introduced grey squirrels subvert supplementary feeding of suburban wild birds. Landscape and Urban Planning, 177. pp. 10-18. ISSN 0169-2046 doi:

Hanmer, H. J., Thomas, R. L. and Fellowes, M. D. E. (2017) Urbanisation influences range size of the domestic cat (Felis catus): consequences for conservation.Journal of Urban Ecology, 3 (1). jux014. ISSN 2058-5543 doi:

Hanmer, H. J.,, Thomas, R. L., Beswick, G. J. F., Collins, B. P. and Fellowes, M. D. E.(2017) Use of anthropogenic material affects bird nest arthropod community structure: influence of urbanisation, and consequences for ectoparasites and fledging success. Journal of Ornithology, 158 (4). pp. 1045-1059. ISSN 0021-8375 doi:

Hanmer, H. J., Thomas, R. L. and Fellowes, M. D. E. (2017) Provision of supplementary food for wild birds may increase the risk of local nest predation.Ibis, 159 (1). pp. 158-167. ISSN 0019-1019 doi:

Interested in garden birds?
Check out the details of our Urban Bird Conservation project to find out how you can take part.