Big Garden Birdwatch

On the last weekend of January Alexis, David, Eira, Lauren and Shoko from the Rutz Lab donned their citizen science caps and joined the hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country who took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. Saturday in St Andrews was very dreich indeed and most birds on Hallow Hill and St Mary’s Quadrangle on the campus stayed hidden, perhaps passing the time in their jammies with a nice cup of piping hot tea. When the sun came out on Sunday Lauren’s garden, where birds are well catered for with a number of feeders, soared to the top of the chart with 17 species observed in one hour.

Alexis and Eira enjoying the weather

Outreach – Cafe Scientifique

Lauren embarked on a journey to the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth to give a talk for Cafe Scientifique. If you haven’t heard of Cafe Sci before it is essentially a very casual coming together of people, often in a pub and not necessarily with a scientific background, to hear a talk about science or technology.

Lauren’s topic for her talk was ‘Are Animals Smart?’, where she shared her research with around 50 attendees and discussed with them what makes an animal smart and how to test it. You can read a bit more about it on the Cafe Sci website, or on Lauren’s website.

Conference – Postgraduate Conference

Several members of the Healy lab attended the University of St Andrews’ annual biology postgraduate conference, with different roles for each. Georgina gave a presentation on the foraging preferences of rufous hummingbirds (and won first prize for best talk), Alexis presented a poster on the effects of early-life experience and social environment on material choice in zebra finches, and Lauren chaired one of the presentation sessions. This year, the postgraduate conference also had a careers event, which Georgina helped to organise, aimed at PhD students and Postdocs to highlight the career paths available to them. So far, the feedback has been extremely positive, and it looks like it will be coming back again next year. Hurrah!

Georgina proudly holding her presentation prize

Outreach – Ringing Demonstration

Nora and Sophie helped out at a ringing demonstration at Strathkinness Primary School, arranged by Karen Spencer. They helped postdoc Jeroen Minderman, and Shirley Millar (a member of the Tay Ringing Group) ring great tits, blue tits, robins and golden finches. Following the ringing, Nora and Sophie talked to the children about birds, including why they ring them, and how to age and identify the birds.


Conference – ISAE

The International Soceity of Avian Endocrinology (ISAE) held its quadrennial conference from October 11-14th this year at Niagara-on-the-lake in Ontario, Canada. ISAE takes place every four years in a rotation system between Asia, Europe, and America, and is dedicated to showcase up-to-date advancements in the field of avian endocrinology, while bringing together scientists from all over the world. With a combination of plenary lectures, symposia, and poster sessions, ISAE2016 creates a fantastic opportunity for scientists to meet and exchange information on a wide range of avian species.

David, supervised by Dr Karen Spencer and Dr Sue Healy, delivered a 15 minute oral presentation of his work describing how early-life stress induces long-term effects on systems regulating stress and immune responses within the central nervous system of female Japanese quail (Corturnix japonica). David came away from the conference with the first prize for best student presentation, well done David!


Sneak peek footage


During our field season earlier this year, Sue and our collaborator Andy Hurly (and the hummingbirds) were involved in the filming of a documentary. The series ‘The Nature of Things‘ features a look at hummingbirds, with some incredible footage of the birds in action! Though the episode won’t be available until around late November, you can check out a bit about the making of the documentary as well as a snippet of footage* here on the CBC website.



*in addition to Sue, Andy, and the hummingbirds, in the background you can also spot Freya, and Maria whose pink coat does catch the eye somewhat

Outreach – Autumn Festival


A blue tit

A juvenile Treecreeper

A juvenile treecreeper


Over the weekend the St Andrews Botanic Gardens held their Autumn Festival, where Sophie got involved with the Bird Ringing Demonstration. This demonstration was put on by members of the Tay Ringing Group, with the aim of catching, identifying, and ringing as many garden birds as possible. This activity gave the general public a chance to see up close the kind of birds that they would find in their garden. Sophie and the group caught many coal tits, blue tits, great tits, lots of gold crests, a blackbird, a robin and even a juvenile tree creeper! For Sophie, the activity was even more enjoyable because they caught over 5 blue tits that she had rung earlier in the year, while still in the nest, as part of her PhD research.