Seeing in the Dark: Nocturnal Habitat Use and Shifting Tides

About this project

The Humber estuary is rich in resident bird life and represents a significant corridor for migratory species. However, it is also a highly dynamic and industrialised landscape thus presents a mix of risks, challenges and benefits to the birds that use it. Conversely, the presence of resident and migratory birds along the estuary raises issues for industrial development and, potentially, human and livestock health. In partnership with the Animal & Plant Health Agency we share an ambition to create a new, vibrant research community with an explicit focus on bird ecology and behaviour in order to answer pure and applied questions regarding the use of the landscape by birds and interactions with human interests. Central to the work programme are three PhD Scholarships, all of which will be underpinned by the deployment of a bird detection radar and mobile laboratory at sites at which birds can be directly observed and sampled.

Seeing in the dark: nocturnal habitat use and shifting tides

During the winter months, large numbers of wading birds feed on UK estuaries. Predicted models of sea level rise highlight the potential loss of intertidal wader feeding grounds in estuarine areas due to coastal squeeze. Loss of feeding areas may result in further declines in species putatively protected by international conservation legislation. With long winter nights and limited food availability due to tidal constraints, how waders adapt their activity in order to meet energy budgets is little understood.  In particular, night-time foraging and movements have yet to be reported.  Using radar data and tagged individuals we aim to determine how birds use the estuary at night; what areas they feed on, how often they move, the distance travelled between areas, disturbance rates, and which non-tidal areas are being utilised in the landscape.  Nocturnal feeding may become more important during cold periods and waders may utilise non-tidal areas for additional feeding opportunities when tidal areas are inaccessible, so a further novel aspect of this study will be the use of thermal cameras to observe wader foraging behaviour at night.  By examining both diurnal and nocturnal behaviour we will better understand site use and will map non-estuarine areas used by a range of different wader species in order to inform theory on adaptive optimal foraging for species with differing ecologies and to inform future management plans for the estuary and bird conservation world-wide.


You are strongly advised to contact a potential supervisor and to discuss your research proposal, well before you submit an application. Please refer to the School of Environmental Sciences research pages.

If you have any queries, please email Dr Alastair Ward.

Next steps


To celebrate the University's research successes, the University of Hull is offering a full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarship or International Fees Bursary.

Entry requirements

The successful candidate will be a competent field ornithologist with some bird ringing experience. 

Applicants should have at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree in Biology/Ecology (projects 2 and 3), or Computer Science/Mathematics (project 1) or related discipline, together with relevant research experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. 

How to apply

Applications for scholarship consideration at the University of Hull should be made through the Postgraduate Application system.

On the second page of your application, please select “Graduate Scholarship” as the type of scholarship you are applying for. 

Applicants are strongly encouraged to first identify and contact a potential supervisor.

Apply now

Application deadline: Monday 19 February


Full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,553 in 2017/18) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

Full-time International Fee PhD Studentships will include full fees at the International student rate for three years, dependent on satisfactory progress.