Bird Division African Research and Collaborations

Charles Kahindo reviewing a bird field guide with local kids in D.R. Congo. Charles recently published the results of his Ph.D. dissertation. See the 30 Dec. 2016 news item for more. Photo courtesy of Charles Kahindo

LATEST NEWS (Click here for older news items.)

30 December 2016: Grauer's Rush-Warbler (Bradypterus graueri) is an endangered bird endemic to high-altitude swamps in Africa's Albertine Rift. It was the subject of the Ph.D. dissertation of our colleague Charles Kahindo, now a professor at L'université officielle de Bukavu in his native Democratic Republic of Congo, who went around the region collecting samples to do a phylogeographic study. That study has just been published in the journal Ibis, co-authored with his advisers, Field Museum Associate Curator John Bates and Rauri Bowie (of UC Berkeley). It shows that populations of the warbler in different areas of the Rift are genetically distinct and this should be taken into consideration in conservation planning in order to protect genetic diversity. Few phylogeographic studies of Albertine Rift organisms have been published, but this contributes to a growing body of literature showing that the true biodiversity of this mountainous region is severely underestimated.

21 December 2016: We were thrilled to learn today that Mt. Kabobo, an isolated mountain in the southern part the Albertine Rift, had been formally recognized as a protected area by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and of Tanganyika Province, where the mountain lies. Field Museum ornithologist Ben Marks participated in the first modern biological surveys of the mountain, in 2007, with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which has worked tirelessly to promote the protection of this region, home to remarkable biodiversity. Field Museum mammologist Julian Kerbis was involved in describing two previously unknown species of shrews from Mt. Kabobo, two of five species of mammals that are only known from there. Mt. Kabobo also has an endemic bird species, Kabobo Apalis (Apalis kaboboensis). The WCS press release about the newly minted Kabobo Natural Reserve can be found here.

15 September 2016: We are very excited to have a new resident graduate student from the University of Chicago who will be studying African birds for his dissertation! Jacob C. Cooper finished his master's degree in the spring at Kansas University, where he got extensive experience with African birds, working in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Many of his sound recordings from those trips can be found at and he records his sightings on, contributing occurrence data in parts of the world where there isn't much data. He hopes to continue working in those countries, as well as elsewhere in West Africa. This summer he's been working on analyzing genetic data of Albertine Rift birds that we've been collecting for the last few years. He also just had a publication come out in Bulletin of the African Bird Club, "Notes on the birds of Equatorial Guinea, including nine first country records", which can be found on his website.

18 July 2016: After a long hiatus, we're back with a paper by colleagues in Europe and Tanzania, including Research Associate David C. Moyer, about Rufous-winged Sunbird (Cinnyris rufipennis). Rufous-winged Sunbirds live only in the Udzungwa Mountains of central Tanzania, where they inhabit mature montane forest. The paper, published in the journal Scopus, details the distribution and natural history of the species.

4 January 2016: Field Museum Research Associate and Roosevelt University professor Norberto Cordeiro recently published a paper with colleagues comparing mist-net bird capture data from the exact same places on the on Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, 20 years apart. Dr. Cordeiro first studied the mountain's forest-dwelling birds using this method in 1991, and in 2011 a team set out to repeat the study and learn if the forests' bird life had changed in the meantime in the face of a rise in temperature of 2.6°C at the study site. The result: it's complicated. Some species became more numerous, particularly those in high elevation forest on the southern slopes, although the overall species diversity did not change. Those species with more general habitat requirements, as opposed to those that are strictly tied to forest, also became more numerous. The paper, published in Diversity and Distributions, can be found here.

21 December 2015: Back in 2007, Curator Emeritus (then Collections Manager) Dave Willard, along with longtime collaborators Potiphar Koliba and Lovemore Mazibuko from the National Museums of Malawi, was conducting field work in the remote Misuku Hills of far Northern Malawi. While they were there, they came across a large flock of unfamiliar starlings--some 150 or more. They managed to collect two specimens that they later identified as Kenrick's Starling (Poeoptera kenricki). It turns out Kenrick's Starling had never been found in Malawi previously; the closest known localities from which it was known were about 75-140km away in Tanzania. We've finally written up and published the record in the journal Check List, which can be read and downloaded here.

20 November 2015: We were recently contacted by a German ornithologist, Till Töpfer, who was interested in photographs from the Field Museum archives showing the habitat around Mega, Ethiopia, taken on the White-Coats Expedition in 1928-29. Dr.Töpfer recently embarked on an expedition to that remote area of southern Ethiopia to look for Black-fronted Francolin (Pternistis castaneicollis atrifrons), a bird first described from a specimen collected by C.J. Albrecht on the White-Coats Expedition and described in 1930 by Field Museum curator H.B. Conover. The specimen (shown above) was described as a new species of bird, but later was subsumed as a subspecies into the more widespread Chestnut-naped Francolin, essentially moving it into long-term obscurity. However, Dr. Töpfer, in his paper describing his team's rediscovery of the francolin in the same area where it was first found (the "type locality"), argues that it should be considered a full species, and an endangered one at that. Indeed, even though birders regularly visit the Mega area in search of Streseman's Bush-Crow (Zavattariornis stresemanni), there are no records in eBird for Black-fronted Francolin.

25 August 2015: Former Field Museum and University of Chicago graduate student Nick Block just published a chapter of his PhD dissertation in Ecology and Evolution. It's a fascinating story of speciation and despeciation, using evidence from the DNA of both the subject birds (Spectacled Tetraka, Xanthomixis zosterops) and the parasitic lice that live in their feathers. The paper is open access and can be found here. Nick is now on the faculty of Stonehill College.

23 July 2015: We've added several publications by our colleague Kazadi Minzangi of CRSN-Lwiro and his colleagues from around Africa and Europe. The papers are about the fatty acid contents in wild plants that are found in South Kivu (especially in Kahuzi-Biega National Park), DR Congo, where CRSN-Lwiro is located. These oils have health and medicinal uses; many are already used by the local population. Identifying such plants and their oil content can help promote a sustainable harvest that can help the local population economically and culturally and inform conservation measures in and around the park. You can find pdfs of the papers in the "Plant Publications" section of the Publications page.

6 July 2015: Former Field Museum and University of Chicago graduate student Lucinda Lawson (currently a postdoc at the University of Cincinnati), who wrote her dissertation on African frog evolution, recently published one of her chapters along with two herpetology colleagues and John Bates, her graduate adviser and a member of the African Birds team. The paper, published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, discusses the evolution of spiny-throated reed frogs (genus Hyperolius) in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and includes the names of three previously undescribed species, the full descriptions of which are published here.

22 June 2015: African Birds collaborators have recently published two papers about avian parasites using samples collected on Field Museum expeditions to Africa. In one paper (Hildebrand et al. 2015), Vasyl Tkach and Eric Pulis, two of our colleagues who have accompanied the African Birds team in Africa, along with their colleague Joanna Hildebrand, "redescribed" an endoparasitic trematode flatworm from the gallbladder of White-spotted Flufftail (Sarothrura pulchra). We caught the bird in Kibale National Park, Uganda, in 2013. The original description of the parasite, Lyperosomum sarothrurae, was incomplete, so the authors improved the description and included molecular data in assigning it to genus.

The second paper (Klimov et al. 2015) is about ectoparasites, dust mites in particular, by a group of scientists from Russia and the University of Michigan. They studied the relationships of a group of mites using a multi-locus molecular phylogeny as well as a morphological analysis. Understanding the relationships of this group is particularly important because of its connection to human health--it includes the main genus of allergy-inducing mites. The paper used mites collected from three Field Museum specimens that were collected in 2009 in Malawi.

Full citations for both papers can be found on the Publications page.

10 June 2015: We've added a recent publication by our colleagues at CRSN-Lwiro, comparing the plant diversity around the field station at Lwiro with two sites on Idjwi Island in Lake Kivu. Led by Melchi Kazadi Mizangi, the authors pay particular attention to oilseed bearing plants, which have potential economic value. The field work upon which this paper is based was done during the Macarthur Foundation-funded P-BEATRA training program, a collaboration between two Congolese research stations (CRSN-Lwiro and CRH-Uvira), the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN), and the Field Museum. This and many other publications can be found on our Publications page.

1 June 2015: Some of the genetic work we have done in recent years includes using microsatellites--repeated elements of DNA in the genome--to help understand population genetics of African birds. A group of scientists from Roosevelt University and the Field Museum recently published a short paper characterizing such loci in Buff-spotted Woodpecker (Campethera nivosa), a common woodpecker of lowland tropical forests across the central part of the continent. The study was part of the master's thesis of Nausheen Khan, whose adviser, Norbert Cordeiro, is a professor at Roosevelt and a research associate at the Field Museum. Other Field Museum participants on this project are research assistant Kellie Murdoch, birds collections manager Ben Marks, and Kevin Feldheim, manager of the Pritzker DNA Lab.

30 April 2015: A paper a long time in the making, we have recently published a study about haemosporidian blood parasites in bird samples collected on a 2009 Field Museum expedition to Malawi. The first author of the paper, published earlier this month in PLOS ONE, is Holly Lutz, who led a team of scientists from The Field Museum, the University of North Dakota, and Cornell University. A summary of the paper can be found on Josh Engel's blog and the entire paper is freely available at PLOS ONE.

13 March 2015: We just had a team of collaborators emerge from the forests of the Imatong Mountains in South Sudan, where they were studying birds and mammals of these poorly-known mountains. There are several subspecies of birds that are endemic here, and we look forward to examining their genetics to see how much they differ from other populations. As far as we know, the last time ornithologists visited these mountains was on a Field Museum expedition in 1977.

30 December 2014: We recently published a paper in Ornithological Observations, a wonderful online journal with a self-explanatory title that is produced by the Animal Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town and BirdLife South Africa. It's a great place to find short natural history related papers about African birds. The Field Museum's Josh Engel just had a paper published about observations of visible migration of birds that he made on museum expeditions to Congo and Uganda. You can find the paper here.

16 December 2014: The Field Museum's African programs have had a long and productive relationship with the Irene D. Pritzker Foundation, with a five-year grant from that foundation coming to an end with the end of the year. Funding from IDP has gone to a variety of projects in Africa and by African scientists and students, some of which we have featured here. They have highlighted this collaboration recently on their blog. We at African Birds hope for a continuing relationship with the IDP Foundation, especially since we've seen first-hand how this money has helped African students and scientists and furthered science and conservation in Africa.


The Field Museum has a long history of ornithological research in Africa dating back to inventory work by collectors working for the museum and extensive field work by curators W. R. Boulton (West Africa and Angola) and Melvin Traylor (Zambia, Botswana, Egypt and Sudan). The museum also purchased important historical collections of F. J. Jackson and V. G. L. van Someren (Kenya and Uganda) and smaller collections made by Goode (Cameroon) and D. Parelius (Ivory Coast). Since 1990, we have worked in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, and Madagascar. These efforts include collecting specimens, training and providing support to African graduate students and conservation specialists, and conducting scientific research useful for setting conservation priorities in the region. All of our recent work has been in concert with local institutions and colleagues. In Malawi, for example, we have worked with the National Museums of Malawi to make modern surveys of birds throughout the country to understand morphological and genetic diversity in both birds and their parasites/pathogens. This collection may be the most comprehensive modern collection of birds and parasites from any African country, something that will allow comparative work on Malawian birds to be conducted for generations to come.

Charles Kahindo reviewing a bird field guide with local kids in D.R. Congo. Charles recently published the results of his Ph.D. dissertation. See the 30 Dec. 2016 news item for more.
Painting of the newly described Willard’s Sooty Boubou (Laniarius willardi) by Thomas P. Gnoske that was the cover illustration of the July 2010 issue of The Auk.