Birds and Pesticides

Recent years have seen much controversy over the role that pesticides such as neonicotinoid insecticides, and herbicides such as glyphosate, may be playing in driving declines of insects. Evidence has emerged that they may also be implicated in declines of birds, either via direct toxicity or via depletion of populations of insect prey, and it is this that the project will investigate.



The aim of the research is to:


  1. Find out what pesticides birds are exposed to. We will quantify concentrations of pesticides in songbirds via feather samples, and also in blood and feathers from shot pheasants and partridge before and after the main crop drilling season in Autumn. Depending on what we find, subsequent investigations will attempt to identify the route of exposure.

  2. Quantify exposure of birds and small mammals to pesticides via their consumption of pesticide-coated seeds following drilling of crops (potentially a source of acute exposure since doses on seeds may be large). This will be explored using camera traps and direct observation.

  3. Model spatial and temporal patterns of population change in seed eating birds to see if they are predicted by patterns of pesticide use.

  4. Impacts of pesticides on birds may well be indirect; via depletion of their insect food. We will investigate this in a variety of ways, including population modelling, and by using garden bird count data to see whether domestic use of pesticides in the garden and on pets predicts populations of insectivorous birds.


The project will entail the analysis of trace residues of pesticides in environmental samples and also the collection and analysis of ecological data.  

The research team:

Prof Dave Goulson, University of Sussex

Studies the ecology, behaviour and conservation of bumblebees, with an interested in pollinators and pollination more generally, and particularly in the sustainable management of pollinators in agro-ecosystems. The research group uses a broad range of approaches, from genetic studies (of inbreeding, population structure, and as a means of estimating nest density) to behavioural assays to large-scale field trials.


PhD Students:
Cannelle Tassin de Montaigu
Priyesha Vijendra


01379 641715
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PO Box 311, Diss, IP22 1WW

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SongBird Survival. A Company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital. Registered in England no 4078747. Charity No: 1085281