The Mike Madders Field Research Award projects

The Mike madders Award is now closed to applications.

Dr Mike Madders had broad interests in wildlife and ecology, and was professionally involved with raptors and upland bird species most of his working life. He was a founding Director of Natural Research, and Managing Director of its subsidiary, Natural Research Projects, NRP. The Mike Madders Field Research Award commenced in January 2010 in memory of Mike's character and distinguished career in ecological research.

The award is given to support ecological field research that reflects Mike's broad natural curiosity and his appreciation of high quality research.

Contributions and pledges to this fund have been made by ScottishPower Renewables (UK) Ltd, RWE npower renewables, Mainstream, Natural Research, Ecology Matters, Bird Simpson, Mr. and Mrs. K. Madders, S. Palmer, D. Devonport and D. Elliot.


The following five projects were selected to be supported by the Mike Madders Field Research Award in 2013. 

Assessment of the consequences of anthropogenic pressures on Alouatta palliata, Ateles geoffroyi and Cebus capicinus physiology in northeastern Costa Rica

Nicolas Vanlangendonck. University of Kent

One of the monkeys in the
study - Spider Monkey

Previous studies have demonstrated a positive relationship between proximity to human settlement or activity or habitat fragmentation and parasitic levels in non-human primates (NHPs) (Kowalewski and Gillespie 2009). Although no previous study has focused on understanding the relationship between gastrointestinal parasites and health in NHPs, this is a crucial theme to investigate for the conservation of species at human interface or degraded landscapes (Huffman and Chapman 2009). To better understand the links between parasite prevalence and immune system efficiency, I will use faecal samples non-invasively collected to link abundance of antibodies to gastrointestinal parasite presence. Since high cortisol and testosterone levels decrease primate immune system efficiency (Gordon et al. 1992; Sapolsky 2005), I also aim to quantify cortisol and testosterone levels using sampled faeces. The secretion of both these hormones is likely to rise with increased stress-levels due to human presence and as a consequence of an increased competition due to habitat fragmentation (Rangel-Negrín et al. 2009; Cristobal-Azkarate et al. 2010). Since both Parque Nacional Tortuguero and Refugio Nacional Barra del Colorado host ecotourism activity (Place 1991) and are also home to relatively unperturbed areas (Hunter 1994), I will be able to sample and compare faeces of Alouatta palliata, Ateles geoffroyi (Endangered, IUCN 2012) and Cebus capicinus across three different environments: 1) close to villages with habitat fragmentation; 2) ecotourism sites; 3) more remote, less disturbed and contiguous habitats. Genetic analyses will also be performed using microsatellite markers to determine if individuals are indeed using the corridors (designed to promote gene flow among terrestrial mammals, including primate populations; Stoner 2002) and to assess the potential of parasitic flow between groups occurring in different fragments. A group with a parasite load could potentially transmit parasites to a parasite-free population via a corridor. Differing anthropogenic pressure on these two groups may cause differing immune responses to the parasites.

Please click on the following document to read an update for this project, Stress in monkeys update May 2013

Final report from this project New Route of Investigation for Understanding the Impact of Human.pdf

Strategy against predation of an isolated Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus Pallas, 1776) breeding groups in Northern Mongolia.

Gantulga Bayandonoi, PhD student at the Georg-August University Goettingen

Azure-winged Magpie

Nest predators of the Azure-winged magpies are varied in populations which are far from each other. From his previous study, it was strongly suspected that breeding success of the Azure-winged Magpie depends on the distance between their nests and Carrion crow nests. No prior study has been conducted to reveal the relation between predation rate and distance between nests of predator and breeding site of predated species.

Nest predators also could be different within local populations depending on the avian community of potential predators.

The study will be conducted on the several breeding groups in northern Mongolia in order to recognize differences in the cooperative breeding, adaptation for predation between such breeding groups and their causes.

The project will answer four hypotheses which are developed from his previous study.

  • If a predator penetrates into Azure-winged magpie's breeding site, small breeding groups tend to hide (are silent) and big groups tend to attack to predator, in other words, defensive behaviour depends on group size.
  • Predation rate will be higher if nests of the main predator in Khonin Nuga, Carrion Crow, are close to the Azure-winged Magpie's nests.
  • Where Carrion Crows are present in the Azure-winged Magpie's breeding site, each breeding group of the Azure-winged Magpie will respond to Carrion Crow with a different intensity.
  • Response of the Azure-winged Magpie against predators will be aggressive during incubating and the beginning of the chick rearing stages; conversely, it will be calm during second half of the chick rearing. If so, what is the cause of it?

Please click on the following document to view a recent report on the project, Azure-winged Magpie December 2013

Uncovering life history traits and conservation strategies for the Golden Swallow, Tachycineta euchrysea, a threatened and endemic passerine on the island of Hispaniola

C. Justin Proctor. PhD Student Cornell University

Golden Swallow

In 2008, nest boxes were erected in the Cordillera Central of the Dominican Republic in an effort to attract a returning population of breeding Golden Swallows (Tachycineta euchrysea), an endemic and threatened passerine declining in numbers for unknown reasons. Four years later, with increasing return rates to the nest boxes, I proposed a life history and conservation project as a graduate thesis to Cornell University and the National Science Foundation, both of whom were receptive to the idea. In April of this year I spearheaded the effort to work intimately with this species for the first time, and with the help of an Argentinian collaborator named Marisol Mata, we spent three months in the high altitude, remote pine forests of the DR’s Parque Valle Nuevo where we were able to document the reproductive strategies of the Golden Swallow (GOSW) and begin applying that information to monitoring and educational outreach programs. Research will focus on fitness level comparisons with a potentially distinct population in the Sierra de Bahoruco mountain chain, offering insight into species habitat and resource preference that can be directly applied to short- and long-term management and sustainability efforts. The next three years of the project show very promising signs of local student involvement and extension collaborations with an array of conservation initiatives. Click on the following link to be taken to this projects website, 

Please click on the following PDF to view the 2013 report for this project, Golden Swallow Report 2013

Habitat Ecology of Pallas’s Fish Eagle in Mongolia 

Marla Steele PhD student University of Arkansas

Pallas Fish Eagle

Marla Steele is a student at the University of Arkansas working on her Ph.D. in Biology. Marla has been studying Pallas’s Fish Eagles since 2011 in India and Mongolia, with emphasis on migration and ecology. Marla has been studying raptors in Asia since 2010. Her previous research includes a study on the impact of cold front passage upon migrant raptors in Japan.

Pallas’s Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) is a globally vulnerable species with a decreasing population trend. Its historical range extends from the Caspian Sea to central China and from southern Russia to the Indian Subcontinent. However, it is currently at risk of extinction in several countries within its range, including Mongolia. The species depends upon freshwater sources, such as rivers and wetlands, for foraging and nesting habitat. However, wetlands are disappearing and Mongolia’s migrant population of Pallas’s Fish Eagles is declining. The ecology of Pallas’s Fish Eagles in Mongolia, including habitat use and nesting substrate requirements is virtually unknown during the breeding season (May – August). 

Surveys for Pallas’s Fish Eagles will be conducted from June to August 2013 in Mongolia. Within identified Pallas’s Fish Eagle territories, habitat data will be collected to evaluate what landscape resources are possible driving factors for Pallas’s Fish Eagle habitat selection (i.e. freshwater availability, vegetation composition, etc.). Furthermore, researchers will evaluate the potential of anthropocentric disturbances, such as hydroelectric dams, as deterrents from utilizing otherwise acceptable breeding habitat. 

The goal of this project is to provide a baseline habitat study to develop effective conservation measures, such as examining the potential for artificial nesting sites and what landscape features should be present for optimal placement.

Final report from this project Steele Mike Madder Report Final.pdf

Assessing the Status of Snow Leopard in Api-Nampa Conservation Area, of the Western Himalayas, Nepal

 Ashish Adhikari

Ashish Adhikari

Survival of Snow Leopard in Himalayan region is associated with the presence of prey species such as Blue sheep, Himalayan Thar and many others. The principal prey species of Snow leopards are found in Api Nampa Conservation Area (ANCA) but a study of Snow leopards has not been conducted on ANCA till now. Recent Media reporting have suggested the presence of flagship species of Himalayas in this region. So assessing the status of Snow leopard, its major prey base and threat to snow leopard in this Conservation area need to be analysed. Knowledge of the presence of Snow Leopard in Api Nampa will aid Conservation programs. The major socioeconomic indicator of Api Nampa Conservation Area is still very poor. Subsistence agriculture, lack of basic infrastructure, difficult geophysical condition, traditional agricultural practice, low literacy rate and population growth has endangered this species. According to the Snow Leopard Survival strategy developing better information about its range and distribution will help the Conservation program. This research hopes to provide the first information on the status of Snow leopard in this area. This will be very effective for Conservation activities and further research in Api Nampa Conservation areas.


In the 2012 the field of applicants, a number of interesting and exciting proposals were received and the Board of Directors at Natural Research, decided to award support to three.

Pantanal giant armadillo project: ecology and conservation of one of South America's least known mammals

Dr. A. Desbiez, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Giant armadillo

The giant armadillo (Pridontes maximus) is the largest of the armadillo species, and is currently classified as Vulnerable. Although giant armadillos range over much of South America, almost nothing is known about them and most information is anecdotal.

The project will investigate their ecology and biology, and aims to understand the armadillo's function in the ecosystem using radio transmitters, camera traps, burrow surveys, resource monitoring, resource mapping and interviews.

Dr. Desbiez has been working in the Brazilian Pantanal since 2002 on a variety of topics, including the impact of invasive feral pigs on native peccaries, hunting practices, and foraging by domestic livestock and wild animals. With support from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), he launched a pilot study on giant armadillos in 2010, which lead to a long-term project being started in July 2011.

The following report gives more information on this project, Armadillo Report.pdf

Please click the following document for more information about the first baby giant armadillo captured on camera, Giant Armadillo baby press release

The following is a project update provided by Dr Desbiez in August 2013, Giant Armadillo Project Report August 2013

Please click on the following link to view Dr Desbiez's October 2013 update Giant Armadillo Project Report October 2013

In October 2013, Dr Desbiez also supplied the following publication Desbiez & Kluyber 2013

The following PDF is a project update from January 2014, Giant Armadillo Project Report January 2014

Habitat use and home range of the Aplomado Falcon on an agricultural landscape of central Argentina

Lic. M.S. Libana, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cient­ficas y Tcnicas, Argentina (CONICET).

Aplomado falcon

Modern agriculture reduces biodiversity, sometimes often over vast areas. In Argentina, grasslands and savannas have been greatly affected. The position of birds of prey at the top of food chains makes them good indicators of ecosystem function and general biodiversity. In the pampean agroecosystems the Aplomado falcon (Falco femoralis) is potentially vulnerable to ecosystems modifications, and might be a useful model for evaluating the effects of agricultural intensification on wildlife, especially raptorial birds.

While understanding the general effects of agriculture on biodiversity is important, specific information about Aplomado falcon ecology in South America and Argentina (where about 20% of the global population occurs) is lacking, and this undermines conservation efforts.  The research being supported has three main goals:

  • To identify and characterize breeding territories and important habitats for hunting;
  • To examine behavior, population distribution and features of areas used by falcons for hunting; and
  • To evaluate possible effects of agricultural intensification on Aplomado Falcons in Argentina.

Lic. Libana is a doctoral fellow at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cienti­ficas y Tecnicas, Argentina (CONICET). She has interests in the effects of agriculture on biodiversity in Argentina, and has published and made presentations on research on raptors and on marsupials.

Please click on this link to see an updated report on this project Final report 2014 NR.pdf

Golden eagle ecology in the Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria and Greece

L. Sidiropoulos, Imperial College, London and T. Yotsova, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds

In the Rhodope Mountains there is thought to be 70 / 80 pairs of golden eagles, distributed equally between Greece and Bulgaria. A large part of the Greek population is in an area designated as a Wind farm Priority Area and serious concerns exist about potential impact on the eagles. Little is known about this population (in either country), although it does seem highly dependent on tortoises as prey. Preliminary data on the age structure of the population suggest a worryingly low breeding age that may indicate near-future population declines, and may also have a negative effect in breeding parameters.

Golden eagle arriving at nest

The project aims to fill gaps in the understanding of the ecology of golden eagles in the Rhodope Mountains, and create a baseline against which future monitoring results can be compared.  It also aims to examine the relationship between golden eagles, pastoral practices and extensive farming in the region. Funds from the Mike Madders Field Research Award will be used to support field surveys.

L. Sidiropoulos is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College, London. This study is not part of his Master's. He has worked on projects related to vultures, wind farm location and Important Bird Areas in Greece. T. Yotsova is a regional coordinator for the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. Since 2007 her main interest has been Egyptian vultures.

The following report gives more information on this project, Golden eagle Report.pdf


Robert Miller with goshawk

Robert Miller

Robert Miller, a master's student at Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, USA, won the 2011 Mike Madders Field Research Award with his proposal, "Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) breeding, productivity, and sex-ratios relative to forest structure, prey abundance, and habitat change within the Sawtooth National Forest" His proposal aimed to address four research questions:

  • What prey do goshawks depend upon in the South Hills of the Sawtooth National Forest?
  • Does prey abundance affect goshawk site selection and/or nest productivity,
    and if so, which prey elements are the key determining factors?
  • Do habitat structural changes and disturbance affect nest productivity?
  • Does habitat structure or prey abundance affect secondary sex ratio of successfully fledged young?

Mr Miller used nest cameras to record prey deliveries, and undertook analyses aimed at relating prey abundance and habitat to occupancy and other reproductive parameters. Mr Miller presented his findings in a poster at the Boise State University Graduate Research Conference and the 2011 Raptor Research Foundation meeting held in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. For more details on the findings on the study please click on the following report Northern goshawk Report.pdf


Mamikon Ghasabian

Lesser kestrel

The lesser kestrel is a small falcon whose global conservation status is Vulnerable.  Mamikon Ghasabian has colour ringed lesser kestrels in Armenia to better understand juvenile rate of return, turnover, recruitment and longevity. Dr Ghasabian has been studying a colony in southern Armenia, which occupies a TV broadcasting station. In recent years local school children have built artificial nest boxes for the kestrels and the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds now rents a building where kestrels nest - a building with 30 nesting pairs of kestrels that was planned to be demolished. In total there are now 48 nest sites in the area, with 10 pairs occupying the artificial nests.

During 2010, monitoring of the lesser kestrels started in early spring. The first three birds were observed in early March. By April the entire colony had returned, and numbered 60-65 individuals (20-25 pairs) - about the same size as in 2009. The breeding success in the artificial tower was higher than in 2009: 33 eggs and 31 fledglings.

Twenty-three juveniles and 10 adults were ringed during the summer, and some nestlings fledged as early as mid-July.

The Mike Madders Field Research Award paid for ringing equipment (including colour rings) and travel. The following report gives further details into the project, Lesser kestrel Report.pdf

Ivailo Angelov

Egyptian vulture

Ivailo Angelov has been carrying out research on Egyptian vultures in Bulgaria. In 2003, 57 pairs were recorded. This number dropped to 31 pairs in 2009. Despite monthly monitoring of pairs, guarding of nests, supplementary feeding and many other conservation efforts, it appears that adult mortality is increasing.

With funding from The Mike Madders Field Research Award in 2010, Mr Angelov has been piloting a method to individually identify vultures, both breeders and non-territorial floaters, using photographs of their faces.  Five individuals from three pairs are currently identifiable by facial characteristics and more pictures of faces of Egyptian vultures are being collected by professional and amateur photographers that cooperate with Mr Angelov. The local communal roosting site, used by up to 26 birds in previous years, was not used in 2010 and only up to 4 territorial birds of two neighbouring pairs were observed, so no effort could be made to photograph immatures.

The main lesson learned from 2010 was that the previously planned "digiscoping" of vultures from a hide at a feeding place is very time consuming, and not always successful. To address this Mr Angelov and his team bought camera traps in 2011, which should be a much more effective way of photographing the facial characteristics of the birds. You can get more details on the work on using facial characteristics to identify identification of Egyptian vultures here: Mr Angelov and his team have published an article on Egyptian vultures in der Falke (2011, 58(9):372-378)The following report gives further details of the study, Egyptian vultures Report.pdf

Photos by A. Desbiez, M.S Liebana, P. Babakas, R. Miller, M. Ghasabian and I. Angelov

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