Barn Owl. Photograph by John Harding

Barn Owl (John Harding)

The dominant context for our scientific work is undertaking impartial research on bird populations in a changing environment, to better inform the management of resources and to aid conservation effort. We are committed to developing and advancing the science of ornithology through the use of innovative analyses and the latest data-gathering technology.

Our approach involves work at a range of scales from extensive volunteer-based monitoring programmes to intensive observations and experiments. While the focus of our research is on British and Irish birds, we are increasingly involved in international work and in collaborative research that includes other taxa.

Bluebells in woodland. Photograph by John Evans

Bluebells in woodland (John Evans)

Much of our research is based on data derived from our long-term monitoring schemes. Our population dynamics and modelling theme is continuing to develop the understanding of demographic processes and their environmental drivers. Climate change is a cross-cutting issue, touching on many aspects of our research, both directly in terms of its impact on the natural environment and indirectly through Government policies designed to mitigate and adapt to the change. Our theme on multi-scale habitats addresses the ecological consequences of land-use and landscape change. Using our expertise to collaborate on international projects is becoming an important priority for the BTO, as is broader inter-disciplinary work. We have a long history of migration research and knowledge about the ecology of migration is important in understanding the mechanisms causing population change in migrant species. Through our wetland and marine theme, we are at the forefront of delivering information on waterbirds in the UK, often in response to the requirements of international legislation and policy development. In recent years we have increased our involvement in seabird research to complement our expertise on waders and wildfowl.

We endeavour to publish much of our scientific work in peer-reviewed journals. See details of all our recent publications.

Crested Tit (Neil Calbrade)

Crested Tit (

Where appropriate, we collaborate actively with those who have complementary expertise such as the statutory conservation agencies, universities and other research institutes. We are an Affiliated Institute of the University of East Anglia, a member of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and we also maintain particularly strong links with the University of Birmingham. Collaborative work with Europe is promoted through our active involvement in EURING (European Union of Ringing) and in the European Bird Census Council. We are always seeking to extend these areas of collaboration.

Latest Research

Blackcap. Photograph by Mark R Taylor

Garden bird feeding and a changing climate are driving evolutionary change in Blackcaps

New research using data from Garden BirdWatch has revealed that bird food provided in British gardens has helped Blackcaps to rapidly evolve a successful new migration route. This is the first time that garden bird feeding has been shown to affect large-scale bird distributions.

Wren. Photograph by John Harding

When does a changing climate impact on bird populations?

Climate change impacts are well-known but what are the drivers that bring about the changes we are seeing in our bird populations?

Blackbird nest, photograph by Herbert&Howells

Variation in habitat-specific population trends is consistent with the buffer effect

New BTO research uses data from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to quantify habitat-specific trends, providing novel insights into the processes that regulate UK bird populations, and allowing population responses to environmental change to be predicted with greater accuracy.