Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology

No.:  2013-43
October 2013

The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology was presented to Dr Christian Rutz yesterday evening (30 October) by Professor Ian Newton, BTO Chairman, and Jo Winyard and Professor Bill Sutherland, on behalf of The Marsh Christian Trust.

Dr Christian Rutz with Jo Winyard of The Marsh Christian Trust

Dr Christian Rutz, of the University of St Andrews, was nominated for The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology by Dr Will Cresswell, the Editor of the BTO’s scientific journal, Bird Study. Christian has been undertaking pioneering work on miniature, bird-borne tracking devices that can provide intimate glimpses into the hidden lives of birds.

The first notable breakthrough was the development, and successful deployment, of tiny bird-mounted video cameras, to obtain a bird’s-eye view of the world, and gather detailed data on foraging behaviour, habitat use, social interactions and conservation threats (Science 2007 318: 765). More recently, Christian’s group deployed highly innovative miniature ‘proximity loggers’ on birds that can detect when individuals meet each other, enabling the real-time mapping of social network dynamics in wild populations (Current Biology 2012 22: R669-671). Both papers reported world firsts, pushing the frontiers of what is possible in terms of miniaturisation and sophistication of animal-attached tags. Christian combines technological innovation with cutting-edge research.

Apart from leading to high profile publications, the work by Christian and his research group has had considerable media impact, providing a good example of how science can be communicated effectively to broad audiences. Despite significant potential for commercial exploitation, Christian has made his engineering advances and expertise freely available to others, to facilitate rapid uptake of these emerging technologies by the ornithological research community.

Upon receiving his award, Christian noted: “Clever electronics cannot replace hard fieldwork, with a pair of binoculars and a pocket notebook, but they can provide fresh perspectives and precious complementary data. I can’t wait to learn about the many exciting discoveries field ornithologists will make with these novel technologies in the near future.”

BTO Director, Dr Andy Clements, said: “Technology is opening our eyes to the complexity of birds’ lives and we are pleased to celebrate the achievement of Dr Christian Rutz. He combines technical ingenuity with a desire to answer important behavioural and conservation questions in ornithology.”

The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology celebrates an important contribution which takes forward our understanding of avian ecology or conservation science.

 Notes for Editors

  1. The award was one of five made at the SWLA’s Natural Eye annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.  The BTO is very grateful to the Society of Wildlife Artists and the Mall Galleries for providing this opportunity to present these awards and to highlight the success of the last year.  For more information please visit http://www.bto.org/news-events/news/2013-10/dilys-breese-marsh-awards
     
  2. The Marsh Trust runs a portfolio of awards with a number of internationally and nationally recognised organisations. Recipients of Marsh Awards range from scientists working in conservation biology and ecology to authors and sculptors from the arts world, and those who give their time unselfishly to work with the young, the elderly, people with mental health issues and for our heritage.
     
  3. Dr Christian Rutz is a Reader in the School of Biology, University of St Andrews, UK. His group’s principal research project is on tool use in New Caledonian crows, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Christian has recently been elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland.
     
  4. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org

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