Position: University lecturer

Field: Ornithology

Organisation: Ecology Group, Massey University

Dr Phil Battley lectures at Massey University. He combines teaching zoology to students, doing research and supervising students who study birds (for master’s and PhDs) – from penguins on a subantarctic island to godwits migrating through China.

Phil was a keen birdwatcher as a teenager. He went to university unsure whether to pursue a career in biology or geography. Biology won out because the courses in zoology were so interesting, and Phil gained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology, studying shorebird ecology on the windswept sandflats of Farewell Spit.

He moved to Australia to study migratory birds on tropical mudflats for his PhD, had a year in the Netherlands, then came back to New Zealand to continue shorebird studies as a postdoctoral fellow. Following this, Phil started work at Massey University.

Because migrating birds go all over the world, Phil has also been able to visit some out-of-the-way places. When the opportunity to join an expedition to Russia came up during his master’s studies, Phil leapt at the chance and spent 2 months on the Arctic tundra in Siberia, finding out what life in the mosquito zone is like.

Later on, he worked at the edge of the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, West Africa, on shorebirds that migrate from Russia down to mudflats in Africa for the non-breeding season.

Phil’s particular area of interest is how long-distance migration affects the biology and annual cycles of birds. He says, “Migrating birds make journeys that are completely astounding – imagine running for a week non-stop while grossly overweight, because that’s the equivalent of what birds are doing. It’s pretty amazing to see a small flock of godwits take off and fly away into the sunset, knowing that it’s going to be a week before they touch land again.”

Phil’s other interests are wildlife photography, acoustic instrumental music and permaculture gardening.

Migrating birds make journeys that are completely astounding - imagine running for a week non-stop while grossly overweight...

This article is based on information current in 2011.

    Published 13 September 2011