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Wouter Vansteelant

Wouter Vansteelant


University of Amsterdam- IBED
P.O. Box 94248  Science Park 904, Room C4.163
Amsterdam,    Netherlands
Email: W.M.G.Vansteelant@uva.nl

   Research Interests

Research focus: I am a bird migration ecologist and conservationist active in both fundamental research and applied conservation of Palearctic migratory raptors. Populations trends, such as local or regional population declines, are important precursors of conservation activities and migrating birds have been shown to decline in many different areas of the world in recent years. However, we know very little about which environmental conditions drive population trends, especially for migratory species that encounter many ecological scenario's between different continents in a single year. My general aim as a researcher is to understand how migratory raptors and their populations are affected by different kinds of environmental change, and human activity, throughout their entire annual cycle. To better understand how changes in populations and species distributions arise, it is important to understand how individual birds move through the environment. Currently, I am writing a Ph.D. thesis on the soaring migration ecology of European Honey Buzzards. I track individual birds with high-resolution GPS-loggers from www.uva-bits.nl to quantify different aspects of Honey Buzzard migration (e.g. speed of travel, stop-over schedules, flight paths, ...). By combining tracking data with global environmental datasets, e.g. from mesoscale atmospheric forecast models, I aim to understand how migration is affected by atmospheric and other environmental conditions, and how this relates to survival and fitness of soaring migrants. I have been a board member at Batumi Raptor Count (www.batumiraptorcount.org) between 2008 and 2013 where I co-developed a standardized autumn raptor migration survey along an important flyway between the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea coast, in the Republic of Georgia. I have investigated the influence of weather on flight paths of migrating raptors in Georgia under supervision of dr. K. Bildstein as Hawk Mountain Conservatoin Leadership Intern. I currently also sit on the board of the Migratory Landbirds Study Group, founded in 2014 under the African-Eurasion Migratory Landbirds Action Plan of the CMS. This group aims to promote and facilitate coordinated conservation-based research on landbirds that regularly cross national boundaries within Eurasia and Africa. Conservation work: Apart from research I am highly active as a conservationist. As part of a community-based conservation scheme against rampant illegal killing of migratory birds in Georgia, I spent 4 years coordinating and implementing environmental education projects, ranging from classes for Georgian pupils to international student exchanges. A highlight in my education work in Georgia was to author a booklet about migrating raptors for teenagers, to be implemented by teachers in regional schools. I regularly speak at popular events about bird and raptor migration or conservation, ranging from evening lectures at birdwatching clubs over bird fairs to a lecture at Lowlands pop festival. At the University of Amsterdam, I am part of a team that won the Dutch Academic Year Prize to develop a smartphone application to engage the broad public in GPS-tracking studies (www.vogelhetuit.nl).

Species of Interest: 
  • Circus pygargus
  • Pernis apivorus


Vansteelant, W.M.G., W. Bouten, R.H.G. Klaassen, B. Koks, A.E. Schlaich, J. van Diermen, E.E. van Loon, & J. Shamoun-Baranes. Regional and seasonal flight speeds of soaring migrants and the role of weather conditions at hourly and daily scales. Journal of Avian Biology. (accepted June 2nd 2014) doi:10.1111/jav.00457

Vansteelant, W.M.G., B. Verhelst, J. Shamoun-Baranes, W. Bouten, E.E. van Loon & K.L. Bildstein. 2014. Effects of wind, thermal convection, and variation in flight strategies on the daily rhythm and flight paths of migrating raptors at Georgia's Black Sea coast. Journal of Field Ornithology 85(1):40-55. doi:10.1111/jofo.12048       pdf

Verhelst, B., J. Jansen & W. Vansteelant. 2001. South West Georgia: an important bottleneck for raptor migration during autumn. Ardea 99(2):137-146. 10.5253/078.099.0203

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