Associate Professor Phil Battley staff profile picture

Contact details +6469517838

Associate Professor Phil Battley PhD, MSc

Associate Professor in Zoology

Doctoral Supervisor
School of Agriculture and Environment

I work principally on the biology of migratory shorebirds, particularly those that make huge trans-hemispheric journeys. Following an MSc looking at the ecology of shorebirds at the end of Farewell Spit, the long sandspit at the top of New Zealand's South Island, I moved to Australia.  My PhD work was on the ecophysiology and behaviour of migrating Great Knots at Broome, NW Australia, though I also sampled knots caught upon arrival from migration at the mouth of the Yangtze River, China. Back in New Zealand my research has focused on national and international movements of individual shorebirds, the timing of migration, and plumage colouration. I do have broader interests in ornithology, however, and students have worked on a range of species and topics including Kereru, Rockhopper and Little Penguins, Mallards, Wrybills, swans, godwits and polychaete worms. Current work (2020) includes satellite-tracking godwits both within New Zealand and to Alaska and back.

I am a member of the National Response Team for Maritime New Zealand in the event of an oil spill, and am on the editorial board for Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists' Union, and The Stilt (Australasian Wader Studies Group).

I am interested in ornithology in general, but specifically in bird migration, particularly shorebirds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. This work involves remote tracking of Bar-tailed Godwits and Red Knots from New Zealand, and investigating the molecular basis to migration timing.

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Contact details

  • Ph: +64 6 356 9099 ext 84838
    Location: 1.10, AgHort A
    Campus: Manawatu


  • Doctor of Philosophy - Griffith University (2002)
  • Master of Science (First Class Honours) - Massey University (1996)

Certifications and Registrations

  • Licence, Supervisor, Massey University

Research Expertise

Research Interests

Long-distance bird migration

Remote tracking of migrants

Avian moult

Avian body composition

Intertidal ecology

Area of Expertise

Field of research codes
Animal Behaviour (060801): Animal Structure and Function (060807): Behavioural Ecology (060201): Biological Sciences (060000): Ecology (060200): Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology) (060205): Vertebrate Biology (060809): Zoology (060800)


Avian ecology


Remote tracking

Foraging ecology

Bird migration

Research Projects

Summary of Research Projects

Position Current Completed
Project Leader 0 12

Completed Projects

Project Title: The genetics and epigenetics of bird migration timing

The epic migrations of birds toward distant breeding grounds in anticipation of seasonally-available resources reveal an ability to accurately `tell time'. Moreover, individuals may migrate on consistently different dates, indicating the existence of sensitive, individually-tuned timing mechanisms. This is particularly well-characterised in bar-tailed godwits, long-distance migrant shorebirds that travel from New Zealand to breed in Alaska. Individuals embark on northward migration across 30 days but, remarkably, each bird typically leaves in the same week annually with some birds leaving within just a day or two year after year. We hypothesise that these behavioural differences reflect individual variation in responses to photoperiod changes, arising in part from variation in genes involved in the circadian core oscillator (CCO). We will investigate genetic and epigenetic (DNA methylation) variation in candidate genes central to the CCO (BMAL1, CLOCK) or its output (AANAT) and in a non-CCO gene that may relate to migratory propensity (ACDYAP1). We will look for associations between migration time and individual genotype/methylation at these four loci, correcting for underlying population structure using microsatellites. This work will provide insights into the mechanisms behind vertebrate photoperiodic responses as well as the ecological and evolutionary significance of genetic and epigenetic variation in natural populations.
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Date Range: 2013 - 2017

Funding Body: Marsden Fund - Full

Project Team:

Project Title: My Plumage is degrading! Strategies to overcome feather wear in migratory birds.

The issue of how animals balance conflicting demands is central to the study of animal ecology and evolution. Such issues may be particularly acute for animals whose movements set limits to the time that can be spent preparing for certain activities. For birds that migrate long distances, for instance, a prebreeding moult is typically undertaken largely on the non-breeding grounds. As the longest-migrating birds are also the earliest to start migrating, they may be more constrained in their opportunities for moult than shorter-distance migrants. Ideally, the longest-distance migrants might invest in stronger feathers that can resist the wear and tear incurred over up to four months and 17,000 km of travel. But their earlier departure on migration may in fact result in the opposite. We attempted to tease apart how the apparent colour of the breeding plumage varies between species and populations of shorebirds, in relation to the investment of melanins in the feathers and the amount of wear the feather has experienced. We collected feathers from five species of migratory shorebird along two major flyways (New Zealand, Australia, China and Alaska; The Netherlands, Germany and Norway), measured aspects of the plumage colouration via spectrometry and the feather structure by microscopy, and studied the moult and migration strategies of the Bar-tailed Godwits that `winter' in New Zealand..
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Date Range: 2008 - 2010

Funding Body: Marsden Fund - Fast Start

Project Team:

Consultancy and Languages


  • English
    Last used: Today
    Spoken ability: Excellent
    Written ability: Excellent

Teaching and Supervision

Teaching Statement

I mainly teach about vertebrate diversity, structure and evolution, and ornithology.

199212 Vertebrate Zoology

199330 Ornithology

199103 Animals and the Environment

199206 Fauna of New Zealand

194345 Comparative Physiology

Courses Coordinated

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

Position Current Completed
Main Supervisor 0 5
Co-supervisor 1 2

Current Doctoral Supervision

Co-supervisor of:

  • Chris Muller - Doctor of Philosophy
    Population ecology, foraging behaviour and impacts of tourism on yellow-eyed penguins on the subantarctic Auckland Islands

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Main Supervisor of:

  • 2018 - Angela Parody Merino - Doctor of Philosophy
    Genetics of the timing of migration in bar-tailed godwits
  • 2017 - Chifuyu Horikoshi - Doctor of Philosophy
    Non-breeding ecology of New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae) in a pine plantation forest
  • 2015 - Kyle Morrison - Doctor of Philosophy
    Factors affecting the population dynamics of Eastern Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome filholi) on Campbell Island, New Zealand
  • 2015 - Chi Yeung Choi - Doctor of Philosophy
    The Northward Migration Stopover Ecology of Bar-Tailed Godwits and Great Knots in the Yalu Jiang Estuary National Nature Reserve, China
  • 2012 - Jesse Conklin - Doctor of Philosophy
    Extreme migration and the annual cycle: Individual strategies in New Zealand Bar-tailed Godwits

Co-supervisor of:

  • 2018 - Martin Thibault - Doctor of Philosophy
    The red vented-bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer): invasion dynamic and ecological impacts of an introduced pest bird in New Caledonia and implications for man
  • 2016 - Emma Williams - Doctor of Philosophy
    Developing monitoring methods for cryptic species: A case study of the Australasian bittern/ Botaurus poiciloptilus

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