Avian Behavioural Ecology Lab


Welcome to the Avian Behavioural Ecology Lab...

Research conducted in this lab seeks to understand both how and why animals behave the way that they do. Our research therefore targets both the proximate and ultimate factors underpinning behaviour, and spans topics from applied questions with important conservation implications (e.g. BMAD) right through to fundamental science examining important evolutionary questions such as the evolution of cooperation (e.g. Noisy Miner project). Most of our projects use birds as a model due to their amenability and, when it comes down to it, their pretty amazing behaviours.


The lab's research encompasses a range of species and locations...

Our Research

One of the great things about science is that researchers get to ask interesting questions, work with incredible animals and go to some pretty special places. I've been fortunate to travel to many parts of the world working on behaviour, from the steep slopes of Mount Cook in New Zealand chasing Kea, through to the surprising splendour of the Western Treatment Plant (WTP) in Victoria, one of the world's great birding locations. While the hours can be long and the work physical, the rewards far outweigh these. Below are links to some of the main research going on in the lab at present.

  • Noisy Miners: communication, networks, cooperation
  • Bell Miners: kin selection in complex societies
  • Bell Miner Associated Dieback (BMAD)
  • Sex allocation and dimorphism in raptors

holding a pair of birdsGood day out near WTP, just don't go swimming...

fieldwork glamour
Taking down equipment near Gosford, NSW for an experiment testing the importance of predation pressure on the evolution of begging signals. It got damp at times. 

kea hunting
Working very hard looking for Kea at Mount Cook, New Zealand.

Research Student Opportunities

The Avian Behavioural Ecology Lab is recruiting honours and postgraduate students in areas of behaviour/natural history, with a particular interest in the following topics.

  • Noisy Miners: acoustic communication, social networks, understanding cooperation and conflict in societies
  • Passerines: trade-offs between visual and acoustic signals of individual quality and attractivenes
  • Bell Miner Associated Dieback (BMAD)
  • Sex allocation and dimorphism in raptors
  • Waterfowl behaviour and movement in varying landscapes 
  • Sex allocation and dimorphism in raptors


Please contact Paul McDonald for more information.

P: +61 2 6773 3317
E: paul.mcdonald@une.edu.au

Further Information

Our People
Paul McDonaldDr Paul McDonald
ABEL Head, Associate Professor and Zoology Convenor
University of New England
Steve DebusDr Steve Debus
Honorary Research Associate
University of New England
Martin DillonMartin Dillon
PhD Student
University of New England
Topic: Camouflage of motion in lizards and snakes
Supervisors: Paul McDonald, Stephen Wroe and Hal Heatwole
Ahmad BaratiAhmad Barati
PhD Student
University of New England
Kathryn LambertKathryn Lambert
PhD Student investigating BMAD
University of New England
Photo placeholderHuw Nolan
PhD Student
University of New England
Leah TsangLeah Tsang
PhD Student
University of New England
Photo placeholderLucy Farrow
Honours Student
University of New England
Topic: Dishonest signalling in a complex social system        
Photo placeholderTelishia Laegel
Honours Student
University of New England 
Farzaneh EtezadifarFarzaneh Etezadifar
Honorary Member
University of New England
Current Collaborators
Honours Students
Juliana HoltJuliana Holt Kathryn Haythorpe2008: Kathryn Haythorpe. 'Are bell miners farmers?' Honours First Class, currently enrolled in a PhD program, research published with Austral Ecology.
Maria Pacheco2005-6: Maria Pacheco (Postgraduate diploma). 'Anti-parasite removal behaviour of cooperative bell miners'. High distinction, published in Behavioral Ecology. 
Masters Students
Salwa EraehSalwa Eraeh Nick LesebergNick Leseberg
Nick LesebergStacey McCormack Robert Kennedy2007: Robert Kennedy. 'Individuality of alarm calls in a cooperative bird'. High distinction, currently enrolled in a PhD. Work published in Journal of Avian Biology. Robert managed to survive a whole year in the lab without getting his photo taken, hence Google has had to fill in.
Luc te Marvelde2005 – '06: Luc te Marvelde. 'Nutritional dynamics of bell miner nestlings'. Distinction, has just completed a PhD in the Netherlands. Work published in Animal Behaviour. 
PhD Students
Miyako WarringtonMiyako Warrington
Macquarie University - Co-supervised by Paul McDonald
Mark Wiese2011: Mark Wiese. Mark was working on social learning in Noisy Miners, before deciding to direction and explore the mechanics of visions in humans. (Note that he is usually less ʻIʼve come to clean the poolʼ than this picture suggests, unfortunately for him it was taken during Movember. Well, that is his story anyway...)


If you are interested in some of the projects that ABEL members are undertaking or have ideas that fall into similar areas, contact:

Dr Paul McDonald
Avian Behavioural Ecology Lab (ABEL)
Zoology (building SO1)
University of New England
Armidale NSW 2351
Phone: +61 2 6773 3317
Email: paul.mcdonald@une.edu.au