Functions and mechanisms of kin recognition in social birds

Amy Leedale


Start Year: 2014, 1st cohort

Host University: The University of Sheffield

Department: Animal & Plant Sciences

Supervisors: Prof Ben Hatchwell, Dr Elva Robinson 

Twitter: @amyleedale


amy leedale

Academic profile


MSc Animal Behaviour, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK,  2013;
BSc Biology, University of Leeds, UK, 2009.

Work experience:

Zoo Keeper Internship, Blackpool Zoo, Large Mammal Department, 2013 – 2014;

Project Volunteer, Andean Bear Foundation, 2010:
This project collars and tracks radio collared Andean bears through cloud forest in Ecuador, to monitor movements and calculate population density and range estimates;

Project Volunteer, Endangered Wildlife Trust, 2010:
This project monitors populations of Hawksbill & leatherback turtles on an island off Panama, by conducting beach patrols during the nesting season. This includes tagging the females, recording egg laying activities, nest excavation and relocation if necessary.

Research Assistant, University of Leeds, 2009:
Field data collection on the foraging behaviour of Northern gannets. This involved behavioural observations across 3 colonies in the Shetland Islands, as part of PhD research.

Skills and relevant qualifications: 

Statistical Programming in R;
Bioacoustic Analysis in Syrinx, Avisoft and Adobe Audition;
Avian Field Work (UK & Europe);
Trainee Bird Ringer, Sorby Breck Bird Ringing Group;
Bat Survey & Bat Detector Training, Greater Manchester Ecology Unit;
Environmental Enrichment in Zoos, Aspinall Wild Animal Parks.


Leedale, A.E., Collins, S.A. & de Kort, S.R. (2014). Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) increase the whistle part of their song in response to simulated territorial intrusion. Ethology 121: 403-409.

Isaac, R.E., Li, C., Leedale, A.E. & Shirras, A.D. (2010). Drosophila male sex peptide inhibits siesta sleep and promotes locomotor activity in the post-mated female. Proc Roy Soc: B 277(1678): 65-70.

ACCE PhD Research topic

Functions and mechanisms of kin recognition in social birds

My research explores kin recognition in the cooperatively breeding long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus. Kin selection is a major driving force in the evolution of cooperative behaviour. So, for social animals, the ability to discriminate between conspecifics is crucial. But, very little is known about the recognition mechanisms involved.

I’m investigating the recognition mechanisms that allow birds to make adaptive decisions, such as who to help, in their kin-selected cooperative breeding system and who to mate with, to avoid costly inbreeding. By studying how call similarity influences helping and pairing decisions in the wild, I can begin to understand how contact calls are used as recognition cues and how this impacts individual fitness.

To do this, I conduct field observations and experiments on a well-studied population of long-tailed tits in the Rivelin Valley, Sheffield.