I have been a bird watcher since I was very young and I have been lucky enough to be a professional ornithologist throughout my career. As a professor of Zoology at the University of Sheffield, in the Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, I teach animal behaviour to first year students and the history and philosophy of science to third year students. As a student I was inspired by certain teachers, and as a result I have aspired to be an effective teacher.
My research on birds spans several decades and has resulted in over 200 scientific papers and a number of books. I have also written some popular science books, including Promiscuity (2000), The Red Canary (2003, published in North America as A Brand New Bird), which won the Consul Cremer Prize, The Wisdom of Birds (2008), which describes how we know what we know about the biology of birds. The Wisdom of Birds won the Best Bird Book of the Year Award (2009) from the British Trust for Ornithology and British Birds. A talk by myself on the Wisdom of Birds is on the TED talks.
Together with colleagues Bob Montgomerie and Jo Wimpenny and supported by The Leverhulme Trust, I am currently writing a history of twentieth-century ornithology to be published by Princeton University Press.
I am committed to the public understanding of what academic scientists do. I have written for New Scientist, Natural History (USA), BBC Wildlife, The Independent (science page), Biological Sciences Review, the Times Education Supplement (TES), and for seven years since 2004 have had a monthly column in the Times Higher Education (THE). I have given presentations at the currently popular Café Scientifique meetings (an invited speaker stands up in a wine bar, speaking for 20 minutes to seed a 2-hour discussion), in Nottingham (2000), Leeds (2000), Newcastle (2001), Leeds (2004), Sheffield (2004) and Salisbury (2009). I spoke at PINC (People, Ideas, Nature and Creativity in 2004) – perhaps the most stimulating meeting on creativity I have ever attended: my talk was later televised on Dutch TV (~ see: http://www.hetgesprek.nl/archief/2954/).
I have given presentations at numerous schools during ‘Science Week’ as well as natural history societies, and bird-watching and bird-keeping clubs. I have spoken at popular science days at several UK book festivals including Ways with Words, at Hay on Wye (twice), the Edinburgh International Book Festival (twice), Off the Shelf (Sheffield Book Festival) and the Wigtown Book Festival. In addition, I have taken part in numerous radio interviews (mainly Radio 4, including Jeremy Paxman’s ‘Start the Week’ – this was before Andrew Marr took over), and some television, including Birds Britannia in 2011, which was shown on BBC4 and BBC2.
Together with Mark Cocker, John Fanshawe and Jeremy Mynott, I am a founder member of New Networks for Nature – a group committed to using a combination of science and culture (music, art, writing and poetry) to promote a better appreciation of the value of wildlife and landscape.