Victoria Pattison-Willits

Victoria Pattison-Willits

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Doctoral Researcher

Contact details

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Urbanization is considered one of the most severe and lasting forms of land use change and by 2050 it is predicted that 67% of the global human population will be living in urban areas.

Coupled with this change in the landscape are potentially severe, enduring and complex consequences for habitat structure, the most significant of which is habitat fragmentation. With very little understood about how taxa respond to this extreme change in land use this is fast becoming a global research priority. In addition, climatic extremes are predicted to become more frequent and extreme in magnitude with many potentially detrimental knock on effects and changes, particularly to the phenology of breeding and the availability of prey.

Victoria’s doctoral research investigates how avian productivity responds to the dual challenges of increasing urbanization and climatic extremes (and climate variability) with species that are breeding and over-wintering in different habitats across the urban-rural gradient. The main focus of her research is a population of breeding Blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Great tits (Parus major) in the city of Birmingham, UK.  Her research considers avian productivity  both temporally and spatially at different scales, ( broader phenological and climate driven fluctuations at the national level using existing breeding and ringing datasets and detailed autecological work at the local scale through an on the ground field study based  in the city).  Her research brings together a variety of traditional and cutting edge disciplines and methodologies incorporating population genetics, experimental nest box studies and field work, climate modelling, statistics and includes an innovative citizen science programme.


  • MSc (Distinction) Wildlife Management and Conservation, University of Reading 2008-2009
  • BSc First Class Honours Environmental Sciences, University of Reading, 2008


Victoria has over 7 years’ experience working in the environmental sector, specializing in citizen science and environmental education and research for local government and charities. Prior to completing her undergraduate degree she worked for a Local Council Authority in Buckinghamshire as an Environmental/Recycling Education Officer.

 Victoria’s interests in ornithology and avian ecology were fuelled during her MSc at the University of Reading, UK and in particular during her 2 months spent in 2009 on Denis Island in Seychelles where she was involved in a reintroduction project of a breeding colony of Sooty terns (Onychoprion fuscatus).

Her passion and fascination for working with birds has only continued to grow and evolve since that pivotal moment in her career. She has lived in Germany, upstate New York and Boston, MA, USA with her husband and dogs before returning to the UK to take up her PhD research. Her ornithology work in the USA has taken her to the New York State capital Albany as a bird banding (ringing) volunteer at a local reserve, to the Powdermill bird banding station in Pennsylvania for a bird banding (ringing) introductory course and to Alabama, Lousiana and Mississippi with the organization Conservian to census breeding colonies of terns, Wilsons and Snowy Plovers and the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. More recently she has worked extensively with the Massachusetts Audubon Society both as a teacher naturalist at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and as a conservationist involved in the breeding and protection programme for the Piping Plover and Least Tern on one of Boston’s busiest urban beaches: Revere. She designed, developed and led the public outreach and schools program for this latter project in 2014. She was also a keen Saw-whet Owl banding volunteer during the autumn migration and participated in the Mass Audubon Birding Certificate Program. She has also recently worked with inner city school children as an Environmental Educator with the Lowell Land and Conservation Trust, (MA, USA). She hopes to continue her environmental education work with schools and public outreach through her PhD.

Doctoral research

PhD title
Avian Productivity in Relation to Climatic Extremes: Harnessing Citizen Science in an Urbanizing World
Supervisors Professor Jon Sadler (GEES), Dr Jim Reynolds (Biosciences), Professor David Hannah (GEES) and CASE Supervisor: Dr Dave Leech (British Trust for Ornithology) 


Research interests

Urban Ecology, Ornithology, Bird Ringing, Population Genetics, Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events, Field Work, Citizen Science, Environmental Education and Public Outreach.

Other activities

Victoria is an active and enthusiastic ornithologist and a keen birder and is currently working towards her ringing license with the British Trust for Ornithology.  She is a member of the Birmingham University Ringing Group and attends ringing sessions at various locations as much as possible. She is a student representative for the Water Sciences research group within GEES and the representative for GEES at LES College level. She is currently a member of the AOU, EOU, BOU, BTO and BES.

She is a keen hiker, camper and general devotee of the outdoors with her biggest achievement to date hiking 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail with her husband and dogs in 2012. Her hobbies outside of her world of birding include skiing (downhill and cross country), snowshoeing, running and competing in obstacle races including Reebok Spartan and Monster races. She helps run PubhD Birmingham and is an active member of the PGMSA at the University of Birmingham. She is a huge Wasps Rugby, Red Sox baseball and Boston Bruins Ice Hockey fan.


Feare, C.J., French, A., Pattison-Willits, V.S., Wheeler, V., Yates, T.L., Hoareau, C., and Prescott, C.V. (2015) Attempted re-establishment of a sooty tern Onychoprion fuscatus breeding colony on Denis Island, Seychelles. Conservation Evidence 12: 19-24