January 10th 2019: Fully-funded PhD position available

We invite applications from potential candidates interested in any of the following areas: 

(1) Social Behaviour & Ecology of Wild Populations 
(2) Evolutionary Ecology of Reproduction in Variable Environments 
(3) Evolution and Genetics of Quantitative Trait Variation 

It is expected that research projects will involve some fieldwork and be based on the long-term study of tits in Wytham Woods, near Oxford. This population has been studied for more than 70 years, and there is a wealth of data to build analytical, computational, observational and experimental studies upon.

This project is fully-funded from Oct 2019, for 3.5 years and is open to UK and EU citizens.

For initial inquiries, please contact Prof Ben Sheldon ( with a CV and a brief (1 page) outline of the research question(s) that interest you. 

Application procedure details at: The application deadline is 25th January 2019.

January 3rd 2019: Field Assistants wanted!

We are currently looking for five field assistants to work with us this spring. Each post is available for two months full time, from approximately Monday 1st April to Friday 31st May 2019. The main duties of the post-holders will be to carry out fieldwork at Wytham Woods, near Oxford, and to assist in the collation and input of data. The hours are variable, and will involved several weeks of intense fieldwork.

Successful candidates must have (or be qualified to obtain) a BTO permit to ring adult and nestling tits, be able to demonstrate skill and enthusiasm for biological research as well as experience of fieldwork under arduous conditions, and of working as part of a team. Informal inquiries about the positions should be emailed to Dr Ella Cole (

Salary: All field assistants will be accommodated in a large shared house close to Wytham Woods free of charge (utility bills and council tax included) and will each receive an additional £2,000 living expenses for the duration of the post.

To apply: please email a CV, together with a covering letter explaining your interest and skills plus the email addresses of two referees to Ms Lynne Bradley, PA to Professor Ben Sheldon (

Closing date: Sunday 17th February. All applications will be acknowledged. Short-listed candidates will be interviewed in the last week of February 2019.

March 30th 2018: Reaching the Next Generation of Scientists

‘Frontiers in Young Minds’ is a new, free-to-publish, open-access journal which aims to make the latest scientific discoveries accessible to children. With the helpful advice of a primary school teacher, the EGI recently contributed an article explaining how great tits in Wytham Woods cope with losing members of their social group. You can read the article here.

This article is based on a study we recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, which examined how wild birds adjust their social network positions in response to the experimental removal of their flockmates. This work helps us to understand resilience of animal social groups to disturbance (i.e., the disappearance of some group members). You can read the original article here.

For more information regarding how to make your own scientific research accessible to children, please visit the Frontiers in Young Minds information page here or contact Josh Firth.

October 20th 2017: Our recent paper on recent natural selection on great tits' bill morphology, published in Science, received a lot of media attention, among others from National Geographic, Scientific AmericanThe Washington Post, and the BBC. Here is a link to the original paper

October 10th 2017: Congratulations to Chris Perrins, on his 60th anniversary in the Department of Zoology - and the EGI!


July 21st 2017: The July edition of Blueprint magazine included an article celebrating 75 years of research at Wytham Woods, including an interview with Dr Ella Cole about the Wytham Tits project. Read the article here.


May 12th 2017: In a recent study, led by Katerina Johnson, we show that male great tits nest close to males with a similar personality. Listen to a BBC Radio 4 Inside Science interview here.

March 5th 2017: Freddy Hillemann introduced the Wytham Tit system to a keen audience at the annual meeting of Pied.Fly Net, a Citizen Science network monitoring pied flycatchers populations across SW England.

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September 16th 2016: A new study published in Scientific Reports by Bernhard Voelkl and colleagues demonstrates how nonlethal predator effects can alter group composition within wild tit populations. These findings offers new perspectives on the key drivers of social behaviour in wild populations. Read the paper here.

September 12th 2016: A new study published in Ecology Letters by Josh Firth & Ben Sheldon assessed how whether great tits chose to breed close to their winter flock mates. Through tracking thousands of great tits over 3 years, the study showed that the birds nested nearest the flock mates they were most associated with over the previous winter. It also found that great tits arrange their territory boundaries so that they neighbour their most preferred winter affiliates. Through influencing where individuals locate themselves, social networks may shape the future environments that individuals experience. The findings also illustrate how social associations at one point in life can carry-over into an important stage later on. Click here to read the article.

August 4th 2016: New Scientist featured an article about Ben Sheldon and the Wytham Tit project. Click here to read the article.

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July 25th 2016: This year's breeding data show that fledging success was relatively low, with blue tits faring worse that great tits. All species experienced a season decline in fledgling success, and this was particularly pronounced in blue tits.

July 21th 2016: Ella Cole and Keith McMahon took a break from the tits to join Chris Perrins for the annual Swan Upping on the Thames.

July 18th 2016: The tit team celebrated the end of another breeding seasons with the traditional group photo on a old sweet chestnut in Wytham Woods. 

July 13th 2016: Ben Sheldon gave a plenary at the 8th European Conference on Behavioural Biology in Vienna. 

July 11th 2016: Ben Sheldon, with help from members of the Wytham Tit team, ran a field ecology day as part of the Biological Sciences UNIQ Summer School

June 21th 2016: Congratulations to Lucy Aplin, who was awarded one of the 2016 Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award at Evolution 2016 in Austin, Texas. Watch her seminar below.

June 15th 2016: Congratulations to Josh Firth, who passed his DPhil viva voce today! Josh's doctoral thesis was on 'Carry-over and consequences of social connections amongst wild birds'. 

June 13th 2016: BBC Springwatch featured our research on how tits match their timing of breeding with the local food peak. Watch the film here.

June 8th 2016:  Emily Simmonds and Koosje Lamers spent a morning in the woods talking about bird reproduction with students from Pegasus Primary School.

June 1st 2016: A new study published in Biology Letters by Josh Firth, Ben Sheldon & Damien Farine monitored the spread of new information across the Wytham tit community whilst experimentally manipulating which birds could access the same resources as one another. This experiment reveals that birds were more likely to pass information to those they fed with, and also prioritised learning from these individuals in comparison to birds who could not access the same resources as themselves. This work illustrates how changes to social interactions can influence information flow, and how birds adopt learning strategies to prioritise information from relevant tutors. Read the paper here.

May 22nd 2016: BBC Springwatch came to make a film about the Wytham Tits - look out of this on their show (weekdays 8PM, BBC2) in early-mid June!

May 22nd 2016: Freddy Hillman & Koosje Lamers introduced the Bedfordshire Natural History Society to the Wytham Tits on a guided walk around Wytham Woods.

May 20th 2016: Emily Simmonds gave a talk at Garsington Primary School about great tit and blue tit life cycles.

May 16th 2016: Ella Cole talks to BBC1's Countryfile Diaries about tits and spring timing.

May 9th 2016: Wytham Tits took over the Biotweeps twitter account for the week to tweet about tit-related research.

April 23rd 2016: Ella Cole spoke about the Wytham Tit Project at 'The Woods Come To Town', an open event at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

April 22nd 2016: Congratulations to Nicole Milligan, who passed her DPhil viva voce will no corrections! Nicole's doctoral thesis was on 'Alternative foraging strategies in a wild population of tits (Paridae)'. Watch this space for publications!

April 11th 2016: Ella Cole was filming with in Wytham with BBC Countryfile Diaries. Look out for a piece on spring timing in the Wytham Tits on Monday 16th May! 

April 10th 2016: We had our first Wytham tit egg of 2016, laid by a blue tit in Marley Plantation.

April 6th 2016: Congratulations to Chris Perrins who was awarded the BOU Union Medal from the British Ornithologists’ Union Medal for outstanding services to the BOU and outstanding contributions to ornithology!

April 4th 2016: A recent paper published by Ross Crates and colleagues in the Journal of Avian Biology explores the consequences of garden feeders for the reproductive success of tits. Over recent decades, more and more people have begun feeding wild birds, and it is now a multi-million dollar global industry. Through tracking how thousands of uniquely RFID-tagged tits in Wytham Woods access sunflower feeding stations that were open on weekends through the winter, the research team show that individuals differ consistently from one another in how many sunflower seeds they eat on a week-to-week, and year-to-year, basis. Further, consumption of supplementary food throughout the winter did not relate to individuals’ future reproductive success. Therefore, carry-over effects of human-provisioned food onto breeding bird populations either do not occur at the individual-level, or can be mitigated through a non-constant feeding regime. Read the paper here.

April 1st 2016: Ada Grabowska-Zhang and colleagues published a paper in Behavioural Ecology investigating the social structure of a population of juvenile great tits in Wytham Woods, after they have dispersed from their natal nests. They showed that, despite considerable dispersal, sibling pairs associated more often than expected by chance. Birds were also more likely to flock with individuals from natal nests near to their own, and individuals that fledged at a similar time of year. These results suggest that the structure of the winter population is shaped by limits to dispersal, and that there is significant kin structure in our great tit population. Read the paper here.

February 29th 2016: A recent paper published by John Quinn and colleagues in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B presents the first large-scale study to examine factors underlying individual variation in innovative problem-solving ability, using the Wytham great tit population. Problem solving ability was measured in 831 individuals, temporarily taken into captivity.  Differences were linked to age, personality and natal origin (whether a bird was an immigrants to Wytham or locally-born), but were not inherited from parents to offspring. Ability was also influenced by natal environment; individuals performed worse when born in poor-quality habitat, or where local population density was high. Read the paper here.

January 25th 2016: An international collaboration, lead by the Netherlands and the UK, and involving the Wytham Tit Project, published the great tit genome in Nature Communications. This genome assembly details genome evolution, selection, demographic history and remarkably low population structure across multiple populations of the great tit, and suggests that selection has disproportionately targeted genes associated with learning and memory. Read the paper here.