Behavioural & Evolutionary Ecology of Birds

Peters Research Group

We use an integrative approach to understand how animals balance investment in reproduction and self-maintenance, and the consequences of this for individual success and population persistence. We take a holistic approach, studying individuals throughout life in their natural environment. Consequently, our research span several areas:

1. Cooperative breeding

The complex behavioural strategies that group living birds employ to advance their success.

2. Sexual selection

How risks and costs prevent inferior males from exaggerating their sex appeal.

3. Health

What factors impinge on immune defense and damage control and how this relates to aging.

4. Global change

How climate change can affect reproduction and survival.


Our field projects involve long-term studies of purple-crowned fairy-wrens, Malurus coronatus,  in the Kimberley region of north-west Australia, and a local population of superb fairy-wrens (M. cyaneus) at Lysterfield Park.

We acknowledge the Bunuba and Kija People as the Traditional Custodians of the lands where we study purple-crowned fairy-wrens. We pay respect to their past, present, and future Elders and their profound cultural and spiritual connection to the land, and the importance of the purple-crowned fairy-wren within this.

We acknowledge the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live and study. We pay respect to their past, present, and future Elders and their profound cultural and spiritual connection to the land.

We welcome, value, and respect the diversity of all people.

News in Brief

Spring foe, Winter friend—cooperative behaviour trends in superb fairy-wrens

A new Proceedings B paper explores the seasonal variation in cooperative behaviour displayed by superb fairy-wrens. Lead author, Ettore Camerlenghi, tells us more.

Why do some group-living animals live in a state of conflict with neighbouring groups while other species form peaceful multilevel societies, where groups can interact, tolerate each other, or even cooperate? A little Australian songbird, the superb fairy-wren, might provide clues to better understand what conditions promote intergroup harmony.

Read the rest of the article here.

Social restructuring in harsh conditions promotes cooperative behaviour in songbirds

The superb fairy-wrens provided an ideal system for this investigation due to their multilevel society, which undergoes seasonal restructuring.

During the breeding season, individual groups defend territories, while in the non-breeding season, these groups coalesce into larger communities. By observing their behaviour in response to distress calls during both seasons, researchers assessed how social dynamics and environmental harshness influence cooperative behaviour.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wildfire threatens the survival of endangered purple-crowned fairy-wrens living along the rivers and creeks of northern Australia, our new research has found.

For almost two decades, we studied the fairy-wrens at a wildlife sanctuary in the far north of Western Australia. Over this time, one low-intensity fire and one high-intensity fire burnt through our study site. Both occurred late in the wet season, when fires generally burn at lower intensity.

Read the rest of theconversation article here.

Endangered fairy-wrens survive Kimberley floods

When ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie inundated the Kimberley with record flooding earlier this year the region and its inhabitants experienced large-scale devastation. This included the area’s native wildlife, with mass loss of life and habitat. But now, amidst the loss, there’s some good news to share.

Read the rest of the article here.

Fieldwork in floodwaters

January 2nd, 2023. We had taken our radios to bed the night before, just as a precaution. The water was already up to the parking area, which was as high as anyone had ever seen it, and it was still raining. I dislike rain generally and resent the periodic floods of the Wet season because they wash away the nests we’ve found, but I was looking forward to sleeping past 3:45am. It’s too dangerous to work along the creek when it’s raging, so storms give us a brief break from crack-of-dawn nest searching.

Read the rest of the article here.