The Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference is co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Two parallel sessions are held aimed at Scientists and Laymen respectively, however, all delegates are invited to attend whichever sessions they would prefer.

6th Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference – 24, 25 & 26 May 2023

BirdLife South Africa and The FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (University of Cape Town) will host the 6th Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference during BirdLife South Africa’s Flock to Wilderness at The Wilderness Hotel, Wilderness from Wed 24 to Sun 28 May 2023.

The LAB Conference was originally established to provide a platform for laymen and scientists to present their research, share their knowledge and network with ornithologically inclined peoples and birding enthusiasts from across South Africa and the world.

LAB is hosted in conjunction with the Fitz and the event hosts two parallel sessions directed at slightly different audiences. The Science LAB is run as a typical scientific conference with two plenary lectures,  20-minute slots for scientific presentations, as well as the speed talk session. In parallel to the Science LAB is the Layman’s LAB, which hosts longer format talks of approximately 45 minutes and are pitched at a non-scientifically inclined audience, a similar format to those of our current Conservation Conversations webinars. LABs are typically joined to a BirdLife South Africa Flock AGM event and assist with bringing delegates to a venue and offering them interesting talks, birding excursions and entertainment to try and secure the needed quorum for the AGM meeting.

The LAB event is a crucial fundraiser for the Landscape Conservation Programme and helps to generate much needed unencumbered funding. Watch this space for exciting updates on the event and the excursions that will be on offer soon. You can also visit the Flock to Wilderness page to find out about the birding excursions and other exciting events taking place around LAB.

Keep an eye on BirdLife South Africa’s social media channels to find out more or email

The registration portal for Flock to the Wilderness 2023 is now live. You will need to complete your registration for LAB as part of this larger event, but attendance at any of the other activities is optional.

To minimise on paper and administration, we ask for each person to register individually thereby accepting the Terms & Conditions of the event and accepting the weekends Indemnity clauses.

Please note: If you are part of a University Group – each person will still need to register individually and then all invoices can be collated and submitted to the institution for one payment.

The Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference fee will include access to all Science LAB and Layman’s LAB talks for in person attendees, as well as lunch on 25 and 26 May 2023, a cocktail function on 25 May 2023 and a Gala Dinner on 26 May 2023.

Virtual attendees will have access to a live Zoom stream of the Science LAB programme.

Early bird rates will run until 31 January 2023 and students can attend at a reduced rate provided a valid student registration letter or card is supplied.

2023 LAB Prices
Date Physical LAB Student Rate Physical LAB Full Rate Virtual Science LAB Student Rate

Virtual Science LAB Full Rate

1 October 2022 – 31 January 2023 (Early Bird)

R2 700 R3 000 R1 200 R1 500
1 February – 30 April 2023 R3 200 R3 500 R1 800 R2 000


For any queries regarding LAB please email

Please note the times and dates of speakers may be subject to changes.

Wednesday 24 May 2023
Time Speaker Topic Venue
14:00 – 16:00 Cassie Carstens & Mike Bridgeford PAID WORKSHOP: Forest Birds Protea
17:00-18:30 Mike Buckham Cape Bird Club 75th Anniversary Lecture Protea
Thursday 25 May 2023
Time Speaker Topic Venue
09:30 – 10:10 Christopher Patton Garden Route National Park and the profile of  the birds and birding of the Knysna Section of the Park Protea
10:10-10:30 Justin Ponder Youth birding in the Lakes District of the Garden Route Protea
11:00-11:45 Dr Odette Curtis-Scott 10 Years of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust Protea
11:45-12:30 Kevin Shaw Cape Vulture Conservation in the Overberg Protea
13:30 – 14:15



Dr Giselle Murison


Melanie de Mornay

CWAC-ing and Conserving our Western Cape estuaries

African Crowned Eagles of the Garden Route




15:00-15:45 Willem Mathee The impacts of the Knysna fires on the local landscape and birds Protea
16:30-17:00 Dr Cloverley Lawrence Saving the African Penguin from Extinction Protea
18:00 – 19:00 Prof Ian Glenn Test your bird name IQ / QI Protea



Friday 26 May 2023

Time Speaker Topic Venue
11:00-11:45 Dr Mark Brown Why ring birds? Protea
11:45-12:30 Brittany Arendse Conserving Beach Breeding Birds in a Dynamic Urban Context Protea
12:30-13:00 Dr Ian Russell Long-term changes in the abundance of waterbirds in the Wilderness Lakes Complex Protea

Find all of the information you will need pertaining to the SCIENCE LAB sessions here.

Science LAB Plenary Speakers 2023

Dr Anina Coetzee - Nature Conservation Lecturer - Nelson Mandela University

Dr Anina Coetzee – Lecturer Nature Conservation – Nelson Mandela University


Anina is a lecturer in Nature Conservation at Nelson Mandela University’s George Campus. She completed her PhD in Botany at Stellenbosch University. Thereafter, she conducted a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. Her research uses bird-pollination systems to explore evolutionary ecology and conservation questions. Her research interests include Fynbos and Forest conservation biology, plant-animal mutualisms, community ecology, and urban ecology.

Plenary Title: Feeding sunbirds in the Cape: prevalence and consequences


Urbanisation causes habitat loss & fragmentation, but also creates novel habitats for birds. Gardens contain natural and artificial food sources for birds, which may alleviate the negative effects that species experience. One such resource is sugar water feeders provided for nectarivorous birds. The effect of feeders on birds, and their mutualistic partners, is little known. The responses of nectarivorous birds in the Cape Floristic Region are particularly important. This region, which broadly spans the Western Cape and east to Gqeberha, contains approximately 300 plant species that depend on sunbirds and sugarbirds for their pollination. Using questionnaires, I determined the prevalence and quality of feeders in this region. I also evaluated the value of feeders in birds’ adjustment to urban areas. We applied an experiment on the Cape Peninsula to test the effect of feeders on bird abundances and bird-pollinated plants’ pollination. Better understanding of the consequences of artificial feeders will be vital for conservation.

Dr Anton Wolfaardt - Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager

Dr Anton Wolfaardt – Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager – Mouse-Free Marion NPC/BirdLife South Africa


Anton has worked for close to 30 years in the field of seabird and marine conservation, a journey which started on Marion Island in 1994, where he spent a year working as a seabird field researcher. Anton subsequently spent five years on Dassen Island, off the west coast of South Africa, working initially as a contract researcher and later as the conservation manager of the island. After leaving Dassen Island, Anton worked as a Regional Ecologist for CapeNature, the conservation authority for the Western Cape Province of South Africa.

In 2008, Anton headed to the Falkland Islands to take up the newly created position of ACAP (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels) Co-ordinator for the United Kingdom (UK) South Atlantic Overseas Territories, including the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha (including Gough Island) and the UK’s interest in Antarctica.

After returning to South Africa in late 2013, Anton continued to serve as the Co-convenor of ACAP’s Seabird Bycatch Working Group and worked as an environmental consultant focussing on seabird and marine issues, as well as a lecturer and guide on expedition ships visiting the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions. In February 2021 Anton was appointed to take up the position of Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager.


Plenary Title: The Mouse-Free Marion Project – making the transition from knowing to doing


Sub-Antarctic Marion Island is an important breeding island for 28 seabird species, including globally significant populations of several threatened species. It is South Africa’s only declared Special Nature Reserve; the strictest level of protection afforded under South African legislation. It is a recognised by BirdLife International as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area and has been declared a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. There is a long history of ecological research at Marion Island. Consequently, we have a good understanding of the island’s biodiversity and ecological processes as well as the factors that threaten them. Amongst the greatest threats to the ecology and conservation of Marion Island is the impacts of invasive House Mice. Ongoing increases in mouse densities, linked to the warmer, drier climate have depleted their main invertebrate prey, driving mice to attack albatross and petrel eggs and chicks, and even adult birds. The impacts of mice on Marion Island are widespread, pervasive, extreme and highly deleterious. These impacts are not limited to seabirds. The native invertebrate fauna has been particularly hard hit, with one species of flightless moth apparently extirpated, and other species reduced to tiny proportions of their pre-mouse populations, altering nutrient cycling and other key ecological processes. Mice also impact vegetation, greatly reducing seed production and seriously damaging the keystone cushion plant Azorella selago. The substantial biodiversity and ecological benefits of removing invasive rodents from islands are well recognized, and eradication interventions are now being attempted on increasingly large and more complex islands. The Mouse-Free Marion Project aims to eradicate mice from Marion Island and thereby facilitate the ecological restoration of this globally important site. Marion Island will be the largest island on which the eradication of mice has been attempted in a single operation, and where mice are the only introduced predator. The project is underpinned by research conducted at Marion Island, and elsewhere. In addition to the research, planning for the project must address a wide range of requirements, including financial, logistical, political and legal preparations and stakeholder communications, all of which are vital to create enabling conditions for a successful eradication. In this presentation, Anton will provide an overview of the planning for the project that is aimed at enabling the transition from knowing to doing.

Below is a summary of all the activities taking place during Flock to Wilderness, including LAB. Please visit the Flock to Wilderness page to book your activities and excursions now.

The 5th LAB Conference, Virtually, South Africa – 27 & 28 May 2021

The 5th biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference had to adapt to the impacts of the global pandemic and like many of BirdLife South Africa’s current event took to the virtual skies to carryout the first ever VIRTUAL LAB Conference. Delegates could choose to either attend the Science and Layman’s LAB content or stick with the Conservation Conversations themed Layman’s LAB lectures in the evenings.

Science LAB, which ran during the days of 27 and 28 May 2021, saw some of the top recent ornithological undertakings shared by South Africa’s top ornithologists. The two plenary lectures were outstanding – Dr Susie Cunningham, from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, opened day one with a phenomenal plenary lecture giving an overview of the behavioural adaptations and impacts that warming temperatures are having on birds in the Kalahari, in particular Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Fork-tailed Drongos and Southern Pied Babblers. Prof. Pierre Pistorius, head of the Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University, started day two with an excellent plenary discussing Seabirds as ocean sentinels and the incredible advances made with technology to understand more about the ecology and conservation of these wide-ranging pelagic birds. The remainder of Science LAB saw talks covering themes of thermoregulation, urban ecology, conservation, forest ecology, large terrestrial birds and a large focus on seabird research and conservation. The best MSc presentation was won by Shamiso Banda for her talk titled ‘A significant shift in cephalopod diet of the Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fusca) during a pronounced El-Niño event’. The top PhD award for the best presentation was awarded to Kailen Padayachee who shared his research into the ‘Temporal and spatial changes in DDT: a global systematic review’.

Each evening delegates were entertained with two Layman’s LAB lectures providing interesting insights into birds and birding. Dr Temidayo Osinubi shared his postdoc research into the Woodland Kingfisher and its three subspecies across Africa and was followed by his former supervisor Prof. Phoebe Barnard who gave an overview of her lifetime of work investigating the impacts of climate change on our Fynbos endemic birds across the Western Cape. Day two’s Layman’s LAB lectures saw Etienne Marais share his in-depth opinions on ethical birding and how to minimise the impact of our birding activities on the feather friends we enjoy. The final talk of Layman’s LAB was an outstanding overview of the ecology and conservation of Southern Ocean seabirds by Dr Anton Wolfaardt who certainly raised the excitement for next year’s Flock to Marion cruise. The Layman’s LAB lucky draw winner who took home a copy of Peter Ginn and Geoff McIlleron’s Ultimate Guide to Birds of Southern Africa was Dave McDonald.

Following the virtual AGM on Saturday, Canon South Africa’s sponsored photographic workshop with Andrew Aveley was well attended and very insightful. Participants were given a thorough overview of how to best improve their own wildlife photography and which cameras are best suited to the various types of bird photography one can undertake. Our two lucky winners at the Canon Workshop were Barbi Forsyth who received four copies of Andrew Aveley’s eBooks on photography and Elizma Petzsch who took home the Canon South Africa prize – a Powershot Zoom with a year’s subscription to the BirdPro app.

We are grateful to our partners the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and our Sponsor Canon South Africa, as well as all of our supporters who attended the 2021 Virtual Learn About Birds Conference and helped to generate much needed funds for the Landscape Conservation Programme. We look forward to another LAB in 2023 and will hopefully be able to host this event in person. Keep an eye on BirdLife South Africa’s media channels to find out more.

For more information contact:
Dr Melissa Whitecross at
Telephone: +27 (11) 789 11 22

The 4th LAB Conference, Club Mykonos, Langebaan – 8 & 9 March 2018

The 4th biennial Learn About Birds (LAB) Conference was held at Club Mykonos in Langebaan, Western Cape on 8 and 9 March 2018. This event was co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology. The LAB Conference was divided into a Science LAB session where the country’s top ornithologists presented their latest research, with a parallel Layman’s LAB session that included popular talks on bird conservation, research and identification tools.

The Science LAB session covered themes including bird breeding biology, morphology and ecology. Sessions highlighting the currently known threats and conservation measures offered insights into the challenges facing South Africa’s birds. A special session for the African Seabird Group was held, where talks on the tracking of Grey-headed Albatross off Marion Island, lessons learnt from 20 years of seabird rehabilitation and rodent eradication plans for seabird breeding islands were presented.

The Layman’s LAB session hosted talks by several BirdLife South Africa staff on their current research and conservation efforts to protect South Africa’s diverse avifauna and their habitats. CapeNature staff, Rupert Koopman and Kevin Shaw, offered insights into the ecology of the West Coast and the birds of Dassen Island, while Faansie Peacock gave an in depth lecture on strandveld birding, after Etienne Marais’ had presented about how to find and identify the tricky specials of the Western and Northern Cape. Dr Dieter Hoffmann, Head of International Strategy and Capacity Building at The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK presented on the international work of the RSPB and their collaboration with BirdLife South Africa.

The LAB Conference forms an integral part of the broader Flock on the West Coast 2018 event. “Flocks” to amazing destinations around the country have become synonymous with BirdLife South Africa’s Annual Gathering of Members and this year’s Flock delivered another fantastic event for all “flockees” in attendance. All delegates were encouraged to share their experiences via social media channels using the #Flock2018 and #LAB2018 handles. BirdLife South Africa also posted highlights from the event on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

For more information contact:
Linda van den Heever at or
Dr Melissa Whitecross at
Telephone: +27 (11) 789 11 22

The 3rd LAB Conference, Skukuza, Kruger National Park – 9 to 11 March 2016

The biennial LAB, co-hosted by BirdLife South Africa and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, held at Skukuza, Kruger National Park (9 – 11 March 2016), offered a full programme. Presentations covered a variety of scientific and conservation-related topics, including summaries of research and report-backs on ongoing studies.

Two workshops began proceedings on the Wednesday, one on advanced bird identification by Faansie Peacock and another pertaining to bird photography by Albert Froneman. The official jam-packed programme got going on Thursday and ensured that attendees remained engrossed in the various discussion topics of both the Science and Layman’s LAB parallel programmes. Further highlights were the keynote addresses by Kruger stalwarts, Dr Ian Whyte and Dr Alan Kemp. Joe Grosel’s raptor and lark identification workshops proved very popular amongst the delegates and both were oversubscribed.

LAB 2016 was attended by nearly 300 delegates, a perfect opportunity for both the scientific and birding communities to talk about what we have in common, a passion and love for our birds. Photo: Albert Froneman

Apart from full days in the various lecture rooms, there was naturally time for some great Kruger birding.

Thanks to Henk Nel and Ernst Retief for setting up the BirdLife South Africa – Flock in Kruger 2016 BirdLasser challenge. Over the five days, 10 213 sightings were logged for 299 species and 101 full protocol atlas cards were submitted.These added significantly to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2) dataset for Kruger. Two participants (Dylan Vasapolli and Jason Boyce, both from Birding Ecotours) managed to see more than 200 species each. A special mention must be made of the 43 teams and individuals who also participated in the challenge.

A trip report of the Skukuza area during Flock 2016, prepared by Jason Boyce of Birding Ecotours, can be downloaded hereCertainly the bird that got everyone dashing off was the Sooty Falcon seen near Lake Panic. Other Kruger specials seen included Martial, Tawny and Wahlberg’s Eagles, Saddle-billed Stork, African Openbill, White-crowned Lapwing, Bronze-winged courser, Mosque Swallow, Senegal Lapwing, Crowned Hornbill and Retz’s Helmet-shrike, amongst many others.

Thanks to all the bird guides and experts for sharing their exceptional skills and knowledge. Thanks are also due to the SANParks staff, Cattle Baron restaurant, SANParks Honorary Rangers: West Rand Region, Birding Ecotours, Tembele Birding Safaris, keynote speakers, presenters, BirdLife South Africa staff and all the volunteers, especially Gisela Ortner, for their supreme efforts and for giving us so much of their valuable time. Lastly, thanks to all the delegates for their support of the conference and for making LAB 2016 an undoubted success!

For more information contact:
Linda van den Heever at
Telephone: +27 (11) 789 11 22