Patrick & Irwin-Packington Research Fellow

Current Work – Reproduction and fertility in birds.

University of Sheffield

Originally from West London, I came to Sheffield to study for my undergraduate degree in 2003 and never left. In 2007 I joined the Birkhead lab as a PhD student investigating the causes of hatching failure in birds. After finishing my PhD in 2010, I spent a year as a University Teacher before embarking on my current post-doctoral position. In addition to my research, I currently teach part of APS126 Behaviour of Humans & Other Animals (Level 1), APS135 Skills for Biologists (Level 1), and APS347 Cooperation & Conflict (Level 3) and co-supervise a number of undergraduate and PhD students. In 2011 I won Animal & Plant Sciences Teacher of the Year.

I have a broad interest in behavioural ecology and reproductive biology. Most of my research focuses on reproductive behaviour and physiology of birds – I am particularly interested in the mechanisms of sperm selection, storage and transport within the female reproductive tract. I am also interested in the causes of reproductive failure in birds, and have published a number of papers on this subject that can be found below. This work has significant implications for the conservation of endangered species, which I recently discussed in UK Parliament at the SET for Britain Awards.

Nicola Prize

In addition to my research, I love talking to people about science and getting them excited about it! I am involved in a number of widening participation and public engagement initiatives: I organise public visit days for the department’s Alfred Denny Museum where the public can enjoy free, guided tours. I have also coordinated interactive exhibition sessions for the last five years, as part of the department’s annual Christmas time lecture, which attracts approximately 1000 local school children. I run a rolling outreach training scheme for undergraduate students, helping plan activities, teaching how to run effective sessions and setting up links with target schools. I am also involved in the department’s excellent Outreach Program and have given numerous talks and workshops as part of larger public engagement events organised by the University. In 2014 I was awarded the Society of Biology Science Communication Award (Established Researcher Category).


Hemmings, N., Bennison, C. & Birkhead, T.R. 2016. Intra-ejaculate sperm selection in female zebra finches. Biology Letters doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0220

Hemmings, N. & Birkhead, T.R. 2015. Polyspermy in birds: Sperm numbers and embryo survival. Proc. Roy. Soc. B., doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1682 See also coverage by IFLS , the New York Times and Nicola’s interview with the Royal Society.

Hemmings, N. & Birkhead, T.R. 2015. Consistency of passerine embryo development and the use of embryonic staging in studies of hatching failure. Ibis doi: 10.1111/ibi.12336

Hemmings, N., Birkhead, T.R., Brillard, J.P., Froment, P. & Briere, S. 2014. Timing associated with oviductal sperm storage and release after artificial insemination in domestic hens. Theriogenology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2014.12.022

Bennison, C., Hemmings, N., Slate, J. & Birkhead, T.R. 2014. Long sperm fertilise more eggs in a bird. Proc. Roy. Soc. B., doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1897

Hemmings, N., West, M. & Birkhead, T. R. 2012. Causes of hatching failure in endangered birds. Biology Letters doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0655

Hemmings, N., Slate, J. & Birkhead, T. R. 2012. Inbreeding causes early death in a passerine bird. Nature Communications doi: 10.1038/ncomms1870

Birkhead, T. R., Hemmings, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Mikulica, O., Moskát, C., Bán, M. & Schulze- Hagen, K. 2010. Internal incubation and early hatching in brood parasitic birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B – Biological Sciences doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1504

Birkhead, T.R., Hall, J., Schutt, E., & Hemmings, N. (2008). Unhatched eggs; methods for discriminating between infertility and early embryo mortality. Ibis 150: 508-517.

Birkhead, T.R., Schutt, E., & Hemmings, N. (2008). Parthenogenesis in a passerine bird, the zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata. Ibis 150: 197-199.


Spoken presentations include:

How sperm fertilise eggs in birds. Invited speaker: Zoological Society of London 2016, London.

Mechanisms of sperm transport and selection in birds. Invited plenary: BoS Biannual Meeting 2015, The Peak District, UK.

Communicating Science: How to give a great presentation. Invited workshop. ASAB Easter Conference 2014.

Saving species with science. Invited speaker: Birds, Nature & Creativity Symposium 2010, BTO, Thetford AND The Mobile University 2013 (public talk in Sheffield City Centre).

Costs and consequences of inbreeding in the zebra finch. Invited speaker: Darwin and Behavioural Sciences Symposium 2009, Konrad Lorenz Institute, Vienna.

Sperm selection. The University of Sheffield Postgraduate Research Conference 2008 (1st Prize for ‘Presenting your research to 16 year olds’).


Poster presentations include:

Examining eggs saves endangered species. The SET for Britain Awards 2013, Houses of Parliament (Bronze Award (£1000) for Biological and Biomedical Sciences).

Unhatched eggs: Solving the mystery. The Edward Grey Institute Conference 2008, Oxford University (1st Prize for best poster).

Nicola Poster


Student Voice Academic Awards 2015: Best Educational Event. For The University of Sheffield Schools’ Christmas Lecture “Animal Academy”.

Society of Biology UK Science Communication Award 2014: Winner of the Established Researcher Category.

Imagine: Imaging Life PhD studentship: Imaging sperm-egg interactions. An interdisciplinary project, co-supervised with colleagues from Chemistry and Physics.

SET for Britain Awards 2013: Presenting research to MPs in the Houses of Parliament. Bronze Award (£1000).

Animal & Plant Sciences (University of Sheffield) Teacher of the Year 2011.


Click here to read Nicola’s Top Ten Tips on how to give a great presentation, from her workshop at the ASAB Easter Conference 2014.

Winner of ‘My Research’ video short 2014 – see full article here and video below.

I fill any spare time I have riding (and mucking out) my wonderful horse!
Nicola & Horse Trudy