JOB OFFER: University assistant in behavioural science with a focus on fish

PostDoc/B1, 40 hours/weel, 4 years


Deadline 6 September 2019



Wanted: MSc Students

We are looking for motivated students to assist with our research projects.  For more information please click the links.



The Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology is a biological research institute for the study of animal behavior. Ethology (or Behavioral Biology) is an integrative field that addresses questions about how and why animals do what they do. Since spring 2015 it is also the headquaters of the Österreichischen Vogelwarte/Austrian Ornithological Centre (AOC).

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Sleeping unsafely tucked in to conserve energy in nocturnal migratory songbirds

Garden warbler (Photo Biillyboy, Wikimedia Commons)
Garden warbler

Sleeping with the head tucked in the back feathers is a common behavior exhibited by most species of birds. In a recent study, scientist from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology of the Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Vienna found, that the hiding of the head during sleep reduces heat loss and conserves energy reserves. However sleeping with the head tucked is risky for the birds. Due to the reduced metabolic rate and the slower reaction time, their risk of being predated is increased.

Nocturnally migrating songbirds that cross the Mediterranean to reach continental Europe often stop on islands close to the coast to rest before continuing their journey. Through detailed observations of Garden Warblers that had recently arrived on one of these island stopover sites, a team of researchers around Leonida Fusani found that the sleeping position of the warblers depended on their physiological condition

These findings reveal new perspectives on the functions of avian sleep postures, as well as the ecological and physiological challenges birds face during migration.

The article „Sleeping unsafely tucked in to conserve energy in a nocturnal migratory songbird 8“ by Andrea Ferretti, Niels C. Rattenborg, Thomas Ruf, Scott R. McWilliams, Massimiliano Cardinale, and Leonida Fusani was published in Current Biology.

More info 9

(Web editor, 19 August 2019)


Complex courtship behaviour

Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) passing a berry back and forth as part of a courtship ritual (Photo Minette Layne, Seattle, Washington - CC BY-SA 2.0)
Cedar waxwings passing a berry back and forth

The development and function of multimodal courtship displays are behaviours designed to facilitate attraction of potential partners and mating. They are widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Most courtship signals are multimodal, that is they consist of different signals and different sensory modalities. Although courtship often has a strong influence on reproductive success, the question of why and how males use multimodal courtship to improve their reproductive performance has not received much attention. Little is known about the role of the various components of male advertising and their relative importance to females.

The aim of a study at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, led by Leonida Fusani, was to examine what is currently known about the functional significance of advertising displays, in particular the role of multimodality in this context. The focus is on those cases where a complete picture of the communication system can only be assessed by taking into account the complexity and interaction of different modalities. Empirical studies are needed to specifically test how the variation of the various modalities and the interaction between them influence the response and selection of females. Moreover, we know very little about the neural mechanisms involved in the multisensory processing of courtship.

The article Evolution and function of multimodal courtship displays  10by Clémentine Mitoyen, Cliodhna Quigley, and Leonida Fusani was published in the journal Ethology.

(Web editor, 6 August 2019)


Witnessing extinction

A European roller hunting for insects (Photo David Grabovac – via Wikimedia Commons)
European roller with insect in its beak 11

Due to broad‐scale habitat loss, European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) have been decreasing in numbers rapidly during the 20th century in parts of their European distribution range. In Austria, as of 2017, only a completely isolated relict population of two breeding pairs and a few non‐breeders remained in Styria, compared to about 270 pairs in the 1950s. In 2018, no breeders at all were recorded. Since 2002, all nestlings and adult birds in Austria have been ringed. Given the small census size, combined with lack of immigration from other populations, genetic depletion seems likely. In the present study, genetic data based on blood samples of nestlings from recent years were collected and compared with museum samples from historical times and with birds across the distribution range to arrive at a first preliminary phylogeographic dataset for the species. The mitochondrial DNA showed a decrease in genetic variation over time in Austria. These results indicate drift effects in this relict European Roller population caused by the fast population breakdown and small population size. We also found that the Austrian Rollers are part of a formerly continuous European population.  This opens the way to restocking the present relict population with birds from Eastern Europe (“genetic rescue”).

The article Witnessing extinction: Population genetics of the last European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) in Austria and a first phylogeographic analysis of the species across its distribution range 12 by Carina Nebel, Kerstin Kadletz, Anita Gamauf, Elisabeth Haring, Peter Sackl, Michael Tiefenbach,  Hans Winkler and Frank E. Zachos was published in the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research.

(Web editor, 8 July 2019)


Successful reintroduction of the Ural owl

Stephan Pernkopf, Petra Winter, Richard Zink and Alfred Riedl with a Ural owl. Photo © NLK Reinberger
Stephan Pernkopf, Petra Winter, Richard Zink and Alfred Riedl with a Ural owl 13

It has been a decade since the first 22 young Ural owls were released in 2009.  Currently there are about 30 stable Ural owl pairs living in the wild in Lower Austria.  The species had become extinct in the wild in Austria in the 1950s.  The long-term engagement of forestry, conservation groups, and hunting organizations has been successful.  On 17 June the Austrian Ornithological Centre´s branch in Seebarn celebrated a decade of successful reintroduction of this charismatic owl species. 

Project leader Richard Zink is optimistic that Ural owls have a good chance to establish themselves permanently in the Austrian woods.  Forestry and agriculture measures can support this process.  The Ural owl is well adapted to texture-rich mixed broadleaf forests with native tree species.  

An international breeding network provides the foundation for the reintroduction programme.  In Austria there is a long-term cooperation with the Schönbrunn Zoo and 12 more zoos and breeding stations.  They support the project and provide owl chicks for release into the wild. 

More info 14 (in German)

(Web editor, 18 June 2019)



News Archive... 15



Savoyenstraße 1a, A-1160 Vienna
Tel:   +43 (1) 25077-7900
Fax:  +43 (1) 25077-7941

How to find us 16


Recovered a bird ring?

Bird rings of various sizes

Please report your recovery here 17.


Wilhelminenberg Seminar

Every Wednesday during the university semester we hold the "Wilhelminenberg Seminar", a colloquium where leading international scientists present their latest research results.

Seminar programme 18


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