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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White-backed woodpecker as an indicator of near-natural habitats in Europe

White-backed woodpecker (Photo_Xulescu G, Creative Commons BY-SA-4.0-WikimediaCommons)
White-backed woodpecker 8

Ornithologists have used multilocus molecular data and species distribution models to study the phylogenetics and phylogeography of the white-backed woodpecker. The white-backed woodpecker is an indicator of near-natural forests, and has an important European occurrence in Austria's mountain forests. Its importance for nature conservation lies in this indicator function. Like the great spotted woodpecker, but with gaps, it is distributed over the whole of Eurasia and has developed some island forms in the Far East. Hans Winkler et al. had already shown in 2005 that the Okinawa woodpecker, which has long been incorrectly classified, is a direct relative of the white-backed woodpecker.

The researchers emphasize that although this species of woodpecker is not classified as endangered, the highest genetic diversity is found in the population in the Białowieża Forest in Poland (the last remnant of a primeval forest in the lowlands of Europe) and in the Carpathian forests. These natural areas protect the genetic diversity of the white-backed woodpecker populations - an indication of the importance of maintaining near-natural forests for biodiversity.

The article "Phylogeography of a widespread Palaearctic forest bird species: The White-backed Woodpecker (Aves, Picidae) 9" by Jean‐Marc Pons, David Campión, Giorgio Chiozzi, Antonia Ettwein, Jean‐Louis Grangé, Łukasz Kajtoch, Tomasz D. Mazgajski, Marko Rakovic, Hans Winkler and Jérôme Fuchs was published in the journal Zoologica Scripta.

(Web editor, 2 December 2020)


The ultrasonic songs of mice contain distinctive individual signatures

House mouse (Photo: Bettina Wernisch/Vetmeduni Vienna)
house mouse

House mice emit complex ultrasonic vocalizations or USVs, which are above the range of human hearing. A recent study from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna) found that the USVs emitted by wild male mice contain distinctive individual signatures that are stable over time. Their findings show that these signals potentially mediate individual recognition.

USVs are surprisingly complex at many levels of organization, and the researchers found signatures of individual identity at every level that they analysed, including emission rates, mean frequency and duration, the number of different types of USVs, and even the length of silent intervals between calls. Moreover, using a machine learning algorithm, they were able to assign approximately 90% of recordings to the correct individual.

The article "Ultrasonic courtship vocalizations of male house mice contain distinct individual signatures 10" by Maria Adelaide Marconi, Doris Nicolakis, Reyhaneh Abbasi, Dustin J. Penn, and Sarah M.Zala was published in Animal Behaviour.

(Web editor,  4 November 2020)


Out of Africa: migratory birds fly to Europe earlier and earlier

Bird species that winter in North Africa and the Sahel have shifted their migration time more than those that winter further south, in the tropical forests of Central Africa. (Photo: Garden warbler, by CISCA)
Garden warbler

In response to climate change, the spring migration of many migratory birds is shifting ever further forward. However, according to a study presented by an international research team led by Ivan Maggini and Leonida Fusani from the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Behavioral Research at Vetmeduni Vienna , this change does not follow a uniform pattern. On the contrary, closer inspection reveals a complex picture: Essential for the start of the migration is the region of wintering. 

It is known from previous studies that migratory birds bring forward their spring arrival in European breeding areas due to climate change. In addition, those species that are less able to adapt their migratory time suffer a decline in their population in Europe. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the cause of their decline is the inability to adapt the timing of their migration.  Fusani and Maggini - in collaboration with an international research team on Ponza - analyzed the migratory periods of the 30 species most frequently counted on the island during the last 18 years. 

Climate change affects different living beings in many different ways. In Europe, the early spring favors an earlier appearance of insects, which in turn affects the breeding season of insectivorous birds. By breeding earlier, they ensure that they find enough food to feed their young. However, many migratory birds are not able to observe seasonally changing, favorable conditions in their European breeding areas because they spend the winter thousands of kilometers away in Africa. Their internal clock stimulates them to leave their winter quarters at the appropriate time. In the face of climate change, it is therefore increasingly a challenge to adapt departure times in such a way that migratory birds are offered the maximum possible food sources on arrival at their destination in Europe.

The article "Recent phenological shifts of migratory birds at a Mediterranean spring stopover site: species wintering in the Sahel advance passage more than tropical winterers 11“ by Ivan Maggini, Massimiliano Cardinale, Jonas Hentati Sundberg, Fernando Spina, and Leonida Fusani was published in PLOS ONE.

(Web editor,, 7 October 2020)


Little owl in great danger

Left to right: Wolfgang Pegler (Chairman „Wagrampur“), Richard Zink (Head of the AOC branch in Seebarn), Alfred Riedl (Gemeindebund-Präsident), Rector Petra Winter, Mike Ulzer (Weinhof Ulzer); Photo: E. Hammerschmid
group photo of participants with Little owl poster

The characteristic call of the little owl is rarely heard in Austria, because the small owl species is threatened with extinction. Due to the increasing loss of habitat, little owls can only find few breeding sites and suitable living conditions. Together with the “Wagrampur” association and committed winegrowers in Austria's wine-growing regions, the Austrian Ornithological Centre would like to promote sustainable, future-oriented protective measures for this endangered bird species. The AOC with its branch in Seebarn am Wagram (Lower Austria) offers bird-related know-how as the basis for the "comeback" of little owls and other bird species. In cooperation with the “Wagrampur” association, framework conditions are being created for the resettlement of the little owl.

On September 17, 2020, a photo and press meeting took place in the branch of the AOC branch in Seebarn am Wagram to raise awareness on the need for the protection of the little owl in Lower Austria. In addition to Petra Winter, Rector of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna and Richard Zink (Head of the AOC branch in Seebarn), Alfred Riedl (Mayor of Grafenwörth and President of the Association of Municipalities), the winemaker Mike Ulzer (Weinhof Ulzer) and Wolfgang Pegler (Chairman of the “Wagrampur “) took part.

You can help save the little owl with a donation 12.

(Web editor, 18 September 2020)


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Recovered a bird ring?

Bird rings of various sizes

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