Austrian Ornithological Centre (AOC)

European robin (Erithacus rubecula) (Photo: Anne Hloch)

The Austrian Ornithological Centre (AOC) has its headquarters at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.  It is a scientific institution for the research of all biological and ecological aspects of birds.  It serves as ornithological documentation centre and is meant to bundle all bird research in Austria.  When it was founded in 2015 Austria became the last European country to establish such an ornithological centre.  

The AOC´s tasks include basic research on the lives of wild birds, causal research regarding threats to our birdlife, monitoring of breeding and migratory bird populations and the establishment and operation of a national bird ringing centre 1.




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 2“ by Andrea Ferretti, Niels C. Rattenborg, Thomas Ruf, Scott R. McWilliams, Massimiliano Cardinale, and Leonida Fusani was published in Current Biology.

More info 3

(Web editor, 19 August 2019)


Witnessing extinction

A European roller hunting for insects (Photo David Grabovac – via Wikimedia Commons)
European roller with insect in its beak 4

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 5 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 6

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 7 (in German)

(Web editor, 18 June 2019)



Sensational catch during bird monitoring at Wilhelminenberg: Great Spotted Woodpecker in Vienna almost breaks the age record

12-year old great spotted woodpecker female (Photo © Johannes Hloch)

At the end of January 2019, the Austrian bird ringing center at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology (KLIVV) caught a very special bird in the net during its annual bird monitoring: a  ringed great spotted woodpecker female of the considerable age of at least 12 years!

The data from the long-term monitoring program show that this bird was ringed at KLIVV in 2008. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that the average life expectancy of this species is 7 to 8 years and that the current known age record for wild spotted woodpeckers is 12 years and 8 months!

As luck would have it, on this very day a professional photographer was on site, who was also able to portray the beautiful woodpecker female.  The female bird was still very fit, so there is hope that it will grace Vienna´s Wilhelminenberg for a while longer and maybe even break the current age record.


News Archive AOC 9



Recovered a bird ring?

Photo of bird rings

Please report your recovery here 10.


TV-Tip: Von der Steppe in die Alpen - Vögel in Österreich

An interesting documentary film about birdlife in Austria, available online at 3Sat  11until 20 September 2019.  The documentary also briefly refers to the bird ringing programme of the AOC.