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Valuable habitats: birds are real railway fans

Even abandoned and unused, railways clearly beat roadways in environmental terms, as demonstrated by a Polish team, under the lead of Marcin Tobolka, who is now visiting scientist at Vetmeduni. The study, funded by National Science Centre (Poland) has been recently published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. The study examined abandoned railway lines with regard to their quality as a habitat for birds. Unused railway tracks make an attractive habitat for birds, offering a variety of opportunities and considerable biodiversity. The abandoned infrastructure is of great relevance especially where birds are displaced from their traditional habitats due to agricultural intensification.

Over a study period of a year the two researchers compared three different habitat types – unused railway lines, dirt road verges and fields – in terms of bird abundance and species diversity. The scientists recorded a total of 9,678 individual birds from 99 bird species, counting 4,614 individuals from 80 species along unused railway lines, 3,124 individuals from 73 species along dirt roads in farming areas, and 1,940 individuals from 60 species in agricultural fields.

As these types of structures have a high potential as alternative habitats and are beneficial for nature conservation, they should be considered in landscape planning programmes. Unused railway lines may be used among several tools to mitigate biodiversity loss in farmland, which is also one of the goals of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, as the study authors point out.

The article "Unused railway lines as a contributor to bird abundance, species richness and diversity in intensively managed farmland“ by Łukasz Dylewski and Marcin Tobolka was published in „Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment".

Die study was supported by the National Science Center (Poland); Project 2016/21/N/NZ8/01289

Scientific article

Vetmeduni press release


Weather conditions determine the life of hoopoe chicks

There is surprisingly little scientific information on the behaviour of birds with their young in the nest. A current international study led by Herbert Hoi from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, now shows that the influence of the weather is a determining factor that affects aspects such as breeding performance, food supply, but also nest use.

The study used hoopoe chicks (Upupa epops) to investigate the influence of different weather conditions on breeding performance, food supply and use of nest space. Study author Herbert Hoi says: "In particular, the place where the parents hand over the food and the size of the prey can lead to different use of the nest space by the nestlings. Parental feeding strategy and prey size are, in turn, influenced by weather conditions, which are the most important determinants of nest interior use by chicks.” The study also provides important new insights into communication between parents and their offspring.

Chicks supplied with large prey were more likely to remain hidden in a more distant nest area, whatever the weather. The prey is the most important factor directly influencing the use of nest space, which indicates a crucial role of large insects for the hoopoe. In addition, it was shown that long-term effects of the weather influence the entire food supply of the chicks and thus their behaviour. It is therefore to be expected that climate changes will have consequences for the population of the hoopoe.

According to the research team, the findings are also of great relevance for nature conservation and provide new insights into the theoretical basis of habitat selection.

The article „Influence of different weather aspects on breeding performance, food supply and nest‑space use in hoopoe offspring“ by Soňa Nuhlíčková, Ján Svetlík, Manfred Eckenfellner, Felix Knauer, and Herbert Hoi was published in „Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology“.

Scientific paper

Vetmeduni Press release


First nesting aids for the little owl in Seebarn

The little owl was widespread in our country until the 1970s. Today this small owl species is one of the most endangered bird species in Austria. Until recently, its population was only estimated at about 100 pairs, which are mainly found in eastern Austria.

The destruction of its habitats due to the intensification of agriculture endangers the little owl. The result: the little owl can no longer find any hiding places or nesting sites. Since little owls originally lived in tree steppes with low and sparse vegetation, vineyards are very suitable as a substitute as a hunting ground. To support the declining population of the little owl, the ornithological station in Seebarn is now beginning to install nest boxes in local vineyards. The goal is a significant increase in the current population, it will be interesting to see how well the nesting aids will be accepted in the coming years.

Of course, the purchase of crucial living space elements costs money. Each new little owl territory needs two nesting boxes and at least one day shelter. We appreciate your support our work, we are happy about every donation, no matter how small.

Donate to help the little owl


Ghrelin modifies migratory behaviour in nature

On migration, most passerine birds stop over along the way to rest and refuel. A network of hormones signals metabolic fuel availability to the brain in vertebrates, including the recently discovered gut-hormone ghrelin. Here, we show that ghrelin participates in the control of migratory behaviour during spring migration in a wild migratory passerine. We administered ghrelin to yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata coronata) caught during stopover and automatically radio-tracked their movements following release. Ghrelin rapidly induced birds to move away from the release site, indicating that the ghrelin system acts centrally to mediate stopover departure. The effects of the hormone treatment declined within hours following release and did not affect the overall rate of migration. These results provide experimental evidence for a pivotal role of ghrelin in the modulation of stopover decisions during migration, and offers insights into the regulatory functions of metabolic hormones in the dialogue between gut and brain in birds.

The study was a collaboration with Christopher G. Guglielmo, Scott A. MacDougall-Shackleton, and Yolanda E. Morbey of the Advanced Facility for Avian Research, University of Western Ontario, Canada, and Hiroyuki Kaiya of the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center Research Institute, Japan.

Funding was provided by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Global Fellowship 798739 GHRELMIGRA to Sara Lupi.

The article "Experimental ghrelin administration affects migratory behaviour in a songbird" by Sara Lupi, Yolanda E. Morbey, Scott A. MacDougall-Shackleton, Hiroyuki Kaiya, Leonida Fusani, Christopher G. Guglielmo wurde in der Zeitschrift Hormones and Behavior veröffentlicht.

Scientific article