Swallow project receives Citizen Science Award 2019

Dr. Richard Zink and team member Janette Siebert, MSc with the winners (Photo OeAD GmbH/APA-Fotoservice/Schedl)
Group picture of the winning team and project leaders 1

Once again this year, interested people ("citizen scientists") had the opportunity to participate in research projects throughout Austria as part of the Citizen Science Awards 2019 2. The most dedicated citizen scientists were again honored by the Federal Ministry of Science and Research (BMBWF) and the Austrian Exchange Service (OeAD) with the Citizen Science Award on 19 November 2019.

A project of the Austrian Ornithological Centre  "Flugkünstler gesucht - Schwalbe gesehen 3?" ("Flying artists - have you seen a swallow?") was one of the seven winning projects. The aim of the project was to investigate the occurrence of common house martins and barn swallows in the Lower Austrian district of Tulln. Citizen scientists - participating classes as well as individuals - were able to photograph swallows and their nests with camera or smartphone and record their observations on the Wild Neighbors 4 website. On the Citizen Science Award Day, interested schoolchildren had the opportunity to learn more about the birdlife in town and country as well as to take a look behind the scenes of the different nesting aids and bird nests.

The festive ceremony then took place in the ballroom of the University of Vienna. Attractive prizes for two individuals and prize money for the winning class of BG / BRG Tulln (Lower Austria) were awarded based on the number of nests reported during the research period. 

(Web editor, 20 November 2019)  


Rare rustic bunting sighted in downtown Vienna

At the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna 67 bird species have been documented so far. This rustic bunting is a very rare find. (Photo © Christian Schulze)
Portrait photo of a rustic bunting 5

On the 2nd of November a rustic bunting was observed and ringed in the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna as part of the program "Integrated Winter Bird Monitoring." The rustic bunting is a breeding bird of the boreal coniferous forest zone with a range of distribution from Scandinavia to Northern Russia to the Bering Strait. It overwinters in the Southern parts of East Asia. In Central Europe the species only appears as an extremely rare guest. This is now the seventh sighting for Austria and the first proof of this globally endangered species for Vienna.

Dr. Christian H. Schulze from the Division of Tropical Ecology and Animal Biodiversity (University of Vienna) and his team are participating in the monitoring program, conducting bird ringing for scientific purposes in the university's botanical garden. Such green "islands" in big cities are important habitats for birds and other wildlife and thus contribute to the protection of species.The bird monitoring program was designed by the Austrian Ornithological Institute, which also coordinates it throughout Austria. The marking rings used for this purpose are provided by the Austrian Bird Ringing Centre.

(Web editor, 6 November 2019)  


Picking - sorting - identifying feathers - in a seminar at the AOC field office in Seebarn

For laypeople it is often difficult to distinguish one feather from another. (Photo © Richard Zink)
Screen presentation of bird feathers with a lecturer 6

Occasionally we find loose feathers on the ground - sometimes a single feather, sometimes a few together. The question always arises: What kind of bird has lost these feathers? Feather experts can determine the bird species based on the smallest details of individual feathers.

On October 19, a seminar on the identification of bird feathers took place at the Seebarn field office of the Austrian Ornithological Centre. In addition to an introduction to types of  feathers and lectures on legal provisions, e.g. regarding collecting feathers, there were also practical exercises. Experts and interested participants were able to practice the identification and measurement of birds, as well as the measurement and washing of feathers. A little knowledge quiz rounded off the workshop.

(Web editor, 21 October 2019)




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

More info 8

(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 9

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 10 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 11

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 12 (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.

(Web editor, 6 February 2019)


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