Ludwig Huber 2 has started with research on kea in 1999. His first interest was on social learning in kea, then he recognized how smart kea are in the physical/technical domain, relying on unusual manipulative skills and driven by an enormous urge to explore and play with objects (and conspecifics). For almost a decade this research was conducted at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology (on the Wilhelminenberg in Vienna), before in 2010 the birds moved to the new Haidlhof research station. In these 19 years Ludwig was supported by highly motivated and skilled postdoctoral scientists who in addition to their own research supervised the students on-site and took care of the kea (and their keepers).



Raoul Schwing 4 completed his Bachelor of Science (cum laude) at the University of Utrecht’s University College Roosevelt in the Netherlands, with a honours thesis on the habitat distribution of the European lobster. He then came to the kea lab in Vienna (at the time still housed at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology) and did a pilot study on the vocalizations of captive kea. Subsequently he joined a University of Vienna field study in the mountains of New Zealand on the cognitive abilities of wild kea. He continued his studies at the University of Auckland, in cooperation with the University of Canterbury,  with a full scholarship, and from there researched the vocal communication system of the kea over the next 4 years. His work also included an examination of the syrinx (anatomy lab in Auckland) and the hearing range (Haidlhof research station) of kea. Shortly before handing in his thesis he stepped in as kea lab manager at the Messerli Research Institute, to replace Dr Gajdon during his parental leave. After Dr Gajdons return he was hired as project manager for the kea lab, and oversaw the care of the kea group and the scientific projects on site at the Haidlhof Research Station. Since 2016 he has taken over as head of lab. His main interests lie in the cognitive aspects of social interactions. Can kea learn to imitate vocally and how is this vocal learning used in their social group? What function and/or effects does play behaviour have in kea social groups? How do subjects learn to cooperate? Future research will also look into the factors motivating the kea to participate in cognitive experiments.



Gyula Gajdon was recruited in 2002 as a postdoctoral researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH) where he did his Master (1994) on spontaneous matching-to-sample of plant species and man-made objects by long-tailed macaques (supervisor: Prof. Dr. H. Kummer) and his PhD (2001) about the social modification of early foraging in domestic chicks. In summer 2000 he raised Greylag geese at the Konrad-Lorenz-Research-Station for Ethology in Grünau (Austria) and conducted a study about exploration behaviour of free ranging goslings. Being the postdoc in the kea lab from 2002 until 2016 he not only conducted experiments on social learning, innovation, cognitive ontogeny and problem-solving with captive kea, but also established a field station for kea research in New Zealand (Mt. Cook National Park). There he spent several field seasons to study social learning and the spread of innovation in wild kea. Gyula had acquired also great merits by his planning and constructing (with Mark O'Hara and others) of the kea aviary at Haidlhof.




PhD Students


Melissa Sebilleau 7 (2017–): Imitation in parrots: mechanisms, function and evolution

Melissa Sébilleau completed a Bachelor in Life Science (Equine Science) at the University of Limerick (Ireland). Along this degree, she participated into two research projects: one looking at attention characteristics of horses (Equus caballus) using both ethological and neurological approaches (Drs. Hausberger, Henry and Cousillas; UMR 6552 – EthoS, University of Rennes 1, France) and the other, as part of her bachelor thesis, looking at the influence of food reward palatability on operant conditioning in horses (Dr. Younge; Department of Biological Sciences, University of Limerick, Ireland). After the completion of her BSc in 2015, she specialized in behavioural sciences with a two-years Master degree in Animal and Human Behaviour at the University of Rennes 1 (France) which also allowed her to conduct two research projects. She first worked on the sound perception of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) with Drs. Lemasson and Hausberger (UMR6552 – EthoS, University of Rennes 1, France) and then conducted a study on the acoustical coding of individual characteristics in the long distance calls of stallions (Equus caballus), also under the supervision of Drs. Lemasson and Hausberger. She started a PhD at the Messerli Research Institute in October 2017, looking at vocal and movement imitation in kea and budgerigars. This current project, part of the DK program “Cognition and Communication”, is supervised by Univ.-Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Huber, Univ.-Prof. Fitch (Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna) and Dr. Stöger-Horwath (Deparment of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna). It aims to study the ability for imitation and imitation function in the kea, an endangered and phylogenetically ancient parrot species, and to compare these abilities to that of a “true parrot” species, the budgerigar, in order to get an insight on the evolution of imitation in parrots.



Amelia Wein 9 (2016–): Imitation in Kea (Nestor notabilis)

Amelia Wein completed her bachelor’s in Linguistics (summa cum laude) at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. She worked as an English teacher and volunteer animal rescue worker before starting a master’s degree in Cognitive Science at the University of Vienna. Amelia came to the Kea Lab in 2012 for a semester project, and went on to do her master’s thesis there, in which she investigated whether kea can recognize the objects portrayed in pictures, both on a touchscreen computer and in photographs. During this time, she took part in a field experiment with wild kea in New Zealand. After completing her master’s degree, Amelia was hired as manager for the project “Vocal and Motor Imitation in Kea and Starlings”, a collaboration with the Ethos department of the University Rennes, France. She is currently completing her PhD on the kea’s vocal learning abilities. Her focus lies in the ontogenetic development of the chicks, their interactions with the mother, and the mother’s nest specific vocalisation. In 2017, Amelia received the prestigious ÖAW Doc Stipend to finance her studies in kea vocal imitation.


Mark O'Hara (2011–2016): Inferential Reasoning in Birds


Alice Auersperg (2007–2011): Causal understanding and technical intelligence in keas


Dagmar Werdenich (2002–2006): Technical and social intelligence in keas, Nestor notabilis, exemplified in problem-solving and cooperation tasks




Master Students

David Beraha (2018): Quantity Discrimination in Kea (Nestor notabilis)

Francois Weiss (2017): Aesops Fabel bei Keas

Martin Schlumpp (2016): 2.5 D in parrots? Visual size relation and the Ponzo illusion in captive kea (Nestor notabilis)

Corinna Köck (2014): Relational Concepts and Analogical Reasoning in Keas

Dora Szabo (2014): Testing the Generativity Theory in Kea (Nestor notabilis)

Kerstin Pölzl (2013): The effect of social learning on tool discrimination in the kea parrot (Nestor notabilis)

Michael Eigster (2012): Assessing the role of experience in novel tool use tasks in kea (Nestor notabilis) 

Mark O'Hara (2011): Reversal learning in the Kea (Nestor notabilis): Comparing the touchscreen to a reality-approach

Patricia Stamm (2007): Ontogenie von Neophobie/Neophilie bei Keas

Mario Pesendorfer (2007): Individual and social learning of object affordances in kea

Melanie Lichtnegger (2006): Assessing individual sensorimotor competence in captive kea

Ira Federspiel (2006): Social and cognitive aspects of cooperation in keas (Nestor notabilis)

Sabine Rechberger (2000): Beobachtungslernen bei Keas (Nestor notabilis)


Kea Lab