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Kea Lab


The Kea Lab is located at the Haidlhof Research Station in Bad Vöslau in Lower Austria.

This Research station is a cooperative project between the Comparative Cognition unit of the Messerli Research Institute (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna), and the Department of Cognitive Biology (University of Vienna).


In the Kea Lab our research aims at investigating perceptual, physical and social cognition in the kea mountain parrot (Nestor notabilis). Thereby we have a strong focus on the interplay between these domains and explorative behaviour and environmental condition.

These questions target fundamental issues of cognition such as how these animals acquire knowledge, what they know about causality and whether they are able to reason by analogy.

Huber, L. (2016). Forschungsstation Haidlhof. In J. Redl (Ed.), Haidlhof – Ein Platz mit Geschichte. Bad Vöslau: Eigenverlag.



A flock of twenty-eight individuals, with varying age and sex is permanently housed there in an outdoor aviary that is more than fifty meters long (520 m2). This aviary is specifically designed for cognitive and behavioural research on kea based on decades of kea research-experience. It provides a fine-tuned design with a variety of areas for retreat and environmental enrichment for the birds and facilities assisting research and animal care taking.

There are two breeding compartments that can be closed off from the main aviary to allow a pair to breed in seclusion on either end of the aviary. Each one is equipped with a wooden breeding box that simulates the natural underground burrows... Two testing compartments can be visually closed off from the rest of the aviary to test birds in isolation, and further subdivided to give experimenters the ability to separate subjects from the apparatus between trials.

Each one is equipped with a touchscreen-based learning apparatus... Three large living compartments provide the flock with pools, shelter niches and houses, enrichment areas, plant beds and foraging arenas.

The birds are fed a mixed diet of vegetables, fruit and seeds three times a day, and a source of protein (e.g. eggs) once a day. The diet of the kea is adjusted to reflect seasonal changes in their natural food availability, however, not to increase motivation in experimental participation. The rewards offered in experiments are preferred treats that are not part of their normal diet. All work done with the kea is completely non-invasive and are not classified as animal experiments as per Austrian Law.