Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

Max­Planck­Research Magazine

Issue 2017

MaxPlanckResearch 2/2017

Why Animals Swarm for Swarms

Until recently, following the crowd was not seen as a desirable goal in life. These days, however, everyone is talking about swarm intelligence. But are swarms really smarter than individuals? And what rules, if any, do they follow? With the help of new computational techniques, Iain Couzin from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell imposes order on the seeming chaos of swarms.

Issue 2016

MaxPlanckResearch 4/2016

Snoozing between Heaven and Earth
For humans, even a brief bout of sleepiness while driving can have fatal consequences. Frigatebirds, on the other hand, can snooze while cruising through the air without crashing to the ground. What’s more, they generally get by on very little sleep during their long flights over the open ocean, which can last for days. A team of scientists working with Niels Rattenborg at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen has demonstrated for the first time that birds can fly in sleep mode.

MaxPlanckResearch 3/2016

The Master Singer

From the tropical rainforest to the urban jungle, birds have conquered many habitats on our planet – and they sing in nearly all of them. Henrik Brumm at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen studies how they use song to communicate with each other. He has taken a particular liking to one extraordinarily talented singer.

MaxPlanckResearch 2/2016

Without a Sound
During language acquisition, gestures seem vital to learning how to speak. They help us emphasize and structure what we say. Simone Pika from the Humboldt Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen wants to know whether gestures were an evolutionary precursor of human language and how they develop. To investigate this question, the researcher studies the communication strategies of great apes in natural environments, but also corvids and human infants.
Issue 2014

Heft 2014

A Four-Legged Early-Warning System
In many parts of the world, goats are important suppliers of milk, meat and hides. However, Martin Wikelski, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, has very different plans for these modest animals: he wants to use them to predict volcanic eruptions.
Issue 2013

MaxPlanckResearch 3/2013

In Darwin's footsteps
Galapagos – the name has a magical ring to it, and not just for biologists. A unique flora and fauna developed on this group of islands located some 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. When Charles Darwin reached the archipelago in 1835, it was, besides the finches, above all the sub-species of giant tortoises, each specifically adapted to the ecological conditions of their individual island, that inspired his thoughts on the origin of species. But even then, many sub-species were already extinct: their ability to go for very long periods without food and water made the tortoises ideal provisions for seafarers. Today, there are still ten sub-species living on six of the islands. They are endangered primarily by non-native species, such as rats and goats, and human encroachment on their habitat. The portly animals, which can weigh up to 300 kilograms, feed on shrubs, leaves and grasses, depending on the kind of vegetation available on their home island. Some tortoises undertake long voyages between the lowlands and the higher areas on the volcanic slopes, which are lush with vegetation even in the dry season; others spend the whole year in the lowlands, which can sometimes be very dry. To learn more about these migrations, scientists working with Stephen Blake from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology attach GPS loggers and ultramodern 3-D accelerometers to the shells of some of the tortoises. This allows them to precisely track the animals over long periods and compare their observations with climate and vegetation data. Their findings were surprising: it is primarily adult males that walk up to ten kilometers in search of fresh, succulent food. But the researchers are still puzzled as to why the giant tortoises, which can go for months without eating, undertake these strenuous journeys.

MaxPlanckResearch 1/2013

Birds That Go Wild for the City
Many animal species have made their homes in towns and cities. However, the conditions they encounter there are different than those under which they would live in a natural environment. Henrik Brumm, Jesko Partecke and Bart Kempenaers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen and Radolfzell are studying the effects of city living on our native songbirds. In the process, they have discovered some surprising behavioral changes.
Issue 2010

MPR 2 /2010

Wire(less)tapping in the Aviary
What goes on in the heads of zebra finches when the males and females engage in a tête-à-tête?
Issue 2008

MPR 3 /2008

Sleepless in Seewiesen
With the help of a wind tunnel, ornithologists are keen to find out whether migratory birds occasionally sleep with one brain hemisphere during long-distance flights.
Issue 2007

MPR 1 /2007

The Advantages of Being Different
Zebra finches exhibit major differences in their mating and sexual behavior – from shy to aggressive. Evolutionary biologists question what advantages such a high degree of individuality can have.
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