Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Radolfzell)

Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Radolfzell)

Birds provide an ideal subject of research for a variety of fundamental biologic questions. Bird song for example resembles human language in many ways. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen want to find out how bird song has developed through learning process and what role neuronal principles and hormones play in this process. Furthermore they study the evolution of partner selection and loyalty of partners. Why do individuals differ in their mating behaviour and how does this affect their reproductive success, are examples of questions, that they search the answers for. At the Radolfzell Ornithological Station, a sub-institute, scientists research bird and other animal migration behaviour: how do animals get from one place to another and how do they survive? All data are being collected in an international database to be able to combine them and to do long term studies. Those data can be important for the humans in that aspect that birds and insects often spread diseases.


Am Obstberg 1
78315 Radolfzell
Phone: +49 7732 1501-0
Fax: +49 7732 1501-39

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Organismal Biology

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Collective Behavior more
Department Animal Migration and Immunoecology more
Shrews shrink in winter and regrow in spring
The tiny mammals reduce the size of their organs in the winter and can even decrease and rebuild bones more
Individuality drives collective behaviour of schooling fish
Researchers unravel the role of individual characteristics in the collective behaviour of animal groups more
On the hunt: describing group predation across the animal kingdom
Researchers outline a new way to define and classify how groups of animals hunt together more
“We still know far too little about bird flu”
Wolfgang Fiedler, an ornithologist at the Radolfzell Ornithological Station, pleads for more research leading to a better understanding of transmission paths more
Brazilian free-tailed bat is the fastest flyer in the animal kingdom
Bats are not just skilful aviators, they can also reach record-breaking speeds more
Blackbirds switch abruptly to fly-by-night behaviour at migration time
The normally diurnal birds don't need time to adjust their circadian clocks before departing for their winter habitats more
The Max Planck Society met in Saarbrücken
The Max Planck Society's 67th Annual Meeting wrapped up with a panel discussion the "Internet of Things" more
Following their noses to Lake Victoria – seagulls use smells to navigate
Without their sense of smell, lesser black-backed gulls are unable to compensate for deviations from their natural migratory corridor more
Gone with the wind

Gone with the wind

News October 20, 2015
Migratory birds need less time to travel longer routes when they optimize for wind support. more
<p>Straw-coloured fruit bats: Ecosystem service providers and record-breaking flyers</p>
When searching for food, African straw-coloured fruit bats cover greater distances than any other bat species studied to date more
GPS transmitters can protect animals from poaching
The case of Cecil shows: with the help of satellite transmitter systems, researchers can determine the cause of death of animals almost in real time more
Baboons follow the majority

Baboons follow the majority

News July 17, 2015
In a baboon group, any member can set the direction - not just the highest-ranking animal more
Observing small animals from space will soon be reality
The ambitious and globally unique ICARUS project receives funding from ROSKOSMOS more
Cuckoos stay on course

Cuckoos stay on course

News January 13, 2014
On their loop migration covering thousands of kilometres to their winter quarters in Central Africa, the birds hardly deviate from their path more
Just ask the animals!

Just ask the animals!

News October 16, 2013
Using animal behaviour data to better inform mathematical models of animal movements more
Tailwind for animal migration

Tailwind for animal migration

News July 03, 2013
A computer model links migratory movements with environmental data from satellites more
The rhythm of the Arctic summer

The rhythm of the Arctic summer

News June 19, 2013
Diverse activity patterns of birds during the Arctic breeding season more
City slicker or country bumpkin

City slicker or country bumpkin

News June 19, 2013

City-life changes blackbird personalities

Fast beat of the city

Fast beat of the city

News June 05, 2013
Blackbirds’ biological rhythms are altered in an urban setting more
Simultaneous breeding and moulting reduces fitness
Brush finches fly more slowly if they are reproducing and moulting at the same time more
Lunar cycle determines hunting behaviour of nocturnal gulls
Swallow-tailed gulls hunt most often under a new moon, when fish come to the surface under the cover of darkness more
Magnetic pulses disrupt the magnetic sense of robins
For their first migratory flight, juvenile birds rely on their genetically inherited internal compass more
Blackbirds in the spotlight

Blackbirds in the spotlight

News February 13, 2013
City birds that experience light at night are ready to breed earlier than their rural cousins more
Galapagos tortoises are a migrating species
The large, dominant male Galapagos giant tortoises usually start their annual migration at the beginning of the dry season more
Wild birds respond differently to the first long days of a year
For great tits spring does not always start at the same time more
Only few seabird species contract avian malaria
Climate differences have less impact on the transmission of blood parasites than expected more
Colourful boundary trespassers: burrowing parrots crossed the Andes 120,000 years ago
The different populations of the South American Burrowing Parrot originated in Chile more
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology agrees on a cooperation project with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment in Bhutan more
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology agrees on a cooperation project with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment in Bhutan more
Focus on interactions between wild animals, livestock, and human populations to reduce risks, strengthen responses more
Bats keep separate households

Bats keep separate households

News March 24, 2011
The use of different environments by males and females in the parti-coloured bat makes population estimation and thereby the conservation of the species more difficult more
Birds use right nostril to navigate

Birds use right nostril to navigate

News February 03, 2011
Pigeons are disoriented without olfactory sense more
Hormones dictate breeding success in birds

Max Planck researchers can predict the number of offspring a bird will have based on its prolactin and corticosterone levels

If many want to feed: how seabirds share their habitat
Feeding habits of diving seabirds differ spatially and temporally, both within and between species more
Soaring is better than flapping

Soaring is better than flapping

News December 08, 2010
Small migrating birds also save energy as they fly more
Only some like it hot

Only some like it hot

News March 31, 2010
How birds from different populations react to infections in their natural environment more
To the Antarctic or Brazil for new feathers
Thin-billed prions select their moulting grounds individually more
We’re off then: the evolution of bat migration
Researchers reconstruct the evolution of bat migration with the aid of a mathematical model more
Monarch butterflies with a heavy load
Scientists have succeeded for the first time in fitting monarch butterflies with a radio transmitter and in tracking them from an aircraft over a long distance on their flight northwards during the butterflies’ annual migration from their winter residence in Mexico more
Faithful males do not bring flowers
It is only one small evolutionary step from rampant illegitimacy to virtual monogamy more
Not living up to their name

Not living up to their name

News May 21, 2008
Sloths in the wild sleep a lot less than previously thought more
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.

Life on the Move

MPR 3/2012 Biology & Medicine
Whether birds that crisscross the globe, whales that navigate the vastness of the oceans or wildebeast on the African savannas – the major animal migrations in our world present an incomparable spectacle. Yet in many cases, surprisingly little is known about either their exact
destinations or how they get there. At the Radolfzell observatory of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Martin Wikelski and his team use miniature transmitters to track a wide variety of species on their travels.
Recent decades have seen an accelerated extinction of wild plants and animals throughout the world. There is still a chance to stop it, at least in Germany. A simple model shows a way out of the bio - diversity crisis.
No job offers available

Evolution right in our backyard

2013 Partecke, Jesko
Behavioural Biology Ecology Evolutionary Biology Physiology

It is well established that urban areas have been successfully colonized by animals. Less is known about the extent to which urbanization causes ecological and micro-evolutionary changes in animals thriving in urban areas. Studies at the MPIO in Radolfzell elucidate that city life causes changes in behavior and underlying physiological mechanisms and that micro-evolutionary effects may play an important role. Current studies using newest radiotelemetry and micrologger technique aim to discover the impact of artificial city light at night on the daily and seasonal organization of urban animals.


Thin billed prions: “miniature albatrosses” measure climate change in the Southern Ocean

2010 Quillfeldt, Petra; Masello, Juan Francisco
Behavioural Biology Climate Research Ecology
The Southern Ocean is strongly affected by global change. A long-term study of Thin-billed prions, a small seabird feeding on zooplankton in these vast ocean areas, was designed to further our understanding of the changes that currently take place in this ecosytem. Further, this study will look at adaptations that enable the birds to cope with changing conditions, such as flexible provisioning behaviour and physiological regulation of timing and investments in the breeding cycle. more

When and where to? On the track of bird movements

2008 Fiedler, Wolfgang
Behavioural Biology Ecology
Individual marking and tracking of birds with inscripted rings at the bird's legs, radio transmitters or other methods is used for the study of the success of individual strategies, demographic benchmarks, the study of bird migration with all it's facetes and the role of birds as vectors for diseases, the long term monitoring of bird populations, the building of survival models, the study of the reaction of birds to climate change and finally the provision of basic data for species conservation. more

Truth or dare: honesty of avian sexual signals

2006 Peters, Anne
Behavioural Biology Ecology
Trade-offs with immunity can theoretically enforce honesty on sexual signals through testosterone, that stimulates sexual traits but also suppresses immunity, and/or carotenoids, that can be used in ornaments or support immune functions. Recently, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology found evidence for such trade-offs in male mallards. more
Go to Editor View