Flying in the wind tunnel

Flying starlings and pigeons in the wind tunnel

A slow motion movie by Christian D. Hartmann

Would you like to do research in the flight tunnel?

External Researchers are welcome to conduct projects in the wind tunnel in cooperation with the MPI for Ornithology.

The technical equipment was entirely renewed and workflows were optimized in 2016. Please gain insight into our wind tunnel by reading our technical description.

To discuss schedules and capabilities of the wind tunnel please contact us at:

Wind Tunnel in Seewiesen

Wind Tunnel

In 1999, our low speed (0 m·s−1 to 45 m·s−1) Subsonic Wind Tunnel SWT112R of the Race Track Type went fully operational. It was originally installed in an already existing building in such a way that the position of the flight section was located directly under the dome of a planetarium.

The wind tunnel was especially made to study physical and physiological problems related to birds as it allows researchers to actively observe them in the flying section. To date, the main focus has laid on questions of metabolism (heart rates, wing beat frequencies, water balance, fat metabolism, etc). The tunnel has, however, the potential to widen the field of interest to cover a lot of other activities[6].

3D model of the wind tunnel <br /><span class="st">©</span> MPIO Zoom Image
3D model of the wind tunnel

The built-in silencers enable a low noise environment for a smooth working atmosphere. Amongst the 25 evaluated species: starlings, swallows, pigeons, flycatchers, ducks and bats have already been successfully trained and have helped researchers to collect important data and valuable insights of animal flight features[1-5;7-13]. By means of its big settling chamber and enormous contraction unit, a very low turbulence airflow can be produced in the flight section, which is necessary for precise measurements. The climate control system allows temperature ranges from
+4 °C to +45 °C. Our wind tunnel's unique characteristic is the transition room which connects the wind tunnel to eight separate aviaries. This simplifies the transfer of test animals into the flight section only by calling the trained animals in or out.


[1] Eder, H.; Fiedler, W.; Neuhäuser, M.: Lasertracking of white storks: Slotted wing tips reduce induced drag. Biologie in unserer Zeit 46, S. 106–112 (2016)

[2] Engel, S.; Klaassen, R. H. G.; Klaassen, M.; Biebach, H.: Exhaled air temperature as a function of ambient temperature in flying and resting ducks. Journal of Comparative Physiology B 176 (6), S. 527–534 (2006)

[3] Engel, S.; Biebach, H.; Visser, G. H.: Metabolic costs of avian flight in relation to flight velocity: a study in Rose Coloured Starlings (Sturnus roseus, Linnaeus). Journal of Comparative Physiology B 176 (5), S. 415-427 (2006)

[4] Engel, S.; Biebach, H.; Visser, G. H.: Water and heat balance during flight in the Rose coloured starling (Sturnus roseus, Linneus). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 79 (4), S. 763-774 (2006)

[5] Engel, S.; Bowlin M. S.; Hedenström, A.: The role of wind-tunnel studies in integrative research on migration biology. Integrative and Comparative Biology 50 (3), S. 323–335 (2010)

[6] Hedenström, A.; Lindström, A.: Wind tunnel as a tool in bird migration research. Journal of Avian Biology 48 (1), S. 37–48 (2017)

[7] Hobson, K. A.; Yohannes, E.: Establishing elemental turnover in exercising birds using a wind tunnel: implications for stable isotope tracking of migrants. Canadian Journal of Zoology 85 (6), S. 703-708 (2007)

[8] Pennycuick, C. J.; Fast, P. L. F.; Ballerstädt, N.; Rattenborg, N. C.: The effect of an external transmitter on the drag coefficient of a bird’s body, and hence on migration range, and energy reserves after migration. Journal of Ornithology 153 (3), S. 633-644 (2012)

 [9] Schmidt-Wellenburg, C. A.; Biebach, H.; Daan, S.; Visser, G. H.: Energy expenditure and wing beat frequency in relation to body mass in free flying Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica). Journal of Comparative Physiology B 177, S. 327-337 (2007)

[10] Schmidt-Wellenburg, C. A.; Engel, S.; Visser, G. H.: Energy expenditure during flight in relation to body mass: effects of natural increases in mass and artificial load in Rose Coloured Starlings. Journal of Comparative Physiology B 178 (6), S. 767-777 (2008)

[11] Schmieder, D. A.; Zsebők, S.; Siemers, B. M.: The tail plays a major role in the differing manoeuvrability of two sibling species of mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis and Myotis blythii). Canadian Journal of Zoology 92 (11), S. 965-977 (2014)

[12] Voigt, C.: Nachtflug nach Nizza. forschung - Mitteilungen der DFG 41, S. 12-15 (2016)

[13] Yohannes, E.; Jochimsen, M.; Räß, M. Changes in blood stable isotopes δ13C, δ15N, plasma corticosterone and body mass in exercising birds using a wind tunnel. IBIS – International Journal of Avian Science BOU Proceeding (2011)

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