Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

at the locations Seewiesen and Radolfzell/Konstanz

The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) was founded in 2004. The headquarter is located in Seewiesen in Upper Bavaria. The other part of the institute is located in Radolfzell at Lake Constance. The institute has four departments and several independent research groups that investigate different ornithological topics by using an interdisciplinary approach. Manfred Gahr and Bart Kempenaers conduct their research in Seewiesen. Martin Wikelski and Iain Couzin are directors in Radolfzell and Konstanz (at Lake Constance), both also hold a professorship at the University of Konstanz. The MPIO has over 200 employees and maintains close cooperation with a number of international institutions with shared research interests.

Department of Collective Behaviour

The research focuses on revealing the principles that underlie collective animal behavior. Understanding how social influence shapes biological processes is a central challenge, essential for achieving progress in a variety of fields ranging from the organization and evolution of coordinated collective action among cells, or animals, to the dynamics of information exchange in human societies. By developing an integrated experimental and theoretical research program, it aims to explore functional properties of groups in a context that can reveal how, and why, social behavior has evolved. The director of this department is Prof. Dr. Iain Couzin.

Department of Behavioural Neurobiology

The research of the department of Behavioural Neurobiology focuses on the sexual differentiation of the brain, seeking to understand the mechanisms responsible for the development of sex-specific behaviours and sensory processing. In this context, we study the endocrine, molecular, and neurobiological mechanisms of innate and learned vocalizations of various bird species in a natural setting. Songbirds display a large variety of gender-specific singing behaviour, making them ideal models for studies investigating sex differences in behaviour. The director of this department is Prof. Dr. Manfred Gahr.

Department of Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics

Who is the perfect partner and how do individuals find him or her? This question becomes relevant to every individual at some point in their lives, and is also the key to understanding many aspects of animal behaviour. The research of the department of Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics focuses on the evolution of mate choice, parental care, and promiscuity in birds. We study why individuals differ in their mating behaviour and how this affects their reproductive success and survival. The director of this department is Prof. Dr. Bart Kempenaers.

Department of Migration and Immuno-Ecology

The Department of Migration and Immuno-ecology at the Radolfzell Ornithological Station aims to understand why animals migrate, how they move from one place to another, and how they survive. To analyse global animal migrations, it equips individuals with state-of-the-art radio transmitters. Data from these transmitters are collected and stored in an online database accessible to researchers and the public across the globe. This research will provide new insights into how organisms cope with the effects of climate change, disease, and human alterations of their natural environment. The director of this department is Prof. Dr. Martin Wikelski.

Promotion of young scientists

The promotion of young scientists is a top priority at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. Highly skilled young researchers are given the opportunity to conduct their own research as heads of Max Planck Research groups. These appointments span a limited number of years and are funded by the Max Planck Society or external sources.


The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Organismal Biology” was established in 2009 and offers selected students from Germany and abroad the opportunity to work on their Ph.D. projects in a structured program that provides excellent research conditions. Interdisciplinary lectures and courses in organismal biology are provided in close collaboration with the Department of Biology at the Excellence University of Konstanz.

Wind Tunnel and MaxCine Center

A special feature of the institute in Seewiesen is the wind tunnel, where researchers have the opportunity to observe many hitherto inaccessible phenomena. 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 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. Natural flight conditions can be simulated in the tunnel by varying wind speeds, air pressure and temperatures, and via projections of landscape and sky.

In its interactive media room, the MaxCine Center for Communication in Radolfzell provides information through movies and live webcams about the various international research projects at the Vogelwarte Radolfzell. Insects and birds can be observed in nature on the “Bee Marie” meadow. Workshops for all age groups provide insight into the work of the scientists. Individually planned tours and continuously changing installations in different exhibition rooms provide a clear and comprehensive presentation of the research carried out at the institute.

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