Doctoral Candidate 2 (Theme 1)

On the Wings of a Stork: Revealing the Dynamics of Soaring Environments

State of the Art

Migratory birds have evolved impressive behavioral adaptations to exploit horizontal and vertical winds for cost-efficient flight. Yet, these atmospheric conditions are highly dynamic. Occurrences of thermal updrafts, a requirement for soaring flight, can be predicted using local weather conditions and the underlying landscape structure, but how strongly this suitability varies temporally is unknown. In addition, how different habitats and humanly altered landscapes alter updrafts is essential for predicting migration costs which ultimately affect survival and fitness.

Innovations and Impact

The combination of drones and real-life 3D bird trajectories enables the study of how highly dynamic soaring conditions vary throughout time and season. This will also provide an understanding of how habitat and urban structure influence flight conditions for large migrating soaring birds. In turn, these findings may help to develop 3D navigation and guidance algorithms for drones.

Alt text: Photy by Max Planck Institute

Copyright by Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior

Copyright by Colourbox

Copyright by University of Bristol


To understand how soaring conditions for large migratory birds vary with time and season, the Doctoral Candidate will collect 3-dimensional high-resolution GNSS trajectories of migrating white storks at different locations along the migration route and translate them into drone flight missions. Drones with various sensors will retrace these flight segments repeatedly at different time points to obtain measurements of the airflow and imagery of the environment. This will allow us to develop a temporally dependent thermal uplift model. Photos and videos of the habitat will be used to determine how habitat type and urban structures influence the availability of thermal updrafts.

Expected Results

  • Dataset on 3D flight paths on white storks including detailed measurements of movement patterns (IMU & ACC)
  • Temporally dependent model on thermal uplift,
  • Dataset on airflow and habitat along the flight paths for different time points, and
  • Analysis of habitat suitability for the occurrence of thermal updrafts.


Project Facts

Planned Secondments: Bruno Kessler Foundation (Italy) investigating real-time flight plan computations on drones; University of Münster (Germany) investigating the use of low-altitude images to create topological ground maps.

Principal Supervisor: Andrea Flack, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior.

Academic Supervisor: Professor Martin Wikelski, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior.

Main hosting site: Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (Germany), the Ph.D. will be awarded by University of Konstanz (Germany)

Illustration of DC2 – Migration Analysis project

More about the Themes

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