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Radar technology

Making aerial movements visible in the free airspace

We use radar technology to detect, quantify and identify bird, bat, and insect movements in the free airspace. We are dedicated to improving the classification of echoes into multiple species-groups, foster exchange between radar users’ (e.g. maintenance of an R-package), and support the development of new radar systems.

Radar ornithology at the Swiss Ornithological Institute started in 1969 with Bruno Bruderer’s first fieldwork in Bachenbülach, Switzerland, and has developed under the steady efforts of Felix Liechti, Thomas Steuri, Dieter Peter, and Herbert Stark.

Domain Research
Unit Bird Migration
Topic Birds and Human Beings, Ecology, Migratory Birds
Habitat alpine habitats, farmland, forest, meadows and pastures, rivers & streams, rocky terrain, semi-open farmland, settlements, wasteland, wetlands
Project start 1969
Project status ongoing
Project management Baptiste Schmid
Project region Africa, America, Asia, Europe



While in transit through the radar beam, animals leave a specific echo signature related to their flight behaviour. This echo signature can be used to classify echoes into several groups such as birds with i) continuous wingbeat pattern, ii) birds with regular flapping pauses (like most passerine birds), or iii) insects and possibly iv) bats.

The characterization of echo signatures is based on the long experience in using radar technology at the institute. Ground survey and animal releases have been used to cross-validate the characterization of birds, insect, and bats. Read more here.


Modern, continuously developing technology and accurate classification of the echoes is key for science-based and cost-effective monitoring by radar.


We have been involved in the conception and realization of a new radar system in joint ventures with our partners ZHAW, SBRS, and Agroscope, and supported by InnoSuisse. The BirdScan MR1 radar has been operating since 2015, and a new FMCW radar is under development to count animals as low as 10 m above the ground and register additional features in the air (micro Doppler). We are involved in an advisory capacity and above all in the validation of the system for classifying bird, bat and insect echoes.

Further information

We have set up and lead the BirdScan Community to foster the exchange between BirdScan radar users with regular meetings and with the development of research platforms:

  • An FAIR database to pool all existing and future identified echo signatures, making it available to all users for improving the classification method.
  • Maintenance of the birdscanR R-package that provides tools to analyse and visualise BirdScan data.

Project partner(s)

Financial support



Other resources
Testing a radar prototype (in German)
TV report
Radar alerts on intense migration activity (in German)
BirdScan MR1 UI-Software
Bird Migration link

Bird Migration

We research migratory birds from their breeding grounds to Africa and lay the foundations for their protection beyond national borders.

Learn more

Additional projects

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