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Use of social attraction for conservation

Test and development of bird conservation measures using the social attraction mechanism

Social cues such as the presence or density of conspecifics play – in addition to habitat quality – an important role in breeding habitat selection. An applied research project at the Swiss Ornithological Institute investigates whether the social attraction mechanism can influence the settlement decisions of certain bird species and whether this can be used for conservation measures.

Domain Research
Unit Applied research
Topic Distribution Ecology, Ecology, Species Recovery
Habitat meadows and pastures, semi-open farmland, settlements
Project start 2018
Project completion 2025
Project status ongoing
Project management Matthias Vögeli
Project region Aargau, Bern, Grisons, Lucerne, Solothurn, Zurich


Project objectives

The use of social attraction has already been successfully applied to various bird species to support the colonization or recolonization of high-quality habitats, which are often small and not connected with other habitats in our intensively used landscape. This method consists of playing songs or calls in suitable but unoccupied areas at a specific time to simulate the presence of a species and thus encourage birds to settle. This project tests the social attraction method in different endangered bird species and develops new conservation measures for them based on the gained results.


Social attraction is experimentally tested with three endangered bird species in Switzerland: Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra), Wryneck (Jynx torquilla), and House Martin (Delichon urbicum). The Whinchat subproject is carried out in an alpine valley characterized by extensively managed meadows, the Lower Engadine. The Wryneck subproject investigates the ant availability as a key factor for this species parallelly to the social attraction experiment. The House Martin subproject is carried out in a typical Swiss lowland area with a high proportion of settlement and intensively cultivated land.


Alternative and complementary conservation measures, such as the use of social attraction, are needed for the Whinchat since management changes to favor this declining grassland specialist are contrary to the agricultural intensification in mountain areas. For Wrynecks and House martins, the installation of artificial nests is a widespread conservation measure in Switzerland, despite highly variable success. The use of conspecific vocalizations aims for improving these conservation efforts and boosting the colonization rates of artificial nests.


Our playback experiments provided evidence that playback does not influence Whinchat breeding habitat selection, thus rendering it unsuitable as a conservation tool for this species. Playback did, however, positively influence breeding habitat selection of Wryneck and House martin, while the effect size was moderate. Food, i.e., ant availability (Wryneck) and the proximity to existing breeding colonies (House martin) emerged as key features to be considered for future conservation actions for these two endangered species.

Project partner(s)

Financial support

  • Stotzer-Kästli-Stiftung (Wryneck)
  • Stiftung Accentus (Wryneck)


Species concerned

Applied research link

Applied research

We test and evaluate new methods to support endangered bird species.

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