Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 199, Issue 3, pp 183–189 | Cite as

Evaluation of two minimally invasive techniques for electroencephalogram recording in wild or freely behaving animals

  • M. F. ScribaEmail author
  • W. M. Harmening
  • C. Mettke-Hofmann
  • A. L. Vyssotski
  • A. Roulin
  • H. Wagner
  • N. C. Rattenborg
Original Paper


Insight into the function of sleep may be gained by studying animals in the ecological context in which sleep evolved. Until recently, technological constraints prevented electroencephalogram (EEG) studies of animals sleeping in the wild. However, the recent development of a small recorder (Neurologger 2) that animals can carry on their head permitted the first recordings of sleep in nature. To facilitate sleep studies in the field and to improve the welfare of experimental animals, herein, we test the feasibility of using minimally invasive surface and subcutaneous electrodes to record the EEG in barn owls. The EEG and behaviour of four adult owls in captivity and of four chicks in a nest box in the field were recorded. We scored a 24-h period for each adult bird for wakefulness, slow-wave sleep (SWS), and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep using 4 s epochs. Although the quality and stability of the EEG signals recorded via subcutaneous electrodes were higher when compared to surface electrodes, the owls’ state was readily identifiable using either electrode type. On average, the four adult owls spent 13.28 h awake, 9.64 h in SWS, and 1.05 h in REM sleep. We demonstrate that minimally invasive methods can be used to measure EEG-defined wakefulness, SWS, and REM sleep in owls and probably other animals.


EEG recording method Barn owl Surface electrodes Subcutaneous electrodes Sleep 





Slow-wave sleep


Total sleep time


Rapid-eye movement



We thank Petra Nikolay for assistance during electrode placements and Ninon Ballerstädt for the drawing of the owl brain. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society. A. R. was financed by the Swiss Science Foundation (No. 31003A_120517). The experiments were approved by the local authorities and comply with the NIH-guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals and with the current German animal protection law.

Supplementary material

359_2012_779_MOESM1_ESM.mpg (906 kb)
Video 1 Adult barn owl in captivity during slow-wave sleep and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. At the beginning of the REM episode one can see the typical reduction in muscle tone when the barn owl drops its head (MPG 906 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. F. Scriba
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • W. M. Harmening
    • 3
    • 4
  • C. Mettke-Hofmann
    • 5
  • A. L. Vyssotski
    • 6
  • A. Roulin
    • 2
  • H. Wagner
    • 3
  • N. C. Rattenborg
    • 1
  1. 1.Avian Sleep GroupMax Planck Institute for OrnithologySeewiesenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Zoology and Animal PhysiologyRWTHAachenGermany
  4. 4.School of OptometryUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  5. 5.School of Natural Sciences and PsychologyLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK
  6. 6.Institute of NeuroinformaticsUniversity of Zürich/ETHZurichSwitzerland

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