Gisela Kaplan

Emeritus Professor - School of Science and Technology

Gisela Kaplan


Professor Gisela Kaplan is an Emeritus Professor in Animal Behaviour in the School of Science and Technology. She is the author of over 250 research articles and 22 books, and has conducted ground-breaking research into vocal learning, communication and cognition of birds and other vertebrates. She has become a public voice for science on wildlife, especially native birds, and is regularly heard in public media.

Professor Kaplan has been recognised by a series of awards for her research and writings such as a shared human rights award in 1994, a Federation Community Services Award in 2001 (for services to wildlife), a Wilderness Society Award (2005), as a winner of the Australian Publishing Association Award in the single book category (2005). Her book 'The Australian Magpie'  attained bestseller status by the publisher and in 2016 her book 'Bird Minds. Cognition and behaviour of Australian native Birds' was awarded a prestigious Whitley Award (behavioural zoology).

Professor Kaplan serves on a variety of scientific research panels, on national granting bodies in Australia and elsewhere, is member of Editorial Boards  of several journals, a member of the Springer series Board of Editors for its new Numanities series, is regular assessor for over 25 prestigious scientific international journals and in her spare time continues to participate in animal welfare debates, in environmental education and science interest in school children and the general public as well as rehabilitates native birds under licence. She is regularly consulted by the media (national and international) and at times has her own segment on bird behaviour on ABC radio outlets plus podcasts on bird behaviour.


B.A. (Hons., First Class), Grad. Dip. Ed., M.A. (Monash), Ph.D. (Monash University, Melbourne), Ph.D. (Vet. Science, UQ- Excellence in Research Award), hon. DSc. (UNE)

Research Interests

Prof. Kaplan's main research interests are in complex cognition and communication both in birds and primates. The confirmation that the evolution of extant songbirds and parrots occurred in Australia provided a rich field of study of life histories of birds, an area in which her research is ongoing. One of the model species for this research has been the Australian magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen) capable of elucidating important points about vocal learning, brain plasticity and the implications of sustained parental care, asking also why complex cognition had evolved in so many Australian birds and why so many are extremely long-lived compared to high latitude birds. Among other things, Professor Kaplan described the development and range of mimicry, discovered referential signaling and was the first to report pointing behaviour in any avian species. Her research has been supported by Australian Research Council (ARC) grants. Her book Bird Minds (2015) was a landmark publication linking cognition to life histories of 500 species of native Australian landbirds.


(Select publications list)

Recent books (on animal behaviour)

  1. Kaplan, G. (2019) Bird Bonds. Sex, mate-choice and cognition in Australian native birds. Macmillan Australia, Sydney. 368 pp. ISBN: 9781760554200.
  2. Kaplan, Gisela (2019) Australian Magpie: Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird. 2nd edition, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.  (1st ed. 2004, ISBN 0-643 09068 1. pbk. 142 pp)
  3. Kaplan, Gisela (2018) Tawny Frogmouth. 2nd ed., CSIRO, Melbourne. ISBN 9781486308163, pbk. 168 pp. (1st ed. 2007, ISBN 9780643092396, pbk. 155 pp.)
  4. Kaplan Gisela (2016) Bird Minds. Cognition andBehaviour of Australian Native Birds. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne. 286 pp. (incl. a 15-p. Appendix on brain size and life history data of Australian birds). ISBN 9781486300181. Reprint with corrections of 2015 publication (epdf: 9781486300198; epub: 9781486300204)
  5. Rogers, Lesley J. and Kaplan, Gisela eds. (2004) Comparative Vertebrate Cognition:  Are Primates Superior to Non-primates. Kluwer Primatology Series: Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospect. Kluwer Academic /Plenum Publishers, New York, Boston, Dordrecht, London, Moscow.ISBN 0-306-47727-0, Hbk, 386 pp.
  6. Kaplan, Gisela (2003) Famous Australian Birds. Allen & Unwin, Melbourne. ISBN 1 86508 835 8.
  7. Rogers, Lesley.J. and Kaplan, Gisela (2003) Spirit of the Wild Dog, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, ISBN 186508 673 8, pb, 229 pp; and also (2008) reissued as e-book; link:
  8. Kaplan, Gisela and Rogers, Lesley J. (2001) Birds. Their Habits and Skills. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, ISBN 1 86508 376 3, 272 pp. and also (2008) reissued as e-book; link:

  10. Rogers, L.J. and Kaplan, Gisela (2000) Songs, Roars and Rituals. Communication in birds, mammals and other animals. Harvard University Press, Cambridge ISBN 0 674 00058 7, 207 pp. (completely rev. version of 1998 pub. Not Only Roars and Rituals, Allen & Unwin, Sydney;  ISBN 1 86448 798 4).

Selected refereed papers

  1. Rogers, LJ and Kaplan G (2019) Does functional lateralization in birds have any implications for their welfare? Special Issue: Brain Functional Lateralization in Animals. (Ed. A. Quaranta). Symmetry, 11, 1043; doi:10.3390/sym11081043
  2. De Tommaso,M., Chiandetti, , C., Kaplan, G.,  Vallortigara, G.(2019). Naïve 3-day-old domestic chicks (Gallus gallus) are attracted to discrete acoustic patterns characterizing natural vocalizations. Journal of Comparative Psychology. Sep 20.DOI:10.1037/ com0000132.
  3. Rogers, LJ, Koboroff A and Kaplan G (2019) Lateral Asymmetry of brain and behaviour in the zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata. In Left Versus Right Asymmetries of Brain and Behaviour. (Ed. L.J. Rogers), pp. 31-46. MDPI Basel ISBN 978-3-03921-692-5 (Pbk); ISBN 978-3-03921-693-2 (PDF) ,
  4. Kaplan, G. (2018) Development of meaningful vocal signals in a juvenile territorial songbird (Gymnorhina tibicen) and the dilemma of vocal taboos concerning neighbours and strangers. Animals 8, 228 (27pp); doi:10.3390/ani8120228
  5. De Tommaso,M., Chiandetti, , C., Kaplan, G.,  Vallortigara, G.(2018). Naïve 3-day-old domestic chicks (Gallus gallus) are attracted to discrete acoustic patterns characterizing natural vocalizations. Journal of Comparative Psychology. Sep 20.DOI:10.1037/      com0000132.
  6. Rogers, L.J., Koboroff, A., Kaplan, G.  (2018). Lateral Asymmetry of Brain and Behaviour in the Zebra Finch, Taeniopygia guttata.. Symmetry. 9, 99 (27pp); doi:10.3390/sym9070099.
  7. Rogers, L.J., Stewart, L., and Kaplan, G. (2018) Food calls in common marmosets, Callithrix jacchus, 2 and evidence that one is functionally referential. Animals. 8, 99; (18 pp). doi:10. 3390/ani8070099
  8. Kaplan, G. (2018). Passerine Cognition. (10,000 word entry): In: Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Ed. by Jennifer Vonk, Todd K. Shackelford, Springer International Publishing AG/Nature , 6330 Cham, Switzerland.
  9. Kaplan, G. (2017). Audition and hemispheric specialization in songbirds and new evidence from Australian magpies. Symmetry 9, 99 (27pp); doi:10.3390/sym9070099.
  10. Kaplan, Gisela  (2016) Don Quixote’s Windmills. Ch.  14 in Thinking about Animals in the Age of the Anthropocene. (ed. by M. Tonnessen,, Kristin Armstrong  Oma and ) pp.284-305. Lexington Books  (imprint of Rowman & Littlefield).
  11. Kaplan, Gisela (2016) ‘So little brain, so much mind. Intelligence and behavior in non human animals’ by Felice Cimatti, Giorgio Vallortigara. Italian Journal of Cognitive Science. (Reti, saperi, linguaggi ) 4 (8): pp. 237-252.
  12. O’Neill Adam J, Cairns Kylie M, Kaplan Gisela, Healy Ernest (2016). Managing Dingoes on Fraser Island: Implications of lethal control. Pacific Conservation Biology 23: 4–14;
  13. Kaplan, G., (2014) Animal Communication. Invited Advanced Review. WIREs Cog Science . doi: 10.1002/wcs.1321.
  14. English M, Kaplan G, Rogers LJ (2014).  Is painting by elephants in zoos as enriching as we are led to believe? PeerJ. DOI 10.7717/peerj.471. 19pp.
  15. Kaplan G and Rogers LJ (2013). Stability of referential signalling across time and locations: Testing alarm calls of Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) in urban and rural Australia and in Fiji., PeerJ 1:e112; DOI 10.7717/peerj.11.
  16. Kemp, C. and Kaplan, G. (2013). Facial expressions in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) and their use by conspecifics. Anim Cogn DOI 10.1007/s10071-013-0611
  17. Koboroff A, Kaplan G, Rogers L (2013). Clever strategists: Australian Magpies vary mobbing strategies, not intensity, relative to different species of predator. PeerJ, DOI 10.7717/peerj.56:1-14
  18. Kaplan G (2011). Pointing gesture in a bird- merely instrumental or a cognitively complex behavior? Online Special Issue ‘Animal Cognition’, Current Zoology57 (4): 453-467.
  19. Suthers, R., Wild, M. and Kaplan, G. (2010). Mechanisms of song production in the  Australian magpie. Journal of Comparative Physiology –A DOI 10.1007/s00359-010-0585-6 (Sept 2010), printed (2011): vol. 197 (1): 45-59.
  20. Brown, J., Kaplan, G., Rogers, L.J. and Vallortigara, G. (2010). Perception of biological motion in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus): by females only. Animal Cognition, 13: 555-564.
  21. Kaplan, G. (2009). Animals and Music: Between cultural definitions and sensory evidence. Sign System Studies, 37 (3/4): 75-101.
  22. Kaplan, G., Johnson, G., Koboroff, A. and Rogers, L.J.  (2009) Alarm calls of the Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen): I. Predators Elicit Complex Vocal Responses and Mobbing Behaviour. The Open Ornithology Journal 2:7-16.
  23. Vallortigara, G., Snyder, A., Kaplan, G. Bateson, P, Clayton NS and Rogers, LJ (2008) Are animals autistic savants? PLoS Biology 6 (2) e42. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060042.
  24. Kaplan, G. (2008). The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen): An alternative model for the study of songbird neurobiology. In P. Zeigler and P. Marler (eds). The Neuroscience of Birdsong. Cambridge University Press, pp.153-170.
  25. Kaplan, Gisela (2008). Alarm calls and referentiality in Australian Magpies: Between midbrain and forebrain, can a case be made for complex cognition? Brain Research Bulletin 76, 253-263.
  26. Koboroff, A., Kaplan, G. and Rogers, L.J. (2008). Hemispheric specialization in Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) shown as eye preferences during response to a predator. Brain Research Bulletin 76,304-306.
  27. MacFarlane, Geoff R., Blomberg, Simon P., Kaplan, Gisela and Rogers, Lesley J. (2006) Same-sex sexual behaviour in birds: expression is related to social mating system and state of development. Behavioural Ecology, vol.18(1):21-33.
  28. Rogers, L.J and Kaplan, G. (2006). Think or be damned: Problematic case of higher cognition in animals and legislation for animal welfare. Journal of Animal Law 12 (2): 151-191.
  29. Kaplan G. and Rogers L.J. (2002) Patterns of eye gazing in orangutans, International Journal of Primatology, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 501-526, June 2002.


She is currently a

  • Life member of the International Primatological Society (IPS)
  • Elected honorary fellow of the American Ornithology Union (list of 100 most eminent ornithologist worldwide)
  • Member of the Royal Society of New South Wales
  • Patron of the Dingo Conservation Society of Australia
  • Member of the Australian Psychological Society (20-year service award)
  • Member of the Centre for Veterinary Education
  • Member of Australian Neuroscience Society
  • Member of Australian Authors
  • Honorary Professor Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland

Further Information

Prof Kaplan will be a speaker on all three days of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival (7-9 June 2019). She is also listed in the segment “featured authors”.

For program details see: