Project: Mark My Bird

One of my favorite parts about citizen science projects is that many of them encourage us to get out there and reconnect with the natural world. However, while most of us would love to look for skates on the Southern African coast, or lay in the grass waiting for the solar eclipse, it’s awesome that there are some programs out there that we can participate on a day-to-day basis, regardless of our location. Face it, most of our day jobs keep us pretty close to the computer, so Mark My Bird is a cool opportunity to help researchers at the University of Sheffield from the comfort of your own home or office (and, they get bonus points in my book for a coming up with a punny name).

Mark My Bird seeks to answer the question asked by George G. Simpson in his 1942 book, Tempo and Mode in Evolution: “How fast, as a matter of fact, do animals evolve in Nature?” Changes in species traits, such as the color of a flower, are indications of evolution–so, the rate that these traits are changing over time is indicative of some biological impetus for doing so. Bird bills are particularly handy for telling us a lot about a certain species’ eating habits, diet, foraging techniques, etc., and so scientists are particularly interested in studying how they are changing to adapt to their environment, some of them over a relatively short period of time.

So where do the rest of us come in? The research team at the University of Sheffield is taking incredibly detailed 3D scans of the bills of all of the world’s bird species, using museum archive photos. But, before the scans will really be useful, they have to be “landmarked.” Landmarking involves placing tags on features of the bill that are common to all specimens. Scientists can use the landmarks to mathematically describe the shape of bills so that they can compare how they differ among species.

According to the Mark My Bird Site, here’s how to get started:

  1. Register as a Mark My Bird landmarker.
  2. Make sure you are using a web browser that can display the 3D scans. You can read more on how to check here.
  3. Read the Viewer Guide and the Landmarking Guide.
  4. That’s it you are ready to Start Landmarking.

The site’s homepage includes some fun stats like the top landmarking contributors, and the percent of total bills landmarked (there is still plenty of work to be done!). When you create an account, you can also see your contributions on the Get Started page, once you’ve created an account. If you want to contribute to evolutionary students a have got a few minutes to spare on your lunch break, or want something to do while you’re relaxing on the couch in the evening, give Mark My Bird a shot!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *