John James Audubon is well known for his beautiful drawings of birds and my first field guide was an Audubon style with no photos. However, later I acquired photographic guides to see birds in their environment, or to just notice the sheen on their feathers. Plumage is an important indicator of species, and sometimes a small dot of color on the back of a woodpecker’s head can be the deciding factor. If you are someone that enjoys birding and the beautiful palettes of feathers, get ready for a treat. Zooniverse has added something unusual to their citizen science tasks—Project Plumage. Here’s the goal of the project according to the site:
In addition to the colours that we can see, many bird species can also perceive light in the ultraviolet (UV) range of the spectrum. The discovery that many birds see and respond to UV colouration has had a significant impact on how researchers now measure bird plumage colouration, as well as on our understanding of how birds see each other.
Our team is hoping to measure the dazzling array of plumage colouration in birds to gain a better understanding of how and why spectacular animal colouration evolves.
I took this project for a test spin, and like the image above, you are given a bird specimen based on your viewing preference (back, side or belly). Then, you are asked to click on certain locations of the bird such as mantle or primary feathers in order to record color. Interestingly, the birds are recorded in human light as well as UV light, so you have a chance to see something you may never witness in the field. There’s even a section to save your faves on the site.
Results will get posted to the Natural History Museum portal and of course the real interest here is understanding bird evolution. The last time I was this excited by birds was the NatGeo show Tim Laman & Edwin Scholes: Birds of Paradise. So, if you love the beautiful diversity of birds I highly recommend jumping into this project, especially since birding from your desk is a bit nicer than birding in the current freeze we have going in the Northeast. Make it a year for citizen science!