Live from the Bird Cams Lab: Q&A Session about Battling Birds Data Visualizations

September 19, 2019

On September 17, participants in Battling Birds joined our Bird Cams staff in a discussion about the different data visualizations created from the first round of data collection. The one-hour live Q&A was fueled by participants’ ideas and questions from both the online forums on the Bird Cams Lab website and during the live-chat. 

Co-hosts Ben Walters (Communications Specialist) and Rachael Mady (Masters Student) kicked things off by introducing themselves as did Miyoko Chu (Director of Communications) and Charles Eldermire (Project Leader), who were both in the room to manage the chat and be a part of the discussion. 

To orient everyone, we explained how Battling Birds fits into the larger project Bird Cams Lab. Bird Cams Lab is a Cornell Lab of Ornithology project funded by the National Science Foundation and aims to create an online space for scientists and cam viewers to co-create scientific investigations. We want to see what happens when participants do more than just gather data and have the opportunity to participate in each part of the scientific process, from observing and coming up with a question to publishing the results. For those of you that are not signed up to receive Bird Cams Lab news and updates, we invite you to sign up here

Before we dove in, we also emphasized that this discussion on the data visualizations was not so that we could simply give the “right answer” about anything because there is no right answer. Instead, the goal was to have a conversation with participants and invite participants to “co-pilot” the data exploration.

To set-up the first set of visualizations, we ran through a refresher on the main research question, “How does the diversity of species and abundance of individuals affect behavioral interactions, specifically displacements, at the feeder?” Diversity refers to the total number of species and abundance refers to the total number of individuals. Displacement is the main behavior of interest and refers to when a bird tries to take the perch or food of another bird and can be either successful or unsuccessful. 

In the first two bar charts, we toggled on and off the data and saw that with more birds and more species at the feeder, there was a higher chance for a displacement. We also had a discussion about the difficulty of recording behavior when more birds are at the feeder as well as what surprised us in these preliminary findings. 

We then polled everyone attending to see (1) which species people expected to be the ones to initiate the most displacements and (2) expectations as to whether species would interact more with other species, their own species, or equally with other species and their own species. The Blue Jay and the Common Grackle rose to the top as the most “aggressive” species, and participants predicted either more displacements would happen between the same species or that there wouldn’t be a difference between or within species. 

The “Who’s Battling” visualization revealed that the species to initiate the most displacements were European Starlings, American Goldfinches, Mourning Doves, followed by Blue Jays. Common Grackles didn’t seem to “make the cut.” We also saw that when species initiated displacements, these displacements were generally against their own species and not others. We talked about how that surprised us and why the reasons underlying those patterns. Some people in the online forums suggested that other factors could be influencing these patterns such as size and dominance hierarchies within species. Battling Birds participant Daniel Duarte even created a way to visualize the size relationships between potential initiators and receivers of displacements. So exciting to see! Those attending the session also pointed out that life history is important. Some species arrive in flocks while others don’t and this could influence the patterns we saw in who is displacing who.

The next set of visuals took on another wrinkle of displacements: success. When a bird attempts to displace another bird, it is not always successful in doing so. Most displacements were successful, but when we compared the different species American Goldfinches were more unsuccessful than European Starlings. We explored beyond the top-level graph and also saw how unsuccessful or successful European Starlings and Mourning Doves were with specific species. The pattern that these species were only unsuccessful against their own species jumped out at us. 

We then gave a sneak peek to the next set of visualizations that will be released in the next week. This set explores the relationship between weather and displacements, number of species, and number of individuals. During data collection, many people asked us why we included a question in the data collection about weather. Previous work suggests that weather can influence what species do and may affect the relationship between number of species and birds and how they are interacting. Kaliopi, one of those attending the live session, pointed out that they thought they saw certain species more often during active precipitation (rain or snow) compared to other species, but did not think precipitation affected displacements. 

We wrapped up the session and opened the floor for attendees to share any of their thoughts or ideas about creating more visualizations to continue our dive into the data. This call also goes out to those reading this and watching the recorded session as well. Every Battling Birder can be a co-pilot in this investigation.

Suggestions or ideas about the live Q&A session? Please leave your comments below.