The Final Results Are In!

March 19, 2020—Posted by Rachael Mady on behalf of Bird Cams Lab

Big Red feeding three young nestling in the nest

Want to know more?

Read a detailed final report that walks through the entire investigation.

Final Report

More Than A Thousand Participants Surfaced New Data On Hawk Vocalizations

Since May 2018, more than 1,400 members of the Hawk Talk project put on their citizen-science caps and joined other viewers and scientists on a mission to reveal new insights from the Red-tailed Hawk cam. The community watched the cam, exchanged questions about the hawks, and chose a question to investigate: “Do hawks use different kinds of calls in different situations at the nest?” 

To answer this question, participants watched more than 8,000 video clips using the Zooniverse platform, and completed more than 48,000 classifications—tagging the vocalizations they heard and the behaviors they observed in the first week after the eggs hatched. Using these data, staff at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology generated interactive graphs for participants to explore. Participants then shared their interpretations in online forums and a live Q&A session. Today we conclude this investigation with the final step—reporting on the results.

The data suggest that nestling vocalizations might change within their first week after hatching, beginning with “peeps” and “whistles” and progressing to primarily “peeps.” However, during this time period, the results did not reveal any clear associations between the type of vocalization and behaviors recorded, such as whether the adults were arriving or departing from the nest, or brooding or feeding the young. 

Interestingly, there is some evidence that nestlings and adults might vocalize in certain situations more than others. When nestlings were vocalizing, the most common situation at the nest was brooding or feeding. When adults were vocalizing, brooding was even more common, followed by arrivals or departures of adults. An important thing to keep in mind, though, is that some situations, like brooding, are more frequent than others (vocalizations may happen during them simply because they are frequent, not because there is an association). 

Figure 1. Out of the clips with each situation that coincided with a nestling vocalization, the percentage of clips for each type of vocalization is shown. “Unsure” refers to vocalizations that participants could not agree upon (i.e. did not meet the 60% consensus threshold).“N=” shows the number of clips that had that situation as well as some nestling vocalization.

Figure 2. Out of the clips with each situation with an adult vocalization, the percentage of clips for each type of vocalization is shown. “Unsure” refers to vocalizations that participants could not agree upon (i.e. did not meet the 60% consensus threshold). “Other” refers to vocalizations that participants agreed did not fit into any of the available categories to describe vocalizations. “N=” shows the number of clips that had that situation as well as some adult vocalization. Only two situations with vocalizations are shown on the horizontal axis because the others had a sample size of N=1.

As participants explored the data, they shared their insights:

Vocalizations are primarily focused on communication between adults and babies—primarily around feeding. —Vicki Morrow

It looks like peeping increased while other vocalizations were varying. However the overall “noise” level stayed around 80%. Peeping seems to equate a desire for food and food is a priority at this stage. Hmmmm, more to ponder! —Valerie Curtis

I  found it interesting that we noted sounds that were atypical of the adults (ex. adult peep, Arthur’s burp, etc.) and I think more data would be fascinating and perhaps more ‘unusual’ vocalizations detected. I’d love to see how (or if) the data would change as the nestlings turn to fledglings, and during the different growth stages. —Kaliopi Nikitas

A longer time frame would be great. We did come across some hybrid Chwirps and Arthur’s odd little burp so I would assume that they have more vocabulary than previously thought. —Valerie Curtis

Just as Valerie Curtis points out, a longer time frame would be great! To see if these patterns hold true, a next investigation would need to collect more data from a longer time span and then conduct statistical analyses to make sure the patterns are not simply due to chance.

For now, we have successfully conducted an online investigation co-created by viewers and scientists, learning something new about the Red-tailed Hawks on the cam and adding to what is known about Red-tailed Hawk vocalizations. Thanks to this team effort, we added to the general knowledge of Red-tailed Hawk vocalizations by conducting the first detailed study of the association between vocalizations and behaviors at a Red-tailed Hawk nest in the first week after hatching. 

Thank you to everyone who participated in Hawk Talk, whether you watched the cam and posed questions, tagged video clips, or explored the results and shared your interpretations. About 220 people signed up for the project and received email updates, and 1,440 collected data on Zooniverse. A special thank you to Peter Mason, a Zooniverse volunteer and programmer who joined the Bird Cams Lab to help extract the data from Zooniverse. 

If you’d like to read a more detailed summary of the investigation and results, please check out the Final Report

Please also share your takeaways, thoughts, or any questions you have about this investigation below.

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation grant 1713225. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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