Welcome to Battling Birds!

Illustration by Jillian Ditner

Cornell Lab of Ornithology operates several bird feeder cameras around the world and is now interested in going beyond simply counting birds at feeders. 

This project’s main goal is to try and understand more about the behavior of the birds that visit—a task that video is uniquely suited for. More specifically we want to answer the question, How does the number of species and individuals affect behavioral interactions at a feeder? We want to better understand the social dynamics at a bird feeder as well as how these dynamics may shift when conditions change (e.g. weather).

To find out the answer, we collaborated with the Zooniverse community to watch clips taken from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s FeederWatch Cam. Zooniverse is a free and easy-to-use platform that hosts hundreds of other citizen-science projects.

On Zooniverse, citizen scientists watched clips and recorded what they saw in each one: the number of birds, the number of species, whether there were aggressive interactions during the clip, and whether it was raining or snowing. We focused on a particular kind of aggressive interaction called a “displacement,” which is when one bird attempts to take the perch or food of another bird.

Then we explored the Zooniverse data using interactive visualizations. The community came together with scientists in forums and a live question and answer session to see what the data could tell us with respect to our research question.

We wrapped up the investigation in April 2020 by summarizing the findings and the investigation itself in a final summary.