August Updates: A charm of hummingbirds!


Species level coverage: 42.87%

Species level coverage: 42.87%

Data Collection in Tring: 3D Scanning

We should finish our target of scanning a species from every genus over the coming month. The remaining specimens needed will require us to recalibrate one of our scanners, the MechScan, to a larger scanning volume. The final genera to target will be those whose species are locked away in the Extinct and Endangered collection.

Our main achievement this month has been to finish scanning every available hummingbird genus – the third largest avian family (according to our taxonomy) after tyrant-flycatchers and parrots! One of the species we came across was the tooth-billed hummingbird (Androdon aequatorialis), which as its name suggests has a beak filled with small tooth-like serrations – very different from the other hummingbirds we have scanned so far!

3D scan of a tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides skull

3D scan of a tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) skull

At present, we have been unable to obtain scans for 60 genera. Most often these have been obscure monotypic genera with only one species that are missing from Tring’s collection. This seems to be the case for neotropical groups like the ovenbirds and tyrant-flycatchers. Other genera we have been unable to scan are those with very ‘fluffy’ species, for example owls, frogmouths and nightjars. Groups such as these pose a particular problem because the feathers around the beak hide important landmarks at the top and sides of the upper mandible which are essential for downstream analyses. Thankfully these problematic groups are in the minority. Even so, we have scanned all available skulls from these groups from the skeleton collection as an alternative.

To date we have scanned:

  • 4284 (42.87%) of species
  • 1913 (91.49%) of genera
  • 2138 (35.72%) of passerines
  • 2143 (53.22%) of non-passerines

Mark My Bird

We have set our launch date for our new crowdsourcing website ‘Mark My Bird’ as the 21st September! Mark My Bird is a web-based landmarking platform that will greatly speed up the process of post-processing our 3D scans. Keep an eye out on our website and twitter feed for updates on how to get involved!
Markmybird 4


This month Gavin gave a talk describing the divergence and macroevolutionary pathways that generated the diversity of avian bill morphologies, at the Systematics Association Biennial conference at the University of Oxford Museum of Natural History (26-28th August 2015).


Emma spent a week adding to Chris C’s spectrophotometric measurements of bird plumage to improve coverage across the avian radiation, with the aim being to capture the extremes of avian plumage ‘colourspace’.

Twitter and #BeakoftheWeek

We had two new winners in our weekly #BeakoftheWeek competition – well done to Will and Patrick. You can always check out the Beak of the Week leaderboard to see previous winners, beaks and blogs about each species. And remember – you’ve got to be in it to win it!