Lab Updates: It’s been a while!


Straight-billed reedhaunter (Limnoctites rectirostris)

Straight-billed reedhaunter (Limnoctites rectirostris)

Data Collection in Tring: 3D Scanning

We have achieved our target of scanning a species from every genus that is both available to us in Tring’s collection and scannable, giving us excellent coverage across the bird family tree. The last remaining species were those from the Extinct and Endangered, and Type collections. Specimens are classed as a Type if they were the example used for officially describing and naming a new species- they are some of the most important in any natural history collection. One of the most interesting Type specimens we have scanned in recent months was collected by Darwin himself on the second Voyage of the Beagle, the straight-billed reedhaunter (Limnoctites rectirostris), an ovenbird from South America.

Our largest scanner, the R3X, had been largely redundant before Christmas as we had scanned nearly all species with bills large enough for it to scan. This meant that the only scanner we had working was the MechScan which tackles bills from the size of  a grain of rice to about 50mm in length. With only one scanner in action our rate decreased quite considerably. However, we now have some new lenses for the R3X allowing us to scan bills from about 35mm upwards and so both scanners are now running at full speed!

Currently we are working on completing families containing species that live on islands such as white-eyes, finches, sunbirds and storm-petrels.

To date we have scanned:

  • 5766 (57.70%) of species
  • 2029 (97.03%) of genera
  • 3144 (52.70%) of passerines
  • 2613 (64.89%) of non-passerines

Data Collection in Tring: Visible and UV Photography

The end of 2015 also saw the photography component of our project start in full force, with the ambitious aim of imaging the plumage colouration and pattern of as many of the 10,000 extant species of bird as possible, in both the visible and ultraviolet spectrum. We are targeting selected families to begin with, such as woodpeckers, tyrant flycatchers and cotingas, but hope to get as wide a coverage as possible by using the Natural History Museum’s incredible collections.

In the first few months we have been able to photograph approximately 900 species, and as we are selecting multiple males and females from each species, this equates to upwards of 4000 specimens. We take photographs of the bird at dorsal, lateral and ventral angles in both the visible and UV spectrums, meaning a total of 6 images per specimen, so overall we have taken around 25,000 individual photographs to date!

With almost 9% of world bird species imaged, this is a brilliant start!

Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aurea) in the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum

Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aurea) in the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum

Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aurea) in human visible spectrum

Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aurea) in the human visible spectrum








Mark My Bird

Since Mark My Bird launched we’ve had fantastic input from citizen scientists with over 650 registered landmarkers now contributing to our study – thank you! We have so far uploaded 3500 scans of species from around the world for people to view up close and landmark, providing essential data for our analysis. With almost 12,000 bills landmarks, this is a brilliant start to the enormous task ahead.

If you haven’t signed up yet and would be interested to learn more about the crowdsourcing side of our work, explore the 3D models we are generating or actually have a go at landmarking, visit our website

Our stand at Science Uncovered, NHM Tring.

Our stand at Science Uncovered, NHM Tring.

Science Uncovered

At the end of September, Team MarkMyBird took part in the Natural History Museum’s annual Science Uncovered event (part of European Researcher’s Night) at the Tring museum site – home to the incredible ornithology research collections that are essential for our data collection. This was a great opportunity to talk about our research and answer questions from museum visitors of all ages. You can read about our stand and the event itself in our blog post.


Angela attended the EMPSEB21 (European Meeting of PhD Students in Evolutionary Biology) conference in Scotland (8th-12th September 2015) and presented some of her PhD research about  the perks of using variable-rates models of trait evolution.

In November, Jen gave a talk at the 3 Days of 3D conference at the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in Leiden, The Netherlands (2-4th November 2015).


Edwards, D. P., Gilroy, J. J., Thomas, G. H., Uribe, C. A. M., & Haugaasen, T. (2015). Land-Sparing Agriculture Best Protects Avian Phylogenetic Diversity. Current Biology, 25(18), 2384-2391.

The paper also featured in an article in the guardian!

Twitter and #BeakoftheWeek

Our weekly Twitter competition #BeakoftheWeek is still going strong with Tim Blackburn and Paul Sweet leading the way. If you’d like to know more about some of the birds featured in #BeakoftheWeek, check out our blogs exploring some of our favourites as the competition runs on.

Other News: New Research Assistants!

Two new research assistants, Zoë and Lara, joined our research group towards the end of last year. Lara’s background is in Zoology and she completed her postgraduate studies in Biological Photography and Imaging. Zoë previously worked as a Curatorial Assistant for Bird Group at Tring NHM and read Art History and subsequently Museum Studies at University. You can find out more about the MarkMyBird research group here.

Zoë getting to grips with 3D scanning

Zoë getting to grips with 3D scanning

Lara learning how to take linear morphometric measurements

Lara learning how to take linear morphometric measurements











Straight-billed reedhaunter (Limnoctites rectirostris) taken by Cláudio Dias Timm is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

All other images (c) Natural History Museum, London.

The King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)


This #BeakoftheWeek challenge allowed us to take a closer look at the king of the seaducks, the King Eider.

This is definitely in my top 5 favourite ducks, not least because it looks like Picasso got creative with its face in the design stage, and it is right up there on my “to see list”.

King Eiders taking flight

King Eiders taking flight

I have gone for a different approach with this blog entry, so that you can click on what you want to read about rather than having to scroll through to find what you are looking for. Hopefully it works a bit better!

The King Eider is from the anatidae family and is one of three members of the genus Somateria, which also includes the spectacled eider and common eider. The common eider is the duck that gives us eiderdown.   When the common eider nests it sheds feathers which are then collected and used to make some extremely comfortable pillows and duvets. If you fancy splashing out, a pillow alone can set you back around $3,000. I know, a bargain. Fortunately goose down pillows are available for far more reasonable prices.

You can check out what other species are closely related to the king eider on OneZoom.


BirdLife International. 2012. Somateria spectabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22680409A40146039. Downloaded on 03 February 2016.

Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2016). King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 2 February 2016).

Suydam, R. S. 2000. King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). In The Birds of North America, No. 491 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Images and Videos

Arctic Fox by A Neumann is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Audubon’s Colour Plates by Johan Audubon is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Somateria spectabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-3

Female King Eider by Ómar Runólfsson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

King Eiders taking flight by Ron Knight is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

groenelantaarn. 2013. King Eiders. Online. 04/02/2016. Available from:

Seabird plate from Birds of North America is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Andrew Spencer, XC141727. Accessible at