Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma)

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This New World blackbird (Icteridae) has got to be one of my all-time favourite birds to scan. Usually a few times a week (after you have been working with museum collections for a while and every species is not as exciting as it once was) you will open a draw and marvel at nature’s achievements. From its bright yellow tail to its simply fantastic multi-tonal face and beak, this bird is stunning. The joy at this species didn’t stop there, as not only did it look good but it scanned beautifully. It was done and dusted in 5 minutes flat. As someone who spends a large portion of their time 3D scanning birds this is quite the treat.

Montezuma Oropendola in flight.

Montezuma Oropendola in flight.

You can see how beautifully the scan of the Montezuma Oropendola or Great Oropendola came out by checking out our #BeakoftheWeek tweet.

 

References

. 2010. Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=680076

BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet:Psarocolius montezuma. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 31/08/2016.

BirdLife International. 2012. Psarocolius montezuma. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22724004A39873355. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22724004A39873355.en. Downloaded on 26 August 2016.

Fraga, R. (2016). Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma). 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 http://www.hbw.com/node/62242 on 26 August 2016).

Images and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Psarocolius montezuma. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1.

Montezuma Oropendola in all its glory is by Doug Janson and is licenesd under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Montezuma Oropendola in flight is by Paulo Philippidis and is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Montezuma Oropendola nest colony is by Charlesjsharp and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Oropendola intrigued by song evolution? is by Jerry Oldenettel and is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Audio

Peter Boesman, XC274124. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/274124.

 

The Sickle-billed Vanga (Falculea palliata)

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From the fantastically diverse vanga family (vangidae) the sickle-billed vanga really is sight to behold.  When a species has a bill as distinctive as this you can see why it would be quick to identify on #BeakoftheWeek, and low and behold the bird that the bill belonged to was quickly ascertained in the weekly challenge. Some of the beaks we have had the opportunity to scan at the Natural History Museum collections in Tring are a joy to work with, and this was definitely one of those.

Here is a nice video from the internet bird collection for you to watch to get a feel for what this bird looks like and how it moves.

 

References

BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Falculea palliata. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/08/2016.

BirdLife International. 2012. Falculea palliata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22708041A39344831. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22708041A39344831.en. Downloaded on 25 August 2016.

Yamagishi, S. & Nakamura, M. (2016). Sickle-billed Vanga (Falculea palliata). 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 http://www.hbw.com/node/60562 on 25 August 2016).

Images and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Falculea palliata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1

ian_hempstead, IBC1195731. Accessible at hbw.com/ibc/1195731.

Keulemans’ Sickle-billed vanga by John Gerrard Keulemans is licensed Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Sickle-billed vanga by Cédric de Foucault is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Audio

Hans Matheve, XC155300. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/155300.

The Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

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I say this far too frequently for it to warrant much merit but this is definitely a #favebird. Not only is it a highly skilled snake assassin but it has some rather fanciful “hair” to boot.

This one was solved pretty quickly on #BeakoftheWeek by our resident expert but it was mistaken for quite a few other accipitriformes first.

Check out the video below for a quick run through about this species before diving into a bit more detail.

References

BirdLife International. 2013. Sagittarius serpentarius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T22696221A49946506. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-2.RLTS.T22696221A49946506.en. Downloaded on 23 August 2016.

Kemp, A.C., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Marks, J.S. (2016). Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius). 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 fromhttp://www.hbw.com/node/53186 on 23 August 2016).

Images and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2013. Sagittarius serpentarius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1.

Fuertes’ Secretarybird by Louis Agassiz Fuertes is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Nesting Secretarybirds by Peter Dowley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Secretarybird by Ian White is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Secretarybird with a tasty treat by Jean & Nathalie is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Planet Doc Full Documentaries. 2015. Secretary Birds of Africa | Nature. [Online]. [23/08/2016]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1UEneEPZO8.

 

The Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea)

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I couldn’t wait to write a blog about this species, so I have waded straight into it before the dust has even settled from another round of #BeakoftheWeek.

I had the pleasure of working at a research station (Fowlers Gap) in New South Wales a few years ago where there was a group of habituated apostlebirds, which was a fantastic experience. All you had to do was give a whistle and they would fly over and gather around you in the search of tasty treats. This allowed me to get some great photos like the one below.

Apostlebird1

Apostlebird PC Elliot Capp @ornithzoologist

This social, cooperatively breeding passerine species is an Australian mudnester (Corcoracidae) and is one of many species that had the pleasure of first being described by British Ornithologist John Gould (in 1837). Yup, that is the man who pointed out to Charles Darwin that there was something special about those birds he had brought back from the Galapagos. The 12 seminal ground finch species. This subject could cause me to massively go off on a tangent as I am sometimes wanton to do, but I will stick to the apostlebirds this time.

Apostlebirds are the only member of their genus and one of only two species in the Corcoracidae family, along with the white-winged chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos). If you head over to Onezoom you can see what other species they are closely related to.

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Struthidea cinerea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22705385A38386489. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22705385A38386489.en. Downloaded on 29 July 2016.

Rowley, I. & Russell, E. (2016). Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea). 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 http://www.hbw.com/node/60602 on 28 July 2016).

Photos and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Struthidea cinerea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1 – range

Investigative Apostlebird by Benjamint444 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Audio

Marc Anderson, XC171837. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/171837.

The Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise (Seleucidis melanoleucus)

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This #BeakoftheWeek riddle was one for the performers. An undisputed king of the dancefloor, the twelve-wired bird of paradise is truly a sight to behold.

If you’re struggling to find a signature move then maybe a watch of some birds of paradise will set you on the right path.  Either that or you will find yourself drawn into the black-hole that is watching bird of paradise videos. Perhaps I should add a NSFW tag on this post as these videos can be seriously detrimental to work place productivity, you have been warned.

This passerine species is from the relatively small Paradisaeidae family, consisting of 40 species of truly stunning birds from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Eastern Australia. It is well worth taking a look at every single one of these species as they each have something to offer the casual bird lover. If I had to point you in the direction of just three I would go for Wilson’s Bird of Paradise, the King of Saxony and Lawes’s Parotia.

Sir David Attenborough narrated a fantastic documentary on this family recently (“Paradise Birds”) which included some beautiful drawings of how artists thought the birds displayed their feathers before they were seen in the wild. How wrong they were! These remarkable displays have got to be seen to believed so I strongly encourage you to do some exploring into them yourselves.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty you can see what species are closely related to this one, thanks to OneZoom, below.

References

BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Seleucidis melanoleucus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/03/2016.

BirdLife International. 2012. Seleucidis melanoleucus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22706233A38419655. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22706233A38419655.en. Downloaded on 30 March 2016.

Frith, C. & Frith, D. (2016). Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise (Seleucidis melanoleucus). 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 http://www.hbw.com/node/60661 on 29 March 2016).

Images and Videos

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

LabofOrnithology. 2012.Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise. Online. 30/03/2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7E-2bqwvPU.

Male and female twelve-wired birds of paradise by Daniel Giraud Elliot is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russell Wallace is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Twelve-wired bird of paradise stamp by Post of Indonesia is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Two male twelve-wired birds of paradise by Bowdler Sharpe is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Audio

Bas van Balen, XC141153. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/141153.

The King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

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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.

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Somateria spectabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22680409A40146039. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22680409A40146039.en. 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 http://www.hbw.com/node/52915 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK9qZHa79Do.

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

Audio

Andrew Spencer, XC141727. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/141727

The Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea)

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This beautiful member of the Thraupidae (tanager) family proved to be a difficult species to identify on #BeakoftheWeek.

Diglossa cyanea

Diglossa cyanea

This large flowerpiercer is easily identifiable with its striking ultramarine plumage, red eyes and black mask. It is slightly larger than a great tit at 15cm and weighs between 12 and 22.5g.  Females are similar to males but slightly duller, with juveniles duller still and greyish.

The bill of this species is long and slender with a slight upturn and a small hook at the end of its upper mandible.  This small hook is sometimes used to pierce flowers and fruits to get to their internal nutrients, which is where the name “flowerpiercer” comes from.  More often than not it feeds on fruits and berries (particularly Melastomataceae species) and some insects.

This species is highly sociable often found in monospecific groups of up to 30 individuals, as well as in mixed flocks of tanagers, other flowerpiercers, warblers and others.  They are found in cloud forests (usually above 2000m) of North Western South America from the coastal mountains of Northern Venezuella to Northern Bolivia.

This species breeds at varying times across South America, with immatures reported nearly all year round. They lay their eggs in feather-lined open cup nests made of moss, grass and feathers, usually in bushes. Unfortunately no more information is available on the breeding methods of this species. Seems to me like someone should head out on an expedition…

The songs of this species remind me of those of fairy wrens in Australia.  You can have a listen to one singing below, or you can navigate yourself to Xeno Canto for a greater range of flowerpiercer songs.


I have managed to find a few videos of the masked flowerpiercer, and I am rather fond of this one of one feeding some chicks on the internet bird collection.  In fact the IBC has got loads of fantastic videos of this species doing all sorts of things. A nice way to while away five minutes or so.  I couldn’t get those videos into my post, so here is one I found on the ever reliable youtube to whet your appetite.

Good news relating to the status of this species as it is listed as of Least Concern on the IUCN redlist due to its large range size and the belief that its population size does not approach the thresholds for vulnerable.

Last but not least you can check out what species this fellow is most related to on OneZoom by clicking this link.

References

. 2010. Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=637356.

BirdLife International. 2012. Diglossa cyanea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22723715A40010593. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22723715A40010593.en. Downloaded on 03 December 2015.

Hilty, S. (2011). Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/61776 on 3 December 2015).

Images and videos

Diglossa cyanea by Ken-ichi ueda is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Nikhil Patwardhan. 2015. Masked Flowerpiercer – Guango Lodge. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-nLkj9G_-A.

Audio

Jerome Fischer, XC234634. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Accessible at: http://www.xeno-canto.org/234634.

The Hamerkop (Scopus Umbretta)

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Another one of my favourite birds came up for this episode of #BeakoftheWeek.

Hamerkop flying

Hamerkop flying

As instantly recognisable as horse in a dog show, there is no mistaking the Hamerkop. With its hammer-like head (hence the name) and cocksure strut, this bird seemingly knows it is something special.

The hamerkop is endemic to sub-saharan Africa and Madagascar and is usually found around wetlands foraging in shallow waters for frogs, tadpoles and small fish.  The “peacocking” that this species exhibits is added to by the purple iridescent gloss on its back that stands out from its brown plumage.

They are not shy and many pictures and videos that I have found show it happily fishing in the company of crocodiles and chilling out on the backs of hippos.

Scopidae is a monotypic family, with the hamerkop being the only member.  Its closest relative is the intimidating Shoebill stork, of BBC Africa fame and the stuff of nightmares.  If you click this handy link to OneZoom you can peruse other close relatives of this species.

Standing are around 50cm and weighing just under half a kilo, this species is a medium sized wading bird.  It has partially webbed feet and a comb-like (pectinated) middle-toe that it uses to groom.  Here is a nice short article on pectinate toes if you wish to read more.

The Hamerkop is known to breed all year round in Eastern Africa although breeding times vary across the rest of the continent.  This species is famed for its penchant of building large elaborate nests which I will go into shortly.  They normally lay 3-6 eggs which take around 30 days to hatch and a further 44-50 days to leave the nest.

Hamerkop chilling on the back of a hippo whilst snacking on an amphibian treat.

Hamerkop chilling on the back of a hippo whilst snacking on an amphibian treat.

The internet bird collection has a charming picture of a 7 day old chick which I highly recommend taking a look at.

The monstrously large nest that this species builds can weigh between 25 and 50kg and stand up to 2 metres high and 2 metres wide.  This behemoth of a nest, made up of thousands of twigs, takes between 3 and 6 weeks to build. A serious amount of effort goes into making a nest of that size, which makes the fact that a pair can build numerous nests, some of which will never be used, even more impressive.  I think they are the avian equivalent of that friend who always has to out-do your achievements.  Although saying that you would have to try hard to get noticed if a Shoebill was your closest relative.

Hamerkops are known to be quiet when on their own, but vocal when in the company of others.  You can have a listen to some below, or you can head over to Xeno Canto for a greater variety of audible delights.

I was pleased to see that this species is of Least Concern on the IUCN redlist due to its very large range and population size.  This may be helped by the following…

As I have mentioned before, we here at team MacroBird love myths and legends, and one that has persisted about this species is that you will get struck by lightning if you steal from its nest.  This has led to it being dubbed the ‘lightning bird’ by the Kalahari bushmen.  I have even read tales of how you can get Leprosy from destroying their nests.  I think what we have learnt here is that it is best to just stay away from their nests altogether.

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Scopus umbretta. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22697356A40280654. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22697356A40280654.en. Downloaded on 02 December 2015.

Elliott, A., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2014). Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/52732 on 2 October 2015).

Images and Videos

Hamerkop flying taken by Mattias Hofstede, IBC238943. Accessible at ibc.lynxeds.com/node/238943.

Hamerkop on Hippo taken by David Cantrille, IBC257371. Accessible at ibc.lynxeds.com/node/257371.

Helen Kavanagh. 2012. Group of Hammerkop birds in the maasai mara. Online. 02/12/2015. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vacI9VT_NbE.

Audio

Andrew Spencer, XC269286. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/269286.

The Saddle-Billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)

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#BeakoftheWeek threw up a beauty with this selection.  Its bill looks like it has had the aboriginal flag draped over it, it eats lungfish and it is 1.5m tall, I love it already. Add to that its wingspan of around 2.5m and you have got yourself one impressive bird.

Male and female fishing

Male and female fishing

This species is unique amongst storks in being sexually dimorphic in colouration, with males having dark brown irises and females yellow.

Their beaks not only look fantastic but they are also helpful in population studies, with variation around the distal edge of the black bill band allowing them to be individually identified.

 

Saddle-bills have got to be one of the best looking storks out there and it would be a dream come true to head down to the Kruger National Park to see them, but for now i’ll make do with documentaries and YouTube. Check out the video below of some fishing in Kruger National Park (see if you can ID the male and female). I have to admit the Hamerkop really stole the show for me, and how that Lion watched so patiently i’ll never know.

This species is found across tropical Africa and you can see a range map on Xeno Canto, but disappointingly no calls as they tend to be almost mute away from nests.  It is usually found around aquatic habitats such as marshland and on the margins of large and small rivers, but also in savanna and semi-arid areas.  This large bird tries to be a pescatarian with it’s mainly fish based diet, but it does slip up with some frogs, small mammals, reptiles and other tasty creatures.

They make their large nests (around 2m across) in trees and lay 2-3 eggs late in the rainy season/early in the dry season. The eggs take about 30-35 days to hatch and the chicks fledge 70-100 days later, taking at least 3 years to reach maturity.

The IUCN redlist has them down as of at least concern, with population sizes varying from 1,000 to 25,000. They are vulnerable to disturbance wetland degradation and conversion to agriculture.

 

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22697706A40246910. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22697706A40246910.en . Downloaded on 30 September 2015.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Elliott, A., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2013). Saddlebill (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved fromhttp://www.hbw.com/node/52747 on 30 September 2015).

Images and Videos

Africa Adventures. 2015. Saddle-Billed Stork Fishing In Kruger Park. Online. 30/09/2015. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJhN64jRasQ.

Male and female fishing by Tarique Sani is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Applications for 3D scanning and printing

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3D scan of a Keel-Billed Toucan

3D scan of a Keel-Billed Toucan

A major part of this project involves collecting data on avian bill morphology by using 3D scanners to create models which we can then analyse at a later date.  Being able to carry out this work in a museum setting such as the Natural History Museum in Tring and Manchester University has many advantages, most of which we will discuss in an upcoming blog about working with Museum collections.

We are able to collect data on pretty much every single extant bird species on the planet using these collections without needing to study specimens in the wild, and we can do it all in one place. Obviously this data has many uses when it comes to our own research, and will hopefully be used by many other future projects as the data will be open source – but our research has also got us thinking about other uses for 3D scanning technology.

We didn’t have to go far to find our first examples of how 3D models can be used in order to help birds.  The most recent case we’ve seen was that of a Toucan called Tieta whose beak was damaged whilst she was being illegally trafficked in Brazil. When she was taken in by the authorities most of her upper bill was missing, but thanks to 3D printing she has had a replacement bill fitted enabling her to go back to using regular feeding techniques.  You can read more about Tieta and watch a video of her here.  This will come as good news to another Toucan that is still waiting for their new 3D printed beak to be fitted, and to Tieta’s male companion.

Another bird that has been helped out by a 3D printed beak part is Beauty the Bald Eagle.  Beauty’s beak got mutilated when she was shot in the face by a hunter. X-rays were taken to make a model of what Beauty’s beak should look like. This model was then printed and as you can see from the video below, adjusted so that it would fit onto the remaining part of her upper bill.  Only time will tell if this can become a permanent solution after other prototypes are tested.  Maybe one day the data collected from this project can be used to help create better solutions for designing beak prosthetics. Watch this space…

It is not just bird beaks that have been printed off to improve the lives of birds and allow them to function more normally.  This heart warming story about buttercup the duck getting a new printed foot after she was born with a backwards left foot shows just how multi-functional 3D printing solutions can be.

One of the best stories we have come across so far is that of Derby the dog who was born with deformed front legs.  The 3DSystems printed off some prosthetics for him and he is now able to run around and play fetch to his hearts content.  You can see the full story on Derby here – it’s bound to bring a smile to your face.

That’s probably enough stories about how 3D printing has helped animals (unless you want to read about how a cat had a new knee joint printed that is).  It also has extensive uses in human medical applications. These can vary from the extremes of printing a replacement skull for a baby after it grew to 4 times its original size, to printing replacement hip joints.  In a case where a newborn baby was struggling to breathe due to issues with collapsed bronchus, scientists at the University of Michigan were able to get a lung stint printed that has enabled the baby to breathe freely for the first time.

3D Printer

3D Printer

As a zoologist I should probably be getting more excited about the applications of 3D printing animal prosthetics and the like but I find myself rather intrigued about the prospect of having a 3D food printer at home for use at my whimsy.  I imagine many of you would be happy to receive a 3D chocolate printing machine this coming Christmas and if this article is to be believed then you might just be in luck.

A huge area for future development in 3D printing has got to be the construction industry. Construction projects using 3D printers could potentially reduce waste and construction times. For example, a team in China claims to have 3D printed 10 houses in 24 hours, which is certainly a lot quicker than current building projects take where I live.  Envisage what Gaudi could have achieved with a 3D printer, the Sagrada Familia might have been built a tad quicker.  It could also cut back on labour costs and health and safety risks.  The automotive industry is also taking advantage of 3D printing with projects such as those reducing the weight of car parts like this one.

Thus far I have only covered what I would term the ‘positive side’ of 3D printing but this technology has not been without its controversies, with plans to print a 3D gun being made available online (this is a link to the BBC, not the blueprints, in case you were wondering).  These guns can be undetectable by x-ray scanners and weapon detectors and can provide a loophole around gun control legislation.  There will also always be ethical issues and friction when we are talking about printing things like human organs, a debate that I will steer clear of.  In recent times there have been major moves to move away from our over-reliance on plastics, something which the cheaper and more readily available printers rely upon. Perhaps future developments will concentrate on the usage of recycled plastics and reduce our overall plastic usage.  There is also the impact on jobs to take into consideration.  Whatever your thoughts I imagine the debates will rumble on for quite some time.

The applications of 3D printing seem to be endless. How long will it be before the technology is good enough for you to be able to print your Amazon orders off in your own home (who needs AmazonPrime when you can have AmazonInstant)? If this were to happen maybe the possibility of drones hovering around our heads with little cardboard packages may never reach fruition… I can but hope.  With what has already been achieved with this technology exciting times lie ahead. Hopefully someone will start up a project soon scanning all of the worlds mammals, fish etc. Imagine having the whole animal kingdom 3D scanned and all opensource. Get to it science.

3D printers still seem to be reserved for the more technologically minded, and they are still a tad out of my price range, but in the years to come they will be entering into more of our homes and playing a greater role in our lives. Exciting times ahead.

References

3D Printer World. 2013. BEAUTY THE BALD EAGLE GETS A NEW 3D PRINTED BEAK. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: http://www.3dprinterworld.com/article/beauty-bald-eagle-gets-new-3d-printed-beak.

BBC News. 2015. Mutilated toucan gets 3D-printed beak prosthesis. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-34039680.

Michigan Engineering – University of Michigan. 2013. 3D printed splint saves the life of a baby. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: http://www.engin.umich.edu/college/about/news/stories/2013/may/3d-printed-splint-saves-life

Images and Videos

Keith Bubach. 2013. BEAUTY THE BALD EAGLE GETS A NEW 3D PRINTED BEAK. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: http://www.3dprinterworld.com/article/beauty-bald-eagle-gets-new-3d-printed-beak.

3D Printer by Kadel3003 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.