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LEO SACK: All righty. Welcome everyone to today’s webinar about Bird Cams Lab and their latest, co-created citizen-science investigation, Battling Birds: Panama Edition. Thank you all for joining us. My name is Leo Sack. I’m on the Visitors Center Team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And I will be facilitating today’s conversation. And with me today are two of the experts leading the project.

I’m going to invite them to turn on their cameras and come on in. So they’re leading the project we’re talking about today. First up we have Rachael Mady, project leader for Bird Cams Lab. It’s great to see you. Rachael, how are you?

RACHAEL MADY: I’m great. Thanks for having me, Leo.

LEO SACK: Wonderful. And also with us today is Ben Walters, communications specialist for Bird Cams. Hi, Ben.

BEN WALTERS: Hi, Leo. It’s good to be here. I’m excited to talk about Bird Cams Lab today with everybody.

LEO SACK: Excellent. Thank you both so much for making the time to be here with us. Now before we hear from Rachael and Ben, I do have a few quick announcements to make. Number one, closed captioning is available. So if you’d like to see subtitles, please click on the captions button at the bottom of your screen. Number two, I will be asking Rachael and Ben a few questions to get us started, but then we also want to hear and answer questions from the audience.

So, for those of you on Zoom, click on the Q&A button located at the bottom of your screen and type your questions into that Q&A window. If you like someone else’s questions, please upvote that question by clicking on the thumbs up icon. We’ll be answering some questions verbally. And for others, we’ll be typing in our answers, which you’ll be able to see in the answered column of that Q&A window. Zoom also has a chat window, which is separate from the Q&A. Please only use the Zoom chat for technical support, or to share information, or just say hi. We will not be monitoring the chat for questions. If you do want to use the chat, please change the address from “to all panelists,” to instead say “to all panelists and attendees,” so everyone can see your comment. I have colleagues behind the scenes who are responding to both the Zoom Q&A and chat.

Now we’re also streaming live to Facebook. If you’re watching on the Cornell Lab’s Facebook page, you can add your questions to the Facebook comments, and we’ll do our best to answer those as well. Please be aware that we sometimes see spam attempts in the Facebook comments. So please do not click on any links in the Facebook comments unless they are posted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

OK, with all that said, let’s go ahead and get started. So Rachael and Ben, would you each please introduce yourselves to us a little further? What’s your background? And how did you get involved with Bird Cams Lab. Rachael, would you like to go first?

RACHAEL MADY: Sure. So like you said, I am the project leader for Bird Cams Lab. I wear a variety of hats. So from day-to-day, my job kind of changes. So some days, I’m drafting communications or analyzing data. Other days, I’m supporting participants and being a part of a community.

I first got involved back in 2018, when I came to Cornell as a master’s student and was pursuing my degree. I spent about half my time with Bird Cams Lab as a research assistant and the other half studying how bird feeding affects common feeder birds. So I was kind of doing two things at once, and it was a lot of fun. But I did graduate this past August, which I was really excited about. And then transitioned into doing Bird Cams Lab all day, every day. So I’ve been doing that since August, and I’ll keep doing that through part of this year as well.

LEO SACK: Very cool. And Ben?

BEN WALTERS: Yeah, thanks Leo. So my role within the Bird Cams Project is as the communication specialist. So like working with any live media, your day-to-day operations can switch at any moment, depending on what happens. But some of my main roles are to be sort of the content manager. I do a lot of video production, content creation for the Cams. Interacting with our audience over social media, through email, through webinars like this.

My background, I came most recently from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, where I completed my master’s looking at predator-prey interactions with brown-headed cowbirds. So I do have a research background. And super excited to be able to apply that somewhat in to helping people learn more about birds. I’ve been working with the Cams program since 2016. And with Bird Cams Lab specifically, we’ve been working on this project for the last three or four years now. So it’s been a long road and really fun. And I’m super excited to have Rachael on full-time now as well, because she’s really the rock star for Bird Cams Lab. So super excited to be here and help everybody learn a little bit more about this project.

LEO SACK: Awesome. OK so you referred to both Bird Cams and Bird Cams Lab. So let’s back up a little bit and clarify that difference. And let’s clarify the relationship between Bird Cams and Bird Cams Lab. So Ben, what is a bird cam? And then can you give us a quick introduction to the Cornell Lab’s whole suite of bird cams?

BEN WALTERS: Yeah, absolutely. So the Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project is really focused mainly on sharing the intimate lives of birds through livestreaming nest cameras and livestreaming feeder cams. So we’re watching birds close-up, 24/7, when they’re foraging at the feeders or during the breeding season, when they’re at their nests. Over the course of a year, we offer up to a dozen different live cameras at multiple sites around the globe. And you can find our livestreams and highlights from those livestreams on our Cornell Bird Cams YouTube channel or on the Lab’s All About Birds website, which I’ll go into in a little bit.

So anybody that’s watched wildlife cams before knows that there’s hundreds, if not thousands, of different wildlife cams streaming across the internet, right? But there’s a few things that we think set apart the Bird Cams experience from many of the other cams that are available.

So since we’re a project that’s housed within the Cornell Lab, we’ve got tons of resources available to help people learn about the birds that they’re watching on camera, whether it be learning how to ID new birds that they see at the feeders– we get people all the time saying, Oh, I live on the West Coast. And I’m seeing all these birds I don’t see at the Cornell feeders in New York. Or I used to live in New York, and I’m so happy to be able to reconnect with those birds from my childhood. And then we have cams in Ontario and Panama that have a lot of birds that people may have not ever seen before. So it’s a learning experience in that way, as well, to get to learn what type of birds live in those regions by what they see coming to the feeder.

Also we have a lot of fun talking with people about the natural history of the birds that we watch through the breeding season at their nests. We’ve got cams ranging from Royal Albatross in New Zealand, to our endangered Bermuda petrel, nesting in a little underground burrow in Bermuda. And we’ve got a cam right here in Ithaca, New York. Right now it’s eight inches of snow outside, but we’ve got red-tails prepping to nest in the next couple of months, red-tailed hawks, prepping to nest at Cornell University’s campus. So we’ve really got a sort of broad brush, in terms of what we offer.

And we’re also fortunate to partner with a number of great organizations as well that do amazing work. So by partnering with conservationists, people that do research on birds, and just bird experts, we can offer to dive a little bit deeper into the work that’s being done to help these birds. And to make people that are watching more aware of their efforts and also the challenges that these people and the birds are working towards to overcome.

So with that, I just want to share a little bit about the cams’ website to help you sort of see how you can navigate to watch these cams. So I’m going to share my screen really quick. So as you can see here, this is the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website. And up here, we see at the top navigation, a little “Live Cams” tab. So if you hover over that, you can see a number of different cam sites that are available. But if you click on just “Live Cams,” that’ll take you to our home page. This is where we feature sort of one of the main cams that we’re highlighting at the moment. That can change throughout the weeks or months.

LEO SACK: Ben, let me interrupt you real quick. Your screen share doesn’t seem to be working. We’re all seeing a black screen. It just popped up for me.

BEN WALTERS: Oh, you got it?

LEO SACK: Yeah, for some reason, your screen share took a minute I think for all of us to display. But I’m seeing it now.

BEN WALTERS: Great, great.

LEO SACK: OK, and comments say they’re seeing it now too. So why don’t you start that part over?

BEN WALTERS: OK, sorry about that everybody. So now that you can see my screen, where we are is the Cornell Lab All About Birds home page. You can see at the top of the navigation here, there’s a little “Live Cams” button. So if you hover over that “Live Cams” button, you’ll see a number of cams that are live right now, as well as an all cams selection. But if I just click on the “Live Cams” tab, it’ll navigate me to our Bird Cams homepage. This is where we have, like I said, one of those sort of featured cams at the moment.

But you can also scroll down and see what all the live cams are available right now. So we have some feeder cams, as well as some nesting birds. Some cams are year-round, even when the birds are at the nest. But people still like watching to see maybe different birds hopping on and off to the nesting platforms or whatever.

Below that, we have a selection of video highlights from our YouTube channel. So if you’re ever looking at what’s the most recent thing to happen on Bird Cams, this is where you can look. As well as just a little bit about the project and some places where you can follow us on social media.

So if I go to the “All Cams” selection here, you can see what is all live right now. So we have Bermuda Petrels, Cornell Lad FeederWatch Cam, the Northern Royal Albatross that I was talking about, as well as some cams that are maybe not online right now. But will be at different points throughout the year. So if we were to navigate to a cam, let’s say Cornell FeederWatch Cam here, where we are in Ithaca, New York. This cam is located right next to the Lab of Ornithology building and the Treman bird feeding garden. And if you navigate to a cam page, you got this big livestream, where you can click to watch the cam. You can click these Twitter updates to see updates from who’s been viewing or learning a little bit more about the birds at the cam. Then down below we have highlights from this specific cam, as well as where you can navigate to learn more or watch more highlights, as well as any relevant news.

On our feeder cams, we also provide information about all the different species that we see. So if, for example, you’re seeing a Northern Cardinal at the feeder, and you’re like, what’s that beautiful red bird? You can go down here and try to match that with what you’re observing to see if you can identify any of the species.

So I’ll stop sharing for the moment. That’s sort of a quick 411 on the bird cams. But I think we want to dive a little bit more into what Bird Cams Lab is if I’m right?

LEO SACK: Correct. And OK. And just to clarify, Ben ended there on the Cornell Lab’s FeederWatch Cam, which is the feeders that are actually right outside the Lab building. Which are also great to watch. We’ll get to the Panama Cam in just a minute. So let’s see. So that’s bird cams as a whole. So Rachael, now would you catch us up on what is Bird Cams Lab?

RACHAEL MADY: Certainly. And with that I’m going to also share my screen to illustrate the Bird Cams Lab website as well. So bear with me as I do that. And is that coming through, Leo?

LEO SACK: Yes, it is. I see a couple of those weird gray bars that sometimes pop up.

RACHAEL MADY: OK, let’s see if I can move that. How’s that?

LEO SACK: One of them disappeared, that works.


LEO SACK: Just go for it.

RACHAEL MADY: All right. So for everyone here, some of you may be familiar, but some you may not be. Bird Cams Lab is a part of Bird Cams. And this is what the site for Bird Cams Lab looks like, where you can see a tab that you can learn more about what the project is. And then our investigation that’s current. Past investigations. And how to sign up.

And in general, what Bird Cams Lab offers Bird Cams viewers is they can work with scientists, and come together, and try to learn more about the birds they’re seeing on cam. So Bird Cams Lab creates the opportunity for people to, not just collect data, as many citizen-science projects are out there do. But instead, ask people to come be involved throughout the whole scientific process. So people are welcome to jump in at the very beginning, where we’re watching the cams, and we’re coming up with the research question. And then help us collect that data to answer the research question and continue along the path to analyze and visualize that data. And then eventually, share it out.

And just to note that the whole point of Bird Cams Lab is to make the whole scientific process available to people to co-create with the scientists. But people can jump in and out wherever they want to. That’s the beauty of this project is that, based on interest and time, you can jump in here at analyzing and viewing the data. Or maybe you get the jump in right at the beginning and help us come up with that research question.

But essentially Bird Cams Lab gives the opportunity and puts science in the hands of people watching the bird cams to learn more about what they’re seeing. Oh, Leo, looks like you’re muted.

LEO SACK: We’re having all sorts of fun today. Thank you, Rachael. So I think it’s fascinating that you co-create these investigations with your volunteer citizen-scientists. And you were kind of showing some of the different steps there in your slide, but can you give us an example of, maybe a past Bird Cam’s Lab investigation, and sort of use that example to walk us through the process and the phases of developing this investigation and carrying it out.

RACHAEL MADY: Yes, certainly. So I’ll share my screen again, because I have a visual to walk us through, so bear with me. OK. There we go. Is my screen coming through all right?

LEO SACK: Yes, it is.

RACHAEL MADY: OK, so you’re seeing a visual for one of our past investigations, Hawk Happenings. And this investigation, we were looking at red-tailed hawk behavior at the Cornell Hawks Nest. And I’m going to walk through what that investigation actually looked like.

So you’ll see here, first observation and question generation. We got together with people who are watching the red-tailed hawk cam, and we went online, and we discussed what questions were of interest to people, what they wanted to learn more about. And we worked together, and with the scientists, to discuss, refine those questions– so that they were actually feasible to answer on the cam– and then we took a vote to see what the community was most interested in. Because, like every investigation we’ve done, there’s so many amazing questions we could pursue, but we had to just choose a couple to investigate. And we settled on these questions right here, what is the frequency of certain hawk behaviors? And does that frequency vary with weather?

So once we had the questions in hand, then we moved to the next phase. And this phase of data collection, we were able to use a new tool to collect data in real time. So people were able to watch the cam, and then click buttons to document six behaviors that they saw. And so, people were able to jump into data collection and let us know whenever they saw a hawk vocalizing, delivering prey, feeding, or whether the nestlings were doing one of three activities. And while they were collecting data, people were also online chatting about, in an online discussion forum, what they were seeing, any questions they had. And it was an amazing experience with a lot of observations. Over 12,000 observations were made by the 300 volunteers at this point.

Then after data collection, we moved on to looking at the actual data. So online, again, we interacted with the Bird Cams Lab community to look at visualizations that were interactive. So you can click them, turn data on and off, and then we participated in discussions with everyone to see what they thought about what they were seeing. We were really interested in getting the whole community’s input on what the data meant, what people were seeing, their interpretations. And we also, you can see a representation here of the live webinar we did at this point as well, where we took the conversations we were having in online forums. And we took that conversation live to talk through some of the ideas and to emphasize what was going on in the scientific process at this point.

After that–

LEO SACK: Can I just break in, Rachael? I just want to point out to everyone that you do a lot of live webinars for these investigations. And they’re are a little bit different than our Visitor Center webinars, because they’re very, very interactive. And you really are getting the community involved in those discussions. So I just want to point that out to our audience that, if you want to get engaged in this stuff and participate in those Bird Cams Lab in-house webinars, those are fantastic.

RACHAEL MADY: Thanks for that plug, Leo. Yeah, they are. We really tried to emphasize and highlight the co-creation part. So we really want people to feel like they have a seat at this table, and what they think, and what they want to do is just as important as what the scientists think as well. So it’s a really fun time for everyone involved. And if you’re interested in seeing any of the past recordings, we have those available on our website as well. So you can get a bit of a taste.

And so, once we move through the whole process, we end up at share results. And, for this last investigation, we were able to write up a report of the main findings that we saw. And then also the community participated in helping us review it and actually edit it, so that it included all of the important perspectives of community members in communicating our important takeaways. And with that, that was the end. And then we were on to our next investigation.

LEO SACK: Fantastic. OK. Now I want to jump back to Ben. And Ben, this new investigation, the current one, is using the Panama Fruit Feeder Cam right? So what can you tell us about that cam? The cam equipment, the location, partner site, the food, the kind of birds you see– tell us about Panama.

BEN WALTERS: Sure, that’s a great question. So the feeder cam in Panama is located in El Valle de Antón, in the tropical forests of central Panama. So with this cam, our host or our partner is the Canopy Lodge. And they host a feeder platform that sits just about 40 feet away from the main building, where anybody that’s staying at the lodge, any guests can actually watch the birds arrive and feast on fresh fruit in real time. So that’s super exciting. So if you see the birds on cam, you can also go see them live, if you want to take a trip down to Panama.

The Canopy Lodge has had a longstanding relationship with the Cornell Lab. We’ve had researchers stay there over the years. And in fact, on a trip a few years ago, our executive director, John Fitzpatrick, was staying there. And he envisioned this fruit feeder platform as a future bird campsite during one of his days. So he came back, let the cams team know, hey, there’s a great spot for a bird cam. And then our project leader, Charles Eldermire, was able to work with our partners at the Lodge to install an HD security camera there at the feeders. That’s the way we use access communications cams for all of our different bird cams. And now we’re able to share this amazing site, not only with the guests at the lodge, but everyone online as well.

And we’ve even continued to partner, on this cam specifically, with to reach even more people. So that’s been a super exciting development over the years. We’ve also even heard from multiple people that started watching the cam, in recent years, that actually seeing the birds on cam inspired them to make the trip down to Panama, and stay at the Lodge, so they could see the birds in person. So it’s been a life-changing event for some people. And it’s a super fun cam to watch when you’re stuck 8 inches deep in snow in Ithica, New York. And I imagine a lot of people would enjoy the sort of tropical respite that the cam offers to them.

So a little bit about what the types of things we see on the cam. I think to start with that, it’d be good to just pop in and share my screen again, just to show you the cam page. Can everybody see that OK?



LEO SACK: I see it.

BEN WALTERS: So this is the Panama Fruit Feeder can page. Again, you can click here to watch the cam. But the really cool thing about this feeder cam is that there’s just such an abundance of tropical bird species. So if you scroll down past the video highlights and the news, you can see the species info. And you might notice that’s a pretty frickin’ long list, right? So these are all of the different species that we’ve seen visit that single platform that the cam is focused on, since the cam went live in 2019.

So if you watch the cam, you have a chance to see a super huge diversity of different tropical bird species. Right now, one of our most recent visitors has been this Keel-billed Toucans. It’s the first time we’ve seen them, but they’ve been coming in pretty abundant numbers recently. We’ve seen them at the platform. And as spring rolls around, we often see migrant birds that are passing through Panama and at the feeder on the way up to North America. So we’ve seen all types of warblers, Baltimore Orioles, things like that.

Also it’s really fun to watch at night as well, because we see things like nectar bats. We have possums, rats stopping by the platform and cleaning up whatever is left on the feeder platform. We’ve even have a sloth visit and pass through the cam site very slowly in the last couple of months. So it’s a super fun site, and it’s a great cam to be hosting a Bird Cams Lab project.

LEO SACK: Excellent. Thank you, Ben. OK, I want to speed us up a little bit, because I’m just watching the time, want to make sure we have plenty of time for audience questions. But I want to move on to Rachael. And Rachael, tell us about the current investigation with the Panama Cam. What’s that investigation about? What questions are you investigating? And where are you in that co-creation process?

RACHAEL MADY: Yes, certainly. So right now, our current investigation is with the Panama Fruit Feeder Cam. And it’s called Battling Birds: Panama Edition. And we’ve teamed up with a Cornell Lab of Ornithology researcher, Dr. Eliot Miller. And he’s been working with us, and with the Bird Cams Lab community, and further back– I think we started at the beginning of December– when we started that question-asking and observation phase. And we work together to talk about and think about our main goal, which is to understand the social dominance relationships of the birds at the feeder. And that’s known as a dominance hierarchy.

And we want to create that using a behavioral interaction that we see at the feeder, where one bird attempts to take the perch or the food of another bird. And that’s called displacement. So we’re trying to do essentially what happens in the sports world, where teams will come together, one will win, one will lose. And you use how many times they’ve won or lost against certain other teams to build this social ranking, per se. And we’re trying to do that at the Panama Fruit Feeder.

And when we talked with a Bird Cams Lab community it was– our discussions were so interesting, and they brought up so many things that we thought we also should document, in addition to the displacement. So after weeks of discussion, and we took a vote, four things rose to the top that we’re also collecting data on now. We’re going to document the number of birds that are there. We’re going to document the type of food. We’re going to note the size of the species and the displacement, and note if it’s a physical interaction or not. And try to understand what’s going on. And excitingly, we just started collecting that data yesterday. And so that is the current phase we’re in. And I know a lot of people get really excited about the data collection phase, because for some people, that’s their jam. And we are really excited to have just started and would love it for everyone to participate.

LEO SACK: Excellent. OK. So just starting data collection?


LEO SACK: Fantastic. Rachael, if people want to participate in this investigation, how do they get started? And I understand you’re hoping to get participants to fill out a short survey before they start, so can you tell us about that survey?

RACHAEL MADY: Certainly. I’m going to share my screen so people can get a sense of what that survey looks like. But before I do, Bird Cams Lab is a project that’s funded by the National Science Foundation. And we’re really trying to understand how to do online co-creation and to see how people learn through the process. And so this survey is really important for us to understand how the project is doing and helps us get to know everyone that participates before they get started.

And so the best way to get started is to take this survey first. And when you take the survey– if it is showing up for everyone. I hope it is– you’re going to come to a screen that’s welcoming you. And then we’ll elaborate even more about what this survey is about and the information we’re collecting. And takes about five to 10 minutes, depending on how quick you are clicking. And so once you take the survey, you’ll get to a screen that then directs you to the data collection.

But if you’re already on the Bird Cams Lab website, if you’ve already taken that survey, you can always get back to data collection by coming to this tab “Battling Birds: Panama Edition” and clicking on this down arrow. And then you can click on this “Collect Data,” and you should head straight to where we are collecting data.

LEO SACK: Fantastic. And so why don’t you go ahead and click on that for us, Rachael? Let’s say, I have filled out that survey. And it really is pretty easy. I did it a couple of weeks ago and forgot I’d done it, it went so quickly. So let’s say I filled out that survey, I’m excited to get started, show us what the actual data collection looks like.

RACHAEL MADY: So right now my screen, you’re seeing what you come to when you click that “Collect Data.” And this data collection, you’ll notice, is not on Bird Cams Lab’s website, but we’re using a tool called Zooniverse, which is an online platform that hosts thousands of other citizen-science projects. And we’re using this site, because it allows us– it’s already built up tool that we didn’t have to build ourselves– it allows us to collect data from archived video clips. And so this is the site. It’s free to sign up for Zooniverse. And you could even, in addition to Battling Birds, get involved with some of their other projects.

But let me walk everyone through what you do once you’re here. So we’re on Zooniverse. This is what it looks like. And what you’re seeing in this middle screen is the tutorial. So before you get started data collection, we ask everyone to click through the tutorial. And I won’t click through the entire tutorial today, because I’m going to walk you through data collection. But this has a lot of important information that explains and lays out what to do and probably answers some of your questions that you may have before you get started.

So once you click through the tutorial, you get to the end, you can click out. And then, even before you get started, I also recommend everyone check out the Field Guide, which is in this tab to the right hand side. So if you don’t watch the cam, if you’re not as familiar with these birds, you can do that before you started collecting data. So you can look at what’s a displacement, look at some examples, and then also become familiar with some of the more common species. Because while there are a lot, there are a handful of species that will show up on the cam more than others. And then if you want to know about all the rest of the species, we have them listed in alphabetical order as well.

So once you do the tutorial, you look at the Field Guide, it’s time to collect data. And right now, I have a clip cued up that I want to walk everyone through. And hopefully it plays on your end as well. So right now the video is playing. And there’s a Clay-colored Thrush feeding. And, oh, another Clay-colored Thrush flew in. And that is what I would call a displacement. Because, and I’ll play it again because the clip is only 10 seconds, a displacement is when a bird attempts to take the perch of another bird or the food.

And it looks like this other Clay-colored Thrush was successful in doing that. So I click here, “were there any birds visible?” I first say, yes, there were birds visible. And then, “were there any displacements during this clip?” Yep, there was a displacement. And then we go to the next question, “identify all the birds, we see during this clip.” So I’ll click Next. And I get a grid of birds.

Now for many people, Ben highlighted there are a lot of species. And we’ve included the ones that we think are present in these clips. And it’s hard to see their pictures, but that’s why we’ve created a filter. So you can select the bird based on their size. And the Clay-colored Thrush is a medium-sized bird. And then you can also narrow it down by color. And so it looked like the bird was brown. And there it is. This bird shows up right here, and I can zoom in a little, so you can get a better look. So when I click on that, I’m then asked one more question, to give the number. And there were two. We want to give the largest number of individuals we saw simultaneously. And we know that there were two simultaneously.

All right, so once we know what’s happening in terms of the birds that are there, that’s when we then will enter the information about the first displacement. And the first piece is the time. And so I’m going to click and try to look at the seconds in the bottom left hand corner to note the time that it happens. Looks like it happened at 7 seconds. So I’ll go ahead and click 7. And then I can either scroll through this list of species in alphabetical order, or I can type it out. So I’m going to type, “clay.” And looks like “Clay-colored Thrush” comes up. The target was the same type of bird. Makes my life pretty easy. And we know it was successful because the bird moved out of the way. And it didn’t look like there was any actual physical contact.

And if you’re unsure about that part, you can always, in the bottom left hand corner, there’s a speed option, and you can click to slow it down so that you can really see what’s going on. And sometimes that can help with discerning if there was a displacement in the first place. So no physical contact. And if you’re doing this, and it seems confusing at any point, you can also click this Need for Help, and that will give you more details about what to do.

So, click Next. There wasn’t a second displacement, only one in this clip. But there was food on the theater, and it looks like it’s fruit. It’s maybe tricky to tell. It looks like that might be some orange or banana, but I know there’s definitely fruit. And no cooked rice. And then this option doesn’t apply.

And then the last question, is this clip in color or black and white? It’s in color. There are some clips in there that are in black and white, where it’s too dark for color to come through, so our infrared function on the camera is on. And that’s just to help us understand how easy or difficult it is to classify that clip. And with that, you’re done, and you can move on to the next clip and see if there are birds and then if there are displacements.

LEO SACK: Excellent. Thank you. I want to jump to Ben for a moment. So I was going to ask about identifying species of birds on the cam, but Rachael did an excellent job of showing both the Field Guide and the built-in part of the tool, where it asks you to filter and select the species. So it’s definitely built to help you identify the birds, even if you’re not an expert on the tropical bird species of Panama. But I want to ask Ben about quality control measures. What if I’m not sure about my ID, or what if I make a mistake and get it wrong? Am I ruining your data?

BEN WALTERS: Sure, that’s a great question. Before I answer that, I just saw a quick question in the chat asking, what happens if there’s multiple displacements in a clip. And if there are multiple displacements, you’ll get a prompt saying, are there any more displacements that you saw? And then you can continue to go through that annotation process for any other displacements that you saw. Since we were on the data collection procedure.

But yeah, obviously, a lot of the people that are going to be participating in this project are not experts on tropical bird species. I’m not an expert on tropical bird species. I might be more familiar with the birds and the species that visit the Panama Fruit Feeder Cam. So I’ve been watching this cam for a long time, so I’m pretty good at IDing the birds. But there are still some tricky ones that even I have trouble with, and I need to look into a little bit more detail to figure out a positive ID.

So the great thing about Zooniverse is that it’s this crowdsourced data collection process, where each of those single subjects sets, those video clips that Rachael went through is going to be watched 10 times by 10 different people. And they’re all going to annotate those displacement behaviors. They’re all going to ID the birds. And it’s by that power in numbers that we’re able to sort of get a consensus on what’s happening in that clip. So if you don’t know, if you’re not positive about an ID, that’s OK. There’s going to be 9 other people watching that clip and annotating that same interaction.

And people have done research on this, that a certain number of people have to watch in order to get a pretty good idea of what’s actually happening in that clip, even if the people aren’t experts. So by watching that video and annotating it 10 different times, we have a pretty good chance that we know what’s going on based on the audience’s consensus or like the participants consensus on that clip. So that’s the great thing about Zooniverse.

Also, if you do have questions, there’s also a forum associated with the project as well, where you can click– instead of clicking Done, you can click Done And Talk. And that’ll take that clip over to the forum where you can discuss with the other participants and researchers about the thing you’re seeing. So it’ll help you learn, throughout the process, to get better identification and also to sort of highlight any odd birds or odd behaviors that you’re seeing, that you’re not sure, is this a displacement? Is this not a displacement? So that’s a great way you can sort of get that community help, get support from both the experts and also the people that are participating along with you.

LEO SACK: It’s awesome to have that community interaction there. OK, I’m going to skip over my next question, because I think you guys have already covered it really well. And I’m also eager to get to all of these great questions that I’m seeing from our audience. So one last question from me. Rachael, what’s next? What’s the timeline for this investigation? How long will you keep collecting data? What’s the next phase after that? When will we learn the results? And after this investigation is over, what then?

RACHAEL MADY: Great question. I saw some questions from people too. That’s usually the question we get at the very beginning too. Like, OK, if I do this, what’s the end? What’s the end goal? So this investigation is on the same timeline as previous ones. So after we collect the data, we’ll take it and visualize it all together. So we can see what’s going on. And Eliot is going to help us kind of piece together the social ranking that is known as the dominance hierarchy based on how species won and lost those interactions. And then once we visualize it together, and interpret it, and talk about it, then we’ll actually write up what we found in a report that can share it out to the rest of the community and get their input.

And then, at that point, we will have great knowledge in order to, if we want to springboard to a next investigation, to dig into anything deeper. If we uncover a pattern, or we have an extra question. And then we’re also hoping to fulfill the larger goal of Bird Cams Lab at that point, closer to the summer, and actually talk to how Bird Cams Lab as a whole has done in the past couple of years in involving everyone in co-creation and seeing if scientific learning and understanding has changed through the process. So we’re really excited to get to the end of this investigation, but also we’re excited to report out to everyone how Bird Cams Lab itself has been over the past three years.

LEO SACK: Because it’s not just what you’re discovering scientifically about the birds, this whole co-creation thing is a giant experiment in and of itself.

RACHAEL MADY: Yeah, Bird Cams Lab is layers and layers of fun, because we’re really interested in this bigger question. But along the way, we get to do new scientific discoveries that can help inform actually what’s going on in the scientific world too.

LEO SACK: Excellent. OK. So now let’s switch gears and get to some of these great questions being asked by our audience. And one that was thrown out there right away that I think is fantastic, Roxy asks, how are the clips selected for the data collection portion? So these 10 second clips that you’re getting, who selects the clips? And is there a potential for researcher bias in there?

RACHAEL MADY: Great question, and you are not alone. We also got that question on Zooniverse on one of the talk boards as well. So we had a ton of archived recordings from the live cam. And we had that for 2018 and 2020. And so we saw what data we have available, and we try to get the biggest spread that we could, while also being realistic about how much we could get done.

And so, we I say we, there is another member of our team, Charles Eldermire, who is more knowledgeable about this than me, but what I know he did was he sampled from the times we had. And we have four days from 2018 and three days from 2020. And then he tried to get the biggest spread across each day. And then cut those clips into 10 seconds. And he didn’t do it based on anything. He just took the time that we had available.

So that’s why we have that question of, is there birds are not, because there are going to be clips in there that have no birds, because we just took the time that was available. And so what’s going to help happen in this data collection is we have all this data, not biased in it’s selection whatsoever, and we’re going to try to narrow in on the data that’s useful to answer our question.

LEO SACK: Excellent awesome. I’m seeing a couple of questions about commitment. So what’s the level of commitment required? Do you need to put in a certain number of hours per day, or per week, or total? Or can you just sign and do one or two clips? What do you hoping for?

BEN WALTERS: Yeah, I can take that one. So the level of commitment is there is no level of commitment. That’s the great thing about this. You can participate. If you’re starting out with a project in the beginning, doing like the observation and question asking phase, you can participate in every single step along the way of the scientific process along with us. Or you can pick and choose what you like to do. You don’t have to participate in every aspect. You can participate by just collecting data on Zooniverse.

And as far as a time commitment, it’s totally up to the participant. If you just want to do one single subject set, that’s fine. It’s not like you’re required to sign up for a certain number of hours per week, or you’re required to communicate with us a certain number of times to be part of this investigation or part of Bird Cams Lab.

That’s the great thing about the community is that we have people that are super gung ho to be a part of every part of the process. And they’re really geared towards championing for a question that they want to answer. Or collecting tons of data. Then there’s also people that are much more casual about it. And just when they have the time and they feel interested in it, they go ahead and do it. And either way is fine with us. There’s no judgment. There’s no expectations, as far as audience participation goes.

LEO SACK: Excellent.

BEN WALTERS: Community participation goes.

LEO SACK: OK, I see multiple questions here about how the final results are used. Are the findings from your data used to write academic papers that get published in academic journals? Do the scientists use this data for other projects? And how are these citizen-scientists assisted projects viewed in the research world?

RACHAEL MADY: All great questions. Thank you, everybody. So some of the projects that we’ve had so far, we’ve done investigations on other cams, they’re really great starting points. So we had a great discussion. And when we shared the results of the last red-tailed hawk cam, we’re like, we found something really cool. And we think that it’s worth sharing. And so we shared it out, but we also, in discussing with the community, pointed out it’s one cam. And it’s one season. And so it’s a really great way to kind of jump-start an investigation that maybe has a little bit more ability to kind of extrapolate to a pattern. So maybe we can then partner with other cams and do an investigation using a bigger sample size to try to get at what’s going, with not just one red-tailed hawk cam, but all the red-tailed hawks potentially.

In terms of this investigation, with the Panama Fruit Feeder Cam, we’re really hoping that we can discover something new, and that this can eventually lead to a publication. That’s the hope, because there’s really not a lot known about the social dominance relationships of the birds that come to this feeder. And that’s why we got Dr. Eliot Miller interested in working with our community was he was also interested in that. So it was a community interest, science interest coming together, which is a beautiful thing.

And we welcome anyone that’s part of the Bird Cams Lab community to help push that effort. And that’s why we invite people into, not just collecting data, but like through to the sharing results, we welcome everyone with those skill sets or with the willingness to learn to try to help us do that part of the process.

Oh, and then, how is it viewed by the scientific community? Zooniverse has actually been amazing in pushing forward the value of citizen-science contributions. And so there’s been a lot of publications, and you can actually go on to Zooniverse and look for those publications that have come out.

And at the beginning, I’ve heard from some colleagues, it was tricky to convince the scientific community of the value. But, as the years have gone by, I mean, people are just as good as scientists, at many instances in collecting data. And we see that other Cornell Lab of Ornithology projects, that people collecting data out there are just as good as the scientists. It just takes a little time to get familiar with what you’re collecting data on, and then you’re good to go.

And a lot of times, the audiences or the communities have ideas and have interpretations that the scientific community would never have thought about. So it’s becoming more and more recognized that people out there, without the professional scientific training, have a lot of value.

LEO SACK: Excellent. Thank you. As long as we’re talking about the bigger picture, do you all work with any of the local communities? For example, the communities surrounding this feeder cam in Panama? Are there any thoughts on how this kind of research can support local conservation or the community members in those areas?

BEN WALTERS: Yeah, I can handle that one. Right now, we aren’t working, with this particular project, with local communities. This project’s really focused on building online communities to do co-created research. So not using geographical location or anything as sort of a barrier to working together towards the ultimate goal of completing an investigation. That’s what kind of makes Bird Cams unique, in this aspect, is that everything is online. And people, as long as they have an internet connection, can participate from anywhere.

So that’s not saying that working with local communities in Panama and finding ways to help spread awareness about local conservation isn’t important. There are projects at the Lab that do spend a lot of time thinking about that and working with communities in that way. And it’s something that we could, potentially, work to branch out as a part of this project later on as we work through this grant and eventually sort of apply for maybe different extensions to work in a little deeper areas, either with schools or with local communities or whatnot. But right now, this project’s focused mainly on those online communities.

LEO SACK: OK. Excellent. Here’s probably another one for you, Ben. I see multiple questions– and I apologize for jumping from topic to topic here, there’s just so many things to choose from– I see multiple questions about the equipment of the cams themselves. One question is interesting, currently I’m working at a science lab, and we’re trying to get people into the citizen-science world, and bird cams are something I’ve wanted to do. Do you have any tutorials for setting up a cam? Another person also asks, is there information on recommended cam equipment on your website?

BEN WALTERS: Great question. So we get this question at least once a day from people e-mailing us. I want to set up a cam. How do I do it? And it’s really so dependent on sort of the internet availability, and the situation with that particular site and what you’re trying to do. So it’s hard to paint a broad brush saying, this is how you go about it.

And we don’t have anything on our website in terms of a tutorial, but if you do email, I have a really long email that I can send you with all of sort of the things we’ve learned from our experience of setting up cams, what cam models we specifically use, and then the things to think about before setting up a cam, in terms of what’s your internet speed? What’s your budget? All of those things are really important to consider before diving into a project like this.

There’s very affordable, cheap options to create a wildlife cam. Then there’s a $10,000 option to create a wildlife cam. So it really depends on what you’re working with. So I would invite everyone to email, and we’ll send you all the information that we’ve learned from our experiences.

LEO SACK: Awesome. Rachael, do vocalizations count as a physical interaction? And on that subject, should we be paying attention to the bird sounds, in general, in these clips?

RACHAEL MADY: This is why I love Bird Cams Lab. People bring up the best ideas, and they bring them up again. So someone brought up vocalizations– I can’t remember which participant, might have been a couple actually, when we were in the question and observe phase of this investigation. I would say, no, it doesn’t count as a physical interaction. It is something that’s really interesting. And they don’t– vocalizations, which is sound coming from the birds, isn’t happening in every interaction that we see. So it would be really interesting to look into. We decided, through the ranking process of which factors were most interesting to people, didn’t kind of rise to the top in the wonder board as being something that was of top interest. But maybe that’s something we dig into. So maybe after we do this data collection, there’s time to go back to the clips with displacements, that we know have displacements, and say, yes or no, if there was a vocalization. And maybe we can get to the bottom of the function of the vocalization. Is it a warning? Is it something that accompanies the displacement? Because we know that vocalizations by different species in different contexts can mean different things.

LEO SACK: Excellent. I see you both have been poking around in the Q&A with me. Do either of you see questions that you want to make sure we get to?

BEN WALTERS: Well, I just see one from Jan in the Q&A asking, how often do you do data collection projects, and is there one coming up? So we’ve been through, I think, four full investigations now with Bird Cams Lab. This is our fifth one, Battling Birds: Panama Edition. And obviously, this one is live right now. We just started the data collection process. So you can get into Zooniverse and start at the data collection phase. If you haven’t been a part of Bird Cams Lab before, everyone is welcome to come in at any point. It’s not like, because we’re collecting data right now, that you missed the boat on this investigation.

We also do have one more planned, coming up in the next month or so. And the fun part about that one is it’s a live data collection project on our Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam. So people will actually be collecting data while they’re watching the cam live.

There is a little bit of a different data-collection procedure. And also sort of collecting data live limits the type of questions we can ask a little bit too. Because you’re relying on the data you can collect in real time, and you can’t go back and rewatch video over and over. So the questions we can ask on Zooniverse can be a little bit more in-depth.

But it is really fun to be able to just sort of press buttons live and collect data in real time while you’re watching the camera. It’s super, super fun thing to do. And we’re excited to get that off the ground. So if you do take that survey and sign up for Bird Cams Lab, we will be sending along notifications for when that project rolls out in the coming weeks to months.

LEO SACK: And as long as we’re on the question of schedules, is there– maybe I missed this earlier– is there an exact date when you plan on ending the current data collection for Panama?

RACHAEL MADY: Glad do you brought that up. I thought that would also be good to bring up too. So we’ve currently, based on previous investigations we’ve done, estimated that the number of clips we have in there will take about a month. Could go faster, depending on how many people participate. But you’ll notice, if you go to the Zooniverse page, there is a progress bar on that main page. And you can actually see how many clips we’ve gone through. And so, at first, it doesn’t look like we’ve done very much, because that progress bar is pretty low. But once we start getting more and more people involved watching those clips, we’ll retire the clips. So once all those clips are watched, that will be the end of data collection.

LEO SACK: Once every clip in there has been watched by 10 people?

RACHAEL MADY: 10 people. But so we’ve done a little bit of uniqueness in that retirement. So if there are no birds there, we only need three people to tell us that there are no birds. So that data, we’re trying to kind of move through those clips, because we’re not as interested as what’s going on with no birds are there. And so, once there are birds there, we need 10 people. So hopefully, about half the clips or so, we’ll have no birds, and we can get through those really quickly and then focus in on the really interesting ones.

LEO SACK: Excellent. I see a couple people asking will this webinar be recorded. The answer is yes, we are recording it. It will be immediately archived on Facebook, but it will also be more permanently, in higher quality, archived on the Bird Academy website. So that’s And we will post a link to that and send a follow-up email to those folks who registered to be on Zoom with us today. Do either of you guys see one more question you want to touch on before we wrap things up, because we are reaching the end of our time?

RACHAEL MADY: There is one question that I would love to answer. Is that people asked about, if I see anything else interesting when collecting data, is there any way for me to comment on that? And yes, you can. We want to know everything that’s happening, if you’re willing to talk about it with us. We focus in on the displacements, but there’s an option to click “Done and Talk,” and you can use a hashtag– and we have more details on the website about how to actually use the hashtags– to tag the data, so that we can actually search through discussions and see what else is there. But feel free to let us know anything else you notice. Because birds do weird and really interesting things. So we would love to know what you see.

LEO SACK: Excellent. All right. So there are a lot of great questions, but I want to make sure– actually I don’t want to share my screen just yet, I will get back to that, sorry. I’m having all sorts of technical fun today. There are a lot of great questions. I want to make sure we don’t go too far past the end of our scheduled time. So Rachael and Ben, thank you both so much for talking with us today. And thanks as well for all of your hard work in organizing Bird Cams and Bird Cams Lab, and I can’t wait to see what this new investigation in Panama is going to discover. So thank you both.

RACHAEL MADY: Thank you for having us. It’s been a blast.

BEN WALTERS: Yes. Super fun to be here. Thanks Leo. And thanks, everybody for joining along on the webinar and on Facebook as well.

LEO SACK: Excellent. Thank you. I also want to thank our audience for joining us today too. OK, now I’m going to share my slide. Now, if we didn’t get to your question today, please email us, and we will be happy to follow up with you more directly.

So a couple of different email addresses here. For general questions about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, or about our webinars, and other public programs, about bird ID help, or pretty much any random question about birds, please email our public information team at

And then for more specific questions about the Bird Cams and Bird Cams Lab, you can email

And finally, don’t forget to check out that Bird Cams Lab website, Bird And you can find links from there, as Rachael was demonstrating, to where you can help actually collect data for Bird Cams Lab on Zooniverse.

Also if you’d like to receive occasional updates about Bird Cams Lab, you can sign up for Bird Cams Lab email list at this last link,

So that’s our show. I hope you all enjoyed it. And I hope you’ll all participate in Bird Cams Lab and their Battling Birds Panama investigation. Happy cam-watching, and happy data-collecting, everybody. Thanks for joining us. Take care.

End of transcript

Bird Cams Lab’s investigation Battling Birds: Panama Edition uses the power of audience participation to uncover new discoveries about bird behavior using camera footage from the @Bird Cams Panama FeederCam. Watch as tropical birds vie for food and position against the backdrop of a lush cloud forest. Anyone can participate! Learn how you can turn your observations into scientific data by tuning into our conversation with Bird Cams Lab Project Leader Rachael Mady and Bird Cams Communications Specialist Ben Walters on Thursday, January 28, at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time.