Do bird papers have the best figures?

In honor of American Thanksgiving, a quick post featuring bird-related papers. (No turkey papers in particular, though. Sorry about that.)

A little while back, John Hutchinson tweeted about a new paper by Dial and Carrier with a fantastic supplemental videos of birds, including ones that are falling. Here’s a link to the youtube channel with the videos. In my head, the falling birds are saying “Wheeeee!”

(Above: a screen cap from the “Mallard Drop” video on the youtube channel linked to above)

Shortly thereafter, Ben Goldacre tweeted a link to this blog post, which features this figure from a 1982 paper in Nature:

This got me thinking about some of my favorite figures from papers. Two of the top three are from bird-related papers. There is this excellent figure:

from a paper by Meyer-Rochow and Gal in Polar Biology that won an Ignobel Prize.

And then there is a bird-related study that is much less well-known, but that also has figures that I love. These figures are contained within the PhD thesis of Harold Eugene Schlichting, which was published in 1958, and which is in the library at the Kellogg Biological Station. I first learned about this thesis from a former labmate from Tony Ives’s lab, Kate Forbes. The focus of the thesis was whether waterfowl disperse algae between bodies of water. To test this, Schlicting did things like put ducks in gutters or cheesecloth and hung them on clotheslines to see what came off them. Seriously. The figures are fantastic, especially due to the captions. Here are just three:

Aren’t those great figures?

So what is my favorite non-bird figure? Probably this one:

Aren’t you shocked – shocked! – that it’s a Daphnia figure? It’s from Woltereck 1932. I love how shifty the Daphnia look.

So what are your favorite figures from scientific papers? And do you think the bird folks have better figures than the rest of us?

29 thoughts on “Do bird papers have the best figures?

  1. Those duck photos remind me very much of the experiments on duck feet in Darwin’s Origin. Very homemade feel–and on the same topic, too!

    I don’t have any amusing figures to contribute, only one that might have been but wasn’t. In grad school, Peter Morin was a scientific adviser on a Pine Barrens tree frog restoration plan that involved digging some new breeding ponds. Peter had to advise on how the ponds should be dug–size, location, etc.–in order to attract frogs. My labmates and I tried to get Peter to have them dig three ponds in the shape of a smiley face (two circular ponds for eyes, a long curved pond for the mouth), in the hopes that someday he’d write a paper on the project with an aerial photo of the smiley face as “Plate 1”. Needless to say, it never happened.

    • Glad you like them, too! I really can imagine a whole cartoon series with these characters. Some sort of detective/crime series, I think.

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    • Excellent! For those who don’t have access, it uses a diagram of a platypus and two kangaroos to illustrate platykurtic and leptokurtic. Definitely memorable!

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