How far would you go in the name of science? Researchers don’t just sit in labs and study or conduct surveys. They also go into the field and get into the crux of what’s being studied in its natural habitat. We usually imagine them moving around in white lab coats, probably thick glasses and eyes full of curiosity. However, they don’t always follow the same approach. One anonymous ornithologist (an expert who observes the behavior of birds) from Japan changed his appearance to blend in and simply do his job. What’s quirky about his look is that he visited a bird habitat for a year wearing a giant blue bird mask (thinking the birds would think he’s one of their own), according to My Modern Met.
— 鈴木俊貴 Toshitaka Suzuki (@toshitaka_szk) August 22, 2023
An associate professor at the University of Tokyo, Toshitaka Suzuki, shared his colleague’s unusual method. While the disguise appears to be an outlandish concept, there was some scholarly justification behind it. Bird species, such as the great tits he was watching, can remember human faces. As a result, once they spot one of the humans coming, they stop chirping and issue distress sounds to warn the remainder of the flock. This was far from ideal for someone researching bird language.
Since approaching the nest to weigh the babies, the ‘cool’ ornithologist had not been on good terms with the flock of great tits he was studying. During his visits for a year to the forests of Nagano Prefecture he sought to hide his identity with an odd bird mask as he tried to figure out a workaround, as per Oddity Central. But the birds switch from their usual chirping to the characteristic ‘Pee-tu-pi’ warning calls.
The disguise failed to fool the birds irrespective of his best attempts and the underestimated birds sent warning sounds when he came too close. He tried again without the disguise, hoping that they had absolved him, but received the same result. This hilarious encounter has left him with a really entertaining anecdote and a hilarious image of his attempting to fit in in the Nagano forests. Toshitaka also uploaded a video showing the researcher failing horribly at putting on his spectacles over the mask’s huge beak.
For more than 20 years, John M. Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington, has studied crows and ravens and has long wondered if the birds might recognize particular researchers. Dr. Marzluff and two students wore rubber masks to test the birds’ recognition of faces separately from clothes, locomotion, and other individual human features. Crows held grudges towards scientists who wore harmful masks, according to the findings.
Kevin J. McGowan, an ornithologist at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, who has captured and banded crows in upstate New York for 20 years, also stated that he was frequently followed and disturbed by birds who had profited from his peanut distributions in the past. “If you can learn who to avoid and who to seek out, that’s a lot easier than continually getting hurt,” Dr. Marzluff said, reports the New York Times. “I think it allows these animals to survive with us and take advantage of us in a much safer, more effective way,” he added.