differing coloration of two male savannah sparrowsIn the eye of the beholder: Stéphanie Doucet’s photograph of two male savannah sparrows is a finalist in a national science competition.

Biology professor’s photograph selected as finalist in national competition

Savannah sparrows reveal many subtle shades of beauty. These brown birds aren’t as showy as a peacock or bird-of-paradise, but they exhibit surprising variation in their yellow head feathers.

“Many people think of sparrows as little brown birds without any interesting feather coloration,” said Stéphanie Doucet, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences who studies animal coloration. “But when I began working on this species, I was struck by how much variation there is in the yellow plumage above their eyes.”

While researching savannah sparrows at her long-term study site on Kent Island, New Brunswick, Dr. Doucet happened to catch two males simultaneously. Because these males were banded, she knew that they were both the same age, and were both born on the study site the previous summer. The males revealed two extremes: one’s upper eye was surrounded by vibrant yellow feathers, whereas the other was much drabber.

“I took a photograph of these two males side by side, and it has served a source of inspiration to our research team,” she said. “With our ongoing collaborative study, we’re trying to understand: why is there so much variation in savannah sparrow colour?”

Doucet submitted her photograph to the Science Exposed photograph competition in January. The annual photo competition, a project of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, is devoted exclusively to images of scientific research in all fields of study, and is open to Canadian researchers in the public or private sectors.

This week, Doucet learned that her photograph was selected as one of 20 finalists.

All 20 photographs can be viewed online at NSERC’s Science Engage website. In addition to three jury-awarded prizes, the public can vote for their favourite photo, with the most popular photograph winning a “People’s Choice Award.”

To support Doucet’s entry in the national competition, follow these steps:

  1. Visit http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/ScienceExposed-PreuveParLimage/.
  2. Click the right arrow over the first photograph to get to the eighth photograph.
  3. When the two birds are showing, click “Vote for this image” and enter your name and email address.

 Each visitor may cast only one vote, with the balloting closing Sept. 15.