The tawny frogmouth, with its hooked beak, enormous bright yellow eyes, and wide gaping mouth, is a bird often mistaken for an owl. Found within the forests of Australia and southeast Asia, its scruffy reddish-brown or grayish plumage allows the frogmouth to blend seamlessly among tree branches.
Despite lacking extravagant, vibrant feathers and often bearing a grim expression in photographs, German researchers have dubbed the tawny frogmouth "Instagram's most aesthetically appealing bird." The study, published in i-Perception, focused on finding what characteristics make bird photos rack up "likes" on Instagram, reports Victoria Gill for BBC News.
To gauge what images Instagram users adore, researchers used a scale called an Image Aesthetic Appeal (IAA) score. The IAA scoring algorithm categorizes most-liked images by ranking the amount of likes a picture received over time, reports Matilda Boseley for the Guardian. The algorithm then predicts an expected number of likes the post should receive. An image's total IAA score is based on the percentage of likes the photo got compared to the expected number.
After combing through more than 27,000 bird photos from nine Instagram accounts, the researchers found it takes more than beauty to attract likes. Overall, people seemed to respond positively to just about any peculiarity or distinctive characteristic, reports Allyson Waller for the New York Times.
"Anything cute and cuddly evokes something in human nature—and particularly anything with big eyes," wildlife photographer Graeme Purdy tells BBC News.
Surprising the research team, the frogmouth received the highest score of 19 on a scale that went from negative 25 to 25. The high scores have to do less with how aesthetically pleasing it is overall and more about its odd features.
"They always look perpetually angry," Tom Snyder, a bird curator at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, tells the New York Times. "The look on their face just looks like they're always frustrated or angry with you when they're looking at you, and that's just the makeup of the feathers and the way their eyes look and everything. It's kind of funny."
Birds with impressive plumage also scored high on the list. Unique feather colors like blue and red get more likes than birds with yellow or green feathers. Other top-scoring creatures included emerald turacos with bright green crests adorning their heads; pigeons sporting a vibrant variety of colorful feathers; and the hoopoe, an African bird with an impressive mohawk and orange, black and white stripes, reports Hannah Seo for Popular Science.
In contrast, seabirds ranked low, joining storks and vultures at the end of the not-so-pretty-birds list, reports BBC News. The bird to receive the lowest IAA score was the sandpiper with a score of negative 23, the Guardian reports.
"The frogmouth brings that factor of surprise as it just does not look like any other bird, with its almost anthropomorphic, facial features," study author Katja Thömmes, psychology researcher at the University Hospital Jena in Germany, tells the New York Times. "I must admit that I have grown quite fond of this peculiar nocturnal bird myself."