"What makes a great bird photo?" That was the main question of new research that sought the most photogenic bird in the world, and the top-ranking feathered friend isn't what anyone expected, notes the Hill. Per a study published April 22 in the i-Perception journal, the planet's "most Instagrammable bird" is the tawny frogmouth, a disheveled-looking bird with big eyes that's often mistaken for an owl. To find their winner, researchers sifted through nearly 30,000 bird images from nine popular Instagram accounts that featured pics from 116 bird families. The scientists then bestowed an Image Aesthetic Appeal (IAA) score on each photo. That score was based on how many likes each photo received, with the IAA method "controlling for reach and time," co-author Katja Thoemmes, who invented the method, tells the New York Times. The frogmouth's win was a surprising one.
It "seems to be a matter of poetic justice, as this nocturnal bird with very distinct facial features was once designated 'the world's most unfortunate-looking bird,'" the researchers note. While birds' colors were often found to have an effect on how many likes a photo received, the relatively drab frogmouth, which often blends in with its surroundings, seems to have another thing going for it: front-facing eyes, rather than eyes on the side like most birds. Those eyes make them seem more "personable" and "humanlike," a curator at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo tells the Times. He adds, however, that the frogmouth also looks "perpetually angry"—an appearance that a Maryland Zoo conservation manager calls "resting bird face." The results suggest that beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. "Presumably, interestingness, idiosyncrasy, and the situational context all play their part in the aesthetic appeal of bird photos," the researchers write. (Read more discoveries stories.)