Friday, November 30, 2012

Conserving Birds One Painting at a Time

Magpie Jay (left) and Toucan (right) in Costa Rica

A couple weeks ago Olivia Bouler, who wrote and illustrated Olivia’s Birds, visited Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It was the opening of an exhibit of her bird paintings – similar to those she painted to raise $200,000 for bird rescue operations following the BP Deep Horizon oil spill – and it was an opportunity for kids to hear Olivia talk about bird conservation.

Olivia was 11 years old the year oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. She worried that the oil spill would harm the Brown Pelicans that were nesting at that time, and wanted to do something to help birds. So Olivia decided to use her art to save the birds.
Olivia & brother Jackson & puffins

“I promised to make 500 drawings for people who donated money to the Audubon Society for helping the birds,” she said. She figured she’d raise a couple hundred dollars; instead she raised $200,000.

“People want to help, but they don’t know how,” Olivia says. She encourages kids – adults, too – to use their talents to help protect the planet. “Everyone can do something,” says Olivia. “Find your cause and use your talents; the quality of our world depends on you.”

For Olivia, “doing something” means continuing to share her love of birds through her art. “They have personalities, you know,” she says of the birds in her backyard. Her paintings – and her book – have made Olivia a bird ambassador, and she’s traveled across the US and to Costa Rica to talk about the need to conserve bird habitat. Last year the Audubon Society named her an “artist inspiring conservation”.

Olivia draws a chickadee at Cornell Lab of Ornithology
This year Olivia’s busy with earth science, math, English and everything else a typical eighth-grader does. In her free time she’s busy developing a board game … a cross between Sorry, CandyLand with dice and lots of chance cards that should be out soon. 

"So where do you want to be in a few years?" I ask. "Here," she says. "At Cornell. Studying birds, of course!"

There's a review of Olivia’s Birds over at STEM Friday. Check what Olivia’s doing on facebook..

Friday, November 23, 2012

Seeing the Forest Without the Leaves

This time of year the trees are "bare bones". Except for maybe the beech trees, which hold onto their leaves as long as they can - and a few branches with dried berries.

But mostly it's bark and branches. Still, you can get to know the trees by their shapes. Some have branches reaching up towards the clouds, some alternate up the trunk, and some hang down. Take a good look at the bark: some trees have shaggy, scaly bark, while others are as smooth and white as old bones.

Now's a good time to head outside with some paper and crayons to collect tree bark rubbings, or to draw winter portraits of the trees around your house.
Check out more science resources and some great books over at STEM Friday.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mars Monday - "Hi Mom!" from Curiosity

credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Every now and then the rover, Curiosity sends a postcard home. This one is of a fine-grained rock that NASA scientists have named “Bathurst Inlet”. The photo was taken on the 54th Martian day (or sol) of the mission. That’s September 30, Earth time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Baby Birds Need Password for Supper

Juvenile superb fairy wren. (Wikimedia commons)

Like any other baby bird, fairy-wrens sing for their supper. But they have to go one step further and give mama bird a secret password before she hands over the worm. Not only do fairy-wren nestlings have passwords, but each family has a different password – a single unique note that nestlings incorporate into their begging calls.

And they learn this password before they’re born – while they are still in the egg. Mama birds sing to their eggs to teach them their special“feed me” song. The mama birds also teach their mate and any helpers the secret password as well.

Why? Because parasitic cuckoos sometimes lay their eggs in fairy-wren nests. Baby birds need lots of feeding, and cuckoos tend to be greedy, gobbling up the food when given a chance. So if a mama bird can tell which nestlings are her own, she can feed them – and not the imposter.

Each fairy-wren family has its own password, too; and it’s learned, not inherited. When scientists switched eggs (they put one mom’s eggs in another’s nest), the hatchlings sang the “feed me” song that matched their foster-mom, not their biological mom.

So next time you’re at the supper table and mom says, “what do you say?” – you’d better pay attention. Could be your family has a special password, too. Check out more cool news and resources at STEM Friday.