It's For the Birds.
We are 6th-graders who joined a Science Action Club in Montana. We helped scientists help birds and their habitat. It was really fun for us to hang out together as we learned all about birds and gathered scientific data. You should try it, too!
Here's what we did in our club. On the first day we met, we were named citizen scientists--that means that we ordinary people are helping scientists do extraordinary things nd help our planet and its creatures and plants. Our main job was to count and track birds where we live in Montana, and we learned all about birds and their habitat and food resources. We love birds and we want to keep them around.
There are hundreds of Science Action Clubs around the country. Ours was sponsored by the Montana Girls STEM Collaborative (which has other cool activities for girls) and Montana State University. The clubs started with a California group that wants kids to connect with scientists and protect our Earth together (more at CalAcademy.org).
Our first mission was to take bird counts, so scientists can see where birds actually live and whether patterns are changing. We learned how to identify the birds that usually live in our area.
Then small groups of us would use our binoculars to search every day at our same location. Along with the kind of bird, we'd record any observations about bird behavior we saw. It was cool to call out a bird spotted to the kid recording our find. Later, we'd compare our finds and record our data.
One of our favorite activities was "Bird Beak Buffet," where we discovered why different birds have different shaped beaks. Ever notice that?
They do! We used tools that worked the same way as different bird beaks do: tweezers, straws, chopsticks, and forks. Then we experimented to see which tool worked best for getting certain types of food such as seeds, fish (represented by marbles), nectar (we used water), and bugs (we used rice) into our cup. We had to use only the tool and not our hands and fingers!
It was fun to pretend to be a hungry bird, and see how well a bird's beak works to get the food she needs. For example, a straw worked best to get nectar into our cup--just like a hummingbird's long beak works as she pokes it into a beautiful flower to get nectar. Did you know it's actually her long tongue (look right) inside her beak that has grooves to let the nectar drops roll back to her throat?
And the tweezers were best to get marbles into a cup, the same way the tweezer-like beak of a hawk or eagle is designed for it to grab fish for dinner. It was cool to see how specialized bird beaks are for the kind of food that's designed for them.
Another favorite for us was dissecting owl "pellets"--a fancy word for owl poop. Scientists love examining an animal's poop, because it reveals what the animal has been eating. Changes in an animal's poop can show changes in the plants and animals they eat, and it helps scientists track environmental change.
When the three of us started slicing into our pellet, it was weird, but fascinating. It was full of hair and bones from little animals that we could identify from our guide sheet. We found several femurs (upper leg bones) and skulls. Looked like this owl had dined on rats and voles--yum!
Being citizen scientists was really rewarding for us. "I liked doing bird counts, and being outside with my best friends," says Lucy. "It feels great knowing that our work is making a difference." Sidney liked adding our research to that gathered by other citizen scientists. "I enjoyed sharing my discoveries with my friends and classmates, and then posting them on eBird," Sidney says. EBird is an international bird database where citizen scientists enter and analyze info about birds they spot around the world.
Georgia started thinking about how she'd like to discover a new species of bird. If she found a new bird, she'd name the species Pompom Bird. "A person who discovers a new species gets to name it," Georgia said. "I love that an ordinary girl like me could do that someday!"
Be a Bird Friend
You can help birds every day of the year!
* Ask a parent or teacher to help you find a nearby organization that helps birds such as the Audubon Society. And check out the awesome national directory at NGCProject.org to find out about tons of ways for girls to have fun together and help birds and other animals, plants, and the planet.
* Give birds a home. Search "Make a Birdhouse" at NMGmembers to learn how Hanna, 11, built a sweet home for birds.
* Feed birds. Put seeds in a feeder or grow sunflowers for birds to get their own snack.
* Help your parents plant native plants that birds like as habitat. Don't use bird-harming pesticides.
* Look for beautiful birds around you, and celebrate them with drawings and photos. Lucy, 11, United Kingdom, drew a kingfisher (above) because she feels special when she sees these shy birds by her local river. Cecily, 11, Wyoming, drew the owl (left) because she loves the work of the National Audubon Society.
* Count birds on your own. Search online for "The Great Backyard Bird Count" and join in!
Be a Citizen Scientist
Know about SciGirls? If not, check out PBSkids. org/SciGirls. You'll find tons of cool science activities and shows AND lots of ways to be a citizen scientist.
Click on "Citizen Science" there. First, download their fun SciGirls Nature Nurture notebook and take it outdoors with you. Then explore the project finder. You pick the kind of activities you like, and get back lots of choices, including tracking cool animals, plants, weather, pollution, and more. Check out the possibilities--here are just a few.
* Squirrel fan? Use a phone app to report sightings and send pix of some furry friends.
* Like to take nature photos? Contribute to the Encyclopedia of Life to show life where you live.
* NMG member Kate, 16, Minnesota, caught and tagged beautiful monarch butterflies (above left) with her sisters to chart where the butterflies fly.
* Monitor and protect your favorite tree! That's treehugger Taysha (above), 11, Costa Rica.
By Georgia Carraway, Sidney Kirsch, and Lucy Breuer