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Some of you may have been wondering how watching birds (from weekend science fun this week) could be science. As I mentioned earlier, observing is an important science skill. Many famous scientists and inventors started out by observing nature, for example Leonardo da Vinci.

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about how people become scientists. There seems to be a pattern that the interest is developed at home, usually from interacting with a parent or close relative. But a curiosity about the natural world also seems to be a factor.

If you have some time, listen to the podcasts at Ask-A-Biologist, or read the transcripts. The host of the series asks many of his guests about their path to becoming scientists. The answers are quite illuminating.


Just went out to check the aphids on the asparagus fern from last week. As I predicted, the aphids have virtually disappeared. I saw a few at the very tips of a couple of plant stems.

Insects have definite seasons and cycles, and it is worthwhile to pay attention to them. It can save you money, time and effort if you realize the pests are going to go away on their own.

Ants are particularly known for this. I think one reason there are so many wacky home remedies for ants is because people do something and when they check again, the ants are gone. The thing is, ants are highly mobile and it is likely they would have moved even if the homeowner had done nothing. (That isn't to say there aren't some useful home remedies, because there are.) When it comes to insects, being a procrastinator can really pay off.

One of our favorite things to do is bird watch. These lively creatures are interesting because they are colorful, active and can be found almost anywhere. We can hear them sing and chirp. This time of year birds are migrating, building nests and raising babies. There is a lot of excitement in the bird world.

You can simply look out the window and spot birds. Take a few minutes to see what kind it is and what it is doing. We learned our birds by figuring out a few at a time. We keep a notebook full of drawings and notes next to our favorite birding window. Each year we've had regulars who we recognize and also new birds. Last year we had house finch males with yellow on their heads instead of the more typical red or orange. This winter we had juncos for the first time.

What can you do to encourage birds? Many people start by making simple bird feeders, such as the classic peanut butter on a pinecone rolled in birdseed. You can make another simple feeder by stringing fruit such as raisins, grapes, cherries or orange sections on a bit of twine or string and hanging it out. Just be careful because scattering food for birds can also attract unwanted guests, including bears in some areas! We have problems with roof rats so we only feed thistle seed. Niger thistle seed attracts colorful birds like finches and doves, but not pigeons or rats. Check with your local Audubon Society for recommendations.

Making cards full of nesting materials can be a fun project that is easy to do with supplies from around the house. Gather index cards or three-inch by five-inch card stock, yarn, thread, hair, or anything else you think a bird might use in its nest. Brainstorm about what might be useful to a bird. Poke holes in the index cards (enough for all participants) with a hole punch or nail (with an adult’s help). Tie a 12-inch piece of string, yarn or ribbon through one hole to serve as a hanger. Loosely stuff the rest of the holes with a variety of nest making supplies, making sure the birds can pull it out fairly easily. When you are finished, go outside and hang the cards in bushes or trees where the birds will find the materials. Check over time to see which materials they chose first, second, etc. Refill the cards as needed.

These supplies are actually useful to birds. We once had a bird fly away with the end of a kite string, spreading the string throughout the neighborhood as it unwound from the spool.

If you get serious about birding, you might think about planting a bird garden. Find out abut which native plants in your area provide food or shelter for birds and add a few to your garden. Providing water through a birdbath or pond is also helpful as long as the water is kept clean and fresh. Check for more information in books, magazines and on the Internet.

Finally, even if it is raining and nothing is happening outdoors, ask your child what it would be like to fly like a bird. Then pretend you are birds. Spread your wings and soar and swoop together.

Happy flying!