Skip to content

For STEM Friday this week we have a middle grade science book, The Secret of the Bird's Smart Brain. and More! (Animal Secrets Revealed!) by Ana Maria Rodriguez.

Using a fun format where each chapter reveals a surprise about a different group of animals, the author has found five science stories which often turn conventional wisdom upside down. In the first chapter, the term "bird brain" has a whole new meaning when scientists find that small size has nothing to do with power. In the following chapters readers discover whether birds have a sense of smell, how and why mama bears act during different seasons, and how pig grunts and alligator bellows may have more to say more than we originally thought. The last chapter ends with a hands-on activity for kids to try.

Although it is the animals that draw young readers in (the kunekune pigs are adorable!), the true stars of each chapter are the scientists who are discovering their secrets. The book shows details of how each group of scientists studies the problems, from counting brain cells to recording pig grunts.

The Secret of the Bird's Smart Brain...And More! is the next best thing to taking a field trip with a biologist. Check out a copy today.

Related Activity Suggestions:

Investigate Kunekune Pigs (Chapter 4)

Kunekune pigs are a rare breed from New Zealand. They are prized because of their small size and ability to use grass (to graze) as their main source of food.

Here are two kunekune piglets from the Dallas Zoo:


What do you think the little "tassels" of hair under the chin is all about?

The scientists in the book studied the grunts. You can hear the sounds the pigs make in this video.

Can you hear other sounds in the area besides the pig, like the kids and the chickens? How do you think scientists tune in to just the pig sounds when they want to study them? (See answer below.)

Don't these pigs have interesting colors?  The New Zealand Kunekune Association's page on coat color genetics has a detailed explanation of how genes interact to produce coat colors.

Investigate Bird Brains and Bird Behavior

Age Range: 8 - 11 years
Publisher: Enslow Pub Inc (August 15, 2017)
ISBN-10: 0766088529
ISBN-13: 978-0766088528

Answer:  Scientists trained the pigs they wanted to study to go one at a time into special sound-insulated huts so they could record individual pigs without a lot of extra background noise. Read chapter 4 to find out more.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

1

For STEM Friday, we have a brand new middle grade title, Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugsby Sneed B. Collard III.

An overview of the twenty-two different species of woodpeckers found in North America, it covers what woodpeckers eat, where they live, and reveals many of their unique behaviors.

If you've never read a book by acclaimed science author Sneed B. Collard III, reading Woodpeckers will send you searching for more of his titles. First of all, he and his son (at fourteen years old!) traveled around North America and took the majority of the stunning color photographs in the book. That alone shows their knowledge about and passion for their subjects. Add the fun, conversational tone of the text -- sprinkled with quotes from woodpecker experts -- and you have one amazing book!

In the back matter is a fun two-paged spread of "Woodpecker Photo Bloopers" where Sneed Collard shows all the ways that nature photography can go awry. It is a great section because it reminds us that for every prize-worthy photograph we see, there are hundreds that aren't stunning at all.

Woodpeckers is as chock full of information about these fascinating birds as an acorn woodpecker's tree is full of acorns. Recommended for nature lovers of all ages.

Activities to Accompany the Book

Activity 1. Learn About Your Local Woodpeckers

Take some time to discover what kind of woodpeckers live near you. A good place to start is the All About Birds Identification Website.

Where I grew up, we often saw downy and hairy woodpeckers on bird feeders in the winter, particularly if we provided suet. These are relatively quiet, small birds. They are black and white with only a few red feathers. You can see more about them at Woodpeckers of Western New York.

When I moved to Arizona, we took a trip to Madera Canyon. On the very first day we saw some noisy, active woodpeckers with bright red heads. They couldn't be more different than those I was used to.

We soon learned they were acorn woodpeckers.

 

Photograph of acorn woodpecker from Madera Canyon, Arizona by Alan D. Wilson, retrieved from Wikimedia

Acorn woodpeckers pick acorns off of oak trees, using their beaks. They store the acorns in holes they peck in trees, electric poles, or even the sides of the cabin where we stayed. Later, when acorn season is past, they go back to their stores and pull them out to eat.

Watching acorn woodpeckers work was incredibly entertaining. You can get an idea in the following video:

Encourage older children to take photographs of woodpeckers like Marie Read (in the video) or the Collards did. It is a good way to study woodpeckers more closely.

2. Make a woodpecker feeder

Many types of woodpeckers will visit suet (animal fat) or peanut butter feeders. Simply drill some holes in a round piece of wood and stuff the peanut butter or suet in. Hang the wood from a tree branch or pole where it is only accessible by birds.

Note:  Peanut butter or suet can deteriorate or become rancid when it is warm, so provide it in the winter and clean the feeder regularly.

See more suggestions for making bird feeders on my Pinterest Board

for-the-birds-pinterest-board

Related:

Ages:  9-12
Publisher: Bucking Horse Books (April 1, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0984446095
ISBN-13: 978-0984446094

We've added this title to our growing list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

3

For STEM Friday let's take a look at a beautiful new picture book, On Gull Beach by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall.

In this book, youngsters learn about seagulls and other inhabitants of a Massachusetts beach.

The story follows a young boy as he explores the seashore. Along the way, he spots a sea star. Before he can reach it, however, a seagull picks it up and flies away. Find out what he discovers as he chases the gull along the beach.

Jane Yolen's simple, but expertly-crafted rhyming text and Bob Marstall's exceptional illustrations make a delightful combination. Plus, you can't go wrong with the people of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology backing it.

The back matter includes more detailed information about gulls, other shorebirds, sea stars, and different types of crabs. Included are small color photographs of the different animals, plus QR Codes that will take you to sound files. There is also a sidebar about "How You Can Help Our Beaches and Wildlife."

Young birdwatchers will love On Gull Beach. It would also be a great choice for a trip to the beach, either in real life or in the reader's imagination. Enjoy a copy today!

Age Range: 4 - 11 years
Publisher: Cornell Lab Publishing Group (March 27, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1943645183
ISBN-13: 978-1943645183

Related Seagull Science Activities

1. Identifying Birds

Encourage children to learn how to identify birds. When children can tell different birds apart, they pay more attention to the birds they see.

Identifying birds requires learning to recognize body shapes, learning the names of body parts, plus honing observation skills. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some tips and resources to get started.

 

The type of seagulls featured in the book are herring gulls. As you can see from the illustrations, herring gulls have robust white bodies, light gray on their wings, pink legs and feet, yellow eyes, and they have a red spot towards the tip of their yellow lower beak.  The All About Birds website has more details and photographs of herring gulls.

 

Is this a herring gull? Check the characteristics listed above. Does it match?

Nope. There are more than 20 species of gulls in North America.  This is an immature Heermann's gull (Larus heermanni).

2. Questions and Answers: Seagulls

Q: How are the feet of seagulls different from those of the song birds in your community?

A: The seagulls have webbed feet for swimming.

Q: What sounds do seagulls make?

Seagulls make a number of different sounds depending on circumstances. They have alarm calls, courtship calls, sounds to defend territories, and sounds when they feed their chicks. All About Birds has some seagull sound recordings.

Q: Why do seagulls have dots on their beaks?

A: Seagull chicks peck the dot on the beak as a signal they want to be fed.

Q:  Are seagulls only found at the beach?

A:  No. Seagulls are also found inland, around rivers and lakes, and even in agricultural fields. They are common around landfills.

Q:  Do seagulls really eat sea stars like in the book?

A:  Seagulls eat many different creatures at the beach, including sea stars, crabs, and fish. Those found at the landfill are feeding on trash.

Here are some clever gulls eating snails.

No matter how you crack it, seagulls are interesting animals.

__________________________________

Earlier titles in the On Bird Hill and Beyond series:
On Bird Hill (2016) by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall

On Duck Pond (2017) by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall

See our growing list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher's representatives for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.