birds

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For STEM Friday we are featuring the new middle grade nonfiction book Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner and photographs by Andy Comins, which chronicles Dr. Gavin Hunt's intriguing research into tool use and learning by New Caledonian crows.

 

Why New Caledonian crows? It turns out they have a lot going for them. They are pretty smart. Not only can they use sticks as tools to pry their food- in this case large beetle larvae - out of wood, but also they can fashion new tools by shaping and modifying twigs and stems. As more sophisticated experiments have shown, they have a remarkable ability to solve problems (see some of the videos below). They also have bigger eyes than other species of crows and their eyes are closer to the front of their head, which means they have better depth perception.

Although the special crows are fascinating enough, author Pamela Turner's discussion of Dr. Hunt's research is written with just the right touch of humor to keep young readers fully engaged. For example, she notes one of the crows is named "Crow we never got around to naming." Many of her observations are highly entertaining.

Andy Comins's amazing birds-eye-view photographs (see the one on the cover above) help us see the crows as individuals. It isn't easy to photograph active birds in the wild, and he makes us feel like we are right there studying the birds, too.

Whether you have read all of books in the Scientists in the Field series or none of them, you are going to want to pick up this one. Perfect for anyone interested in learning, animal behavior, birds, tool use, or science in general.

Below are some bird science activity suggestions that could be used to accompany the book.

Activity Suggestion 1: Building a Bird Blind

Dr. Hunt knows he might change the crows' natural behavior if they knew he was watching them, so he uses shelter to observe the crows unnoticed. The camouflaged shelter is called a "hide" or a "blind." In the field he uses a portable tent as a blind (photograph page 12 of the book), but children can design and build their own bird blind.

Gather:

  • Sheet, large piece of cardboard, or cardboard box
  • Twine, cord, rope or painter's tape
  • Twist ties
  • Paints in camouflage colors (optional)
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • Scissors (craft knife for adults only)
  • Markers
  • Birdseed (optional)
  • Birdwatching supplies:
    • Notebook
    • Pens and pencils
    • Field guide for identifying birds
    • Binoculars (optional)
    • Clock or watch
  1. Find a location to set up the blind, either indoors or out depending on the weather and other factors. If you already have a bird feeder near a window, setting up a blind inside the window would be ideal.  Outside, look for areas where birds are active on a regular basis, such as in shrubs, trees, or near a food source.
  2. If you choose to, paint the sheet or cardboard with camouflage colors (investigate what colors birds can see and plan accordingly). Allow to dry.
  3. If you are setting up inside, cover the window with a cardboard box with the bottom facing out or tape up the sheet with painter's tape. Outside, tie the twine or cord between supports such as poles, fences or trees. Drape the sheet over the cord, or lean the cardboard against the cord, and fasten with clothespins or twist ties.
  4. Have the children stand or sit in a comfortable position. Using the markers, mark where the eye holes should go. The holes should be a small as possible so they aren't obvious to the birds, but large enough to allow for comfortable viewing. Cut out the holes.
  5. If you choose, sprinkle some birdseed in the viewing area or feed the birds to attract them (optional). Sit or stand quietly behind the blind and view the birds. Younger children may simply draw a picture of a bird they see. Older children may want to keep a more detailed record of what kinds of birds visit, what time of day, how long they stay, which direction they go, etc.
  6. Suggestion for experiment:  Do blinds really work? Design an experiment to test whether birds behave differently when observed through a blind versus when viewed from similar distances and circumstances without a blind.

Activity Suggestion 2:  Watch some videos/bird cams of the behavior of crows and other birds.

Even if you don't have the opportunity to observe bird behavior in nature, learn more about birds by watching videos like the one below and/or by visiting bird cams online (The Lab of Ornithology has a number of ongoing bird cams to get you started.)

Check Pamela S. Turner's website for many more videos of crows doing funny and amazing things.

Related:

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers
We have a list of children's books about birds at Science Books for Kids.

scientists-in-the-field-series-book-reviewsAlso, see our growing list of books in the Scientists in the Field Series.

Visit our birdwatching Pinterest board for many other bird-related science activity ideas.

Age Range: 10 - 12 years
Grade Level: 5 - 7
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (August 2, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0544416198
ISBN-13: 978-0544416192

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher/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.

During a recent quiet morning walk I spotted something unexpected,

great horned owla great horned owl napping in a cottonwood tree!

I had some questions, so when I got back home I pulled out the new children's informational book Great Horned Owls by Melissa Hill and Gail Saunders-Smith, PhD (Consultant Editor) to find out more (It is Nonfiction Monday, after all.)

Are great horned owls common in the desert? Checking the map of where great horned owls live, it turns out they are found throughout North America and parts of South America. There is even a photograph showing a great horned owl nesting in a saguaro cactus. Another source suggests that great horned owls catch and eat scorpions, which makes sense since they are both active at night. Great horned owls do live in the desert.

Looking at the large photographs in the book, it was also surprising to see that the feathers of the great horned owl vary in color. Some great horned owls are predominately dark like the one in my photograph, some have more reddish-brown feathers, and others are quite pale in color. All have the tall tufts of feathers on their heads, however, that give them the name "horned."

Did you know that owls don't build their own nests? It turns out they use cavities in trees, nests built by other large birds, or even nests built by squirrels as places to lay their eggs. After laying, the female incubates the eggs for about a month, while the male brings her food. Once the baby owls hatch, both parents feed them.

Great Horned Owls helps early readers learn new vocabulary while exploring age-appropriate facts about these fascinating nocturnal creatures. Reading it will allow them to become as wise as owls!

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 1
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1491460539
ISBN-13: 978-1491460535

Related Activities:

Hear owls hooting,  see highlight videos from a great horned owl nest cam, as well as visit an extensive list of great horned owl FAQs from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Related books from Capstone:

Burrowing Owls by Melissa Hill and Gail Saunders-Smith, PhD (Consultant Editor) is another title from the new Owls series.

Burrowing owls are small owls that live in tunnels in the ground. They are also commonly found in the desert.

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1491460466
ISBN-13: 978-1491460467

Why Do Owls and Other Birds Have Feathers? (Animal Body Coverings) by Holly Beaumont is new title that explains how owls use their feathers to keep warm and to fly, among other things.

Age Range: 5 - 7 years
Publisher: Heinemann (August 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1484625382
ISBN-13: 978-1484625385

Don't forget our growing list of books about birds for children at Science Books for Kids.

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers

Disclosure: These books were 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 or cover links 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.

Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

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For STEM Friday we're going to the birds again with a new middle grade book, Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds (Young Naturalists) by Monica Russo and photographs by Kevin Byron.

If you are already familiar with Chicago Review Press books for kids, you will recognize the format. Each section reveals information about a topic, such as feathers, and then provides suggestions for making observations and for appropriate hands-on activities to reinforce learning.

Birdology gives an introduction to many aspects of bird biology, such as their anatomy and special characteristics, where to look for them, what they eat, bird migratory behavior, etc. In the final section it explores common careers that involve working with birds.

The author is very careful to point out that it is illegal to collect or possess feathers, nests or eggs of wild birds. All the activity suggestions keep this important consideration in mind.

Educators will be interested in the Teacher's Guide and Resources in the back matter. Monica Russo is an experienced teacher, which is evident because the Teacher's Guide includes suggestions for how to accommodate a student who is afraid of birds. That is not something a beginning teacher is likely to have encountered.

Kevin Byron's photographs are inspiring (see activity suggestion below). You almost wish more space had been devoted to them, although that might have left less room for the fabulous activities. See what I mean by checking out the barn swallow in flight on page 76.

Birdology is a must have book for beginning ornithologists, and basically any older child interested in science and nature. It would be wonderful paired with a citizen science project such as the Great Backyard Bird Count. Educators will also want a copy for ideas for quick projects that are appealing and well-designed, and that could work with multi-aged groups.

Age Range: 7 and up
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (January 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 161374949X
ISBN-13: 978-1613749494

Related activity suggestions:

1. Anting by birds

Imagine you are watching some big black birds called crows. Suddenly one spies an ant mound, runs over to it and starts flopping around on it while ruffling its wings. Then it grabs some of the ants and starts thrusting them up into its feathers. What is wrong with this crow? Has it eaten some bad food? What is it doing?

In fact, the bird is using the ants’ defensive chemicals as a personal bug killer. Birders call this behavior “anting.”

Birds can be host to various itchy lice and mites. Scientists have long thought that by anting birds kill these parasites, but few are willing to do the experiments to prove it. However, one man actually took the lice off several birds he had observed anting and compared them to the lice on some birds that hadn’t anted. He found many of the lice from the anting birds died, but only a few from the non-anting birds.

When the birds actively pick up the ants and wipe their wings with them, it is called active anting. Other birds simply squat or lie on an anthill shaking their wings and tails, and stirring up the ants. This behavior is called passive anting.

You can see an example of passive anting in the following video (there is background music):

Doesn't the behavior look odd at first?

When you are watching birds, be sure to keep your eye out for birds that are anting. Document your observations in a nature notebook, sketchbook, with photographs, or with video and then share them with others.

2. Bird Photography

Birds are often small and active, but with patience and experience, children can learn how to photograph birds.

Tips:

With any camera, start with larger birds that are easy to spot and are not likely to fly away. Water birds might be a good choice.

mallard-duck

Think about the background. Again, water birds make this easier because the water is generally uniform and gives good contrast.

heron background issuesSee how much easier it is to spot the mallard in the top photograph, where the heron gets lost in the second photograph?

heron-headNo pesky background in this photograph.

goose-head

Add interest to a photograph by concentrating on the head and eye of the bird. If  you study Kevin Byron's photographs, you will see he does this.

Encourage your budding photographers to keep records of what kinds of birds they photograph, where and when the photograph was taken, what the birds were doing, etc.

Talk about the photographs, too. Compare the beak of the heron versus the goose. Do you know what each kind of bird eats? (Herons eat fish whereas geese graze on vegetation.) Who knows what else you might discover!

________________________________________

Previous Growing With Science posts with bird-related activities:

 

More Resources:

Check our Pinterest board of bird-related activities.

Looking for more bird books for children?

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchersA growing list of bird books for kids at Science Books for Kids

Taking-Flight-childrens-books-about-bird-migration-300x270plus a list of children's books specifically about bird migrations.

 

Disclosures: The book above was from our local library. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

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