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Weekend Science Fun is a bit late this weekend because it has been one of “those” weeks. Yesterday we spent the day at a FIRST robotics competition. The day before we visited the Pima Air and Space Museum. You get the idea…

Keeping with the bird theme, let’s take a look at….Pigeons! Have you ever really spent a few minutes and looked closely at a pigeon (also called rock dove)? Check out their plumage. The feathers around the pigeon’s neck are often gorgeous iridescent purple or green. They really are a glamorous as peacocks in their own way.

I can hear you saying now, is she really talking about pigeons? Maybe she’s been out in the sun too long at the FIRST competition. Aren’t pigeons pests?

I have to say I didn’t think too much about pigeons until a book came out called
Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman.

After my son and I read the book, our attitude changed a lot. In fact, one his favorite parts of our trip to Washington, DC last summer was checking out all the different-colored pigeons on the Mall. I have to say the variety of colors was definitely greater than anywhere else we have visited.

Pigeons came back to mind when I saw an article in the newspaper recently about how many different species of birds have the ability to see the color ultraviolet, which is invisible to humans. That was pretty cool to me, because I know that many insects can also see ultraviolet.

The article didn’t mention pigeons, but I had an idea those brilliantly colored feathers might have some ultraviolet. Sure enough, it turns out that some of the earliest studies on birds’ abilities to see ultraviolet were carried out with pigeons. More recent work has shown that the purple or green feathers have a complex mix of colors and ultraviolet.  Pigeons are walking billboards of color we can’t see.

If I’ve convinced you that pigeons might be worth investigating, then take a look at a cool project at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology called Project Pigeonwatch.

Here’s a quick link to the free educational resources.

I’ll dig up some pictures and add later this weekend if I get a chance. Have a good weekend.

Continuing with the bird theme, let’s build a bird nest. But not just a small one, how about building a child-sized bird nest?

Growing With Science Nest

Building a nest is a fun activity for this time of year because there are usually a lot of leaves and branches around. I’ve done this activity with six-year-old children, but it is appropriate for almost any age. It would be best if you could do it outdoors, although some of the materials could be used inside if necessary.

First gather materials to create nests. I recommend using items you can recycle or compost. Here are some suggestions:

  • Cardboard strips
  • Hay or straw (pet supply or craft stores)
  • Grapevines (craft stores)
  • Shredded paper
  • Fallen leaves
  • Branches

The first year I did this activity I was lucky to find two actual nests that had blown out of a tree. Of course you know not to take bird nests out of trees, because birds sometimes reuse their nests. I always leave the nests outside near where I found them so birds can reuse the materials. Gather pictures of bird nests from books and magazines, too. Birds and Blooms magazine often has pictures of bird nests.

bird nest

I showed the nests to the children and talked about some of the reasons birds build nests.

  • Place to raise young
  • Shelter from adverse weather
  • Place to rest

You can also read a great book about nests (see below).

Now have the children build their own human-sized nest. They can work in groups, too. Be prepared for messy fun.

Note:  If you are working with a number of children, they may remove materials from the nests of others. Decide how you want to deal with this in advance. I told them that birds in nature really do take materials from other birds’ nests. Eventually they decided to leave one member of a group in the nest while the others went to gather supplies, just how birds sometimes handle the problem.

Make sure you have your camera ready. You will find there are many creative ways to make nests. Take pictures of your “birds” sitting in their nests.

Reward your “birds” with some bird-themed treats. Easy snack nests can be made by melting butterscotch chips in the microwave (see package for instructions) and mixing with crispy chow mien noodles. After it is cool enough to handle, shape into nests.

Related Books (Contain affiliate links to Amazon):

Birds Build Nests
by Yvonne Winer is our absolute favorite book about birds and bird nests. It has fabulous illustrations of many different birds and their nests.

How and Why Birds Build Nests (How and Why Series) by Elaine Pascoe, Joel Kupperstein, Editor and Dwight Kuhn, Photographer

Birds & Blooms