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Scientist Rob Dunn's lab at North Carolina State has two new citizen science projects which might be fun learning experiences for you and/or your family if you choose to participate.

shower-head(Photo via Visualhunt)

Project 1. Showerhead Microbiology

Have you ever wondered what microbes might be growing in your showerhead? If so, you will be interested in the Showerhead Microbiome Project.  If you sign up, the members of the project will send you a short interview and a kit to take samples. You will need to send those back to the lab for analysis. They warn it may take some time for the kit to arrive and also for it to be analyzed.

bread-home-made(Photo via Visualhunt)

Project 2. Sourdough Bread

Members of the lab are also interested in the microbes in sourdough cultures. They are looking for people to send in active cultures and also for people to use cultures to bake bread. People without sourdough starter or with no cooking experience are still encouraged to participate. See the website for detail.

We would love to hear from you if you participate. Let us know what happens.

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Want to learn more about your local birds? One of our favorite bird-related activities, the Great Backyard Bird Count, is coming up next month:  February 13-16, 2015.

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The bird count is a prime example of a child-friendly citizen science project. Basically all you need to do is count the birds you see over 15 minutes and then report them on the website. Although it is called "backyard," you can count anywhere you find birds, including parks, preserves or fields.

There is plenty of information and instructions about getting started at the website.

Related Activities:

We recommend picking up some good informational books about birds to share. For example, Capstone Press has a number of books for beginning readers, including the titles in the Birds of Prey Series.

Peregrine Falcons by Melissa Hill and Gail Saunders-Smith, PhD, Consultant Editor

Did you know that peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on the planet? They can reach speeds of over 200 mph when diving. They are found throughout the world, except at temperature extremes (hot tropics and coldest polar regions). Learn more about these incredibly fascinating birds.

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Publisher: Capstone Press (February 1, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1491423102
ISBN-13: 978-1491423103

Older children might enjoy reading about Fire Birds by Sneed B. Collard III.

Fire Birds reveals the work of biology professor Dick Hutto, who has been investigating what happens to bird species after a forest fire. He found that some kinds of birds increase in number due to increased nest sites and food. He has come up with a list of 15 species that are closely associated with recently burned forests, which he calls "Fire Birds." Can you guess what they might be?

(This title was previously reviewed at our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.)

Ages: 8+
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Bucking Horse Books (December 10, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0984446079
ISBN-13: 978-0984446070

Looking for more children's books about birds? Try Taking Flight: a List of Children’s Books About Bird Migration at Science Books for Kids or...

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...the list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids

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You may also want to click the bird activities category here at Growing with Science for more posts relating to birds, as well as our For the Birds Pinterest page.

The Cornell Lab FeederWatch Project has even more educator resources.

We would love to hear if you participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. What kinds of birds do you see in your backyard?

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Disclosure: Fire Birds book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. 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 not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

While much of North America has had cold and snow, here it was warm enough that some local bumble bees were collecting pollen and nectar from desert mallow flowers. Unfortunately the bees were landing and leaving so fast that I wasn't able to get a photograph, so this one from the East Coast will have to do.

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What can you do while it is too cold to do much insect watching? It is a perfect time to pull out the field guides and learn more about a group that is interesting to you.

Bumble Bee Identification

Take for example the bumble bees. They are important pollinators and easy to spot because of their large size.

If you are interested in learning more about the different types of bumble bees in your area, the USDA Forest Service and The Pollinator Partnership recently have created two identification guides for bumble bees: Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States by Sheila Colla, Leif Richardson and Paul Williams and Bumble Bees of the Western United States by Jonathan Koch, James Strange and Paul Williams

The two guides can be downloaded as free .pdfs at The Xerces Society (scroll to bottom of page).

(There are free downloadable bumble bee posters at the USDA Forest Service, too -scroll down.)

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Looking through the Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States guide, I believe the bumble bee above on the thistle flower is Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee.

Ready to take your studies to a new level? Try a citizen science project.

Bumble Bee Citizen Science Opportunities

1. Bumble Bee Watch Citizen Science

This group is looking for individuals interested in taking photographs of their local bumble bees and uploading the photographs to the Bumble Bee Watch website.  Once you have uploaded your photos, experts will verify the identity the bumble bees for you. The website also has tips for what you can do to help conserve bumble bees, like grow a pollinator garden.

2. Bumble Boosters

Based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, this project involves testing designs for artificial bumble bee nest boxes and also tracking bumble bee queens, again via photographs.

If you decide to participate in one of these projects, or if you know of other bumble bee citizen science projects, be sure to let us know!