Today on the blog we’ll be talking all about birds, so thanks for joining me. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about birds but didn’t know where to begin, then you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re a young person just starting to take an interest in science or an adult looking to delve deeper, I think you’ll find some interesting surprises on our adventure. What do we call a scientist who studies birds? If you guessed ornithologist, you’re right! The word comes from the Greek for “bird” and “discourse on;” ornis and logos respectively.
So, with that info in mind, can you guess what an ornithologist’s cereal says when they pour milk over it at breakfast? Hint: Think bird names. Give up? “Snipe, Grackle, Peep!”
Tools Ornithologists use to observe birds
- A notebook to record your careful observations.
- A a bird field guide. If you don’t have one, check one out from your local library to expand your knowledge. You can use such a guide to confirm which birds you’ve observed and documented in your notes. You should also consult the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online. If you’ve ever heard birds chirping in our Hall of North American Wildlife, those recordings came from Cornell University’s archive!
- Binoculars! These are a must, whether you’re someone who wants to take your birdwatching to whole a new level of detail, or a kid who wants to tackle a fun project with their adult.
Make Your Own Binoculars!
- Decorate your two cardboard tubes. Be creative! You can paint them, cover them with stickers, draw on them—you name it! If you choose to wrap your cardboard tubes with paper, make sure to ask your adult for help. They’ll help you measure the paper and cut it to size so that it will cover each tube just right. Your adult can also help you to tape the newly sized paper to each tube accurately.
- Have your adult safely staple the two tubes together with one staple at each end of your new cardboard binoculars. Voila! You’re ready to have fun using your imagination as you learn about birdwatching and the roles birds play in our everyday life.
Whether you live in the city, suburbs, or in a rural area, birds are a major part of your environment. The Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, home to Carnegie Museum of Natural History, is no exception. Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) are no strangers and Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) are known to nest at the very top of the Cathedral of Learning.
In the autumn at twilight you’re bound to see clouds of starlings and crows getting ready to migrate. As for the crows and starlings, don’t worry, you’re not in a Alfred Hitchcock movie, it is a perfectly natural formation. These birds flock together for protection from another bird that calls Pittsburgh home, the Great Horned Owl. As humans we’re slowly becoming more conscious of the fact that we share our urban spaces with birds. Carnegie Museum of Natural History is doing its best to keep birds safe as we strive to coexist with the natural world around us. Last year, in 2019, the museum in conjunction with Birdsafe Pittsburgh began applying experimental films to its windows to help birds see the glass and avoid death from a collision.
I hope this blog has either encouraged you to give birdwatching a try for the first time, or rekindled an interest of longstanding. Birding allows all of us to more deeply explore our local ecosystems and to appreciate our indelible link with the natural world.
Nicholas Sauer is a Gallery Presenter and Natural History Interpreter in Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s LifeLong Learning Department.