When I graduated from Cornell not too long ago, I drew a bird on my graduation hat. It was a stylized yellow-bellied sapsucker, a symbol I encountered almost every day in my four years as an undergraduate as I studied, worked and conducted research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Lab shaped my undergraduate experience and inspired my love of science and multimedia. This past weekend I had the gratifying opportunity to give back a little and pass on the inspiration.
As the Autumn chill set in – which in Ithaca means grey skies and a constant drizzle of rain – the Lab opened its doors to the community for a day of Migration Celebration. It was a day to celebrate birds: their fascinating behaviors, plumages, songs, migrations, habitats and ability to bring together people from all walks of life. The event was mainly geared towards children, with innovative educational activities organized by all Lab departments:
“What’s your favorite bird? A sandpiper? Can you draw it? Cool! Now let’s put it on a map and look up where it spends the winter.”
“Ever wondered what scientists use to record bird song? Here, try out this microphone and recorder. See, sound is like a wave…
“Do you want to try eat like a bird? Birds have a variety of bills of all shapes and sizes, and different eating habits too! Some birds eat nuts, with bills that are kind of like forceps…”
In a brief walk around the event I learned all about crow calls, bird-friendly coffee, the value of native plants, cerulean warbler migration and the power of hands-on learning. I also saw a golden eagle up close (courtesy of the Cornell Raptor Program) and ate a delicious scoop of Birdseed ice cream (courtesy of Cayuga Lake Creamery).
For a majority of the time, I was helping out at a bird banding station where we were catching and banding birds. No one can resist the lure of holding a wild bird in the hand, and it was great to offer people a close view of birds that they normally only see high up in trees through binoculars. We were showing people how scientists put bands with unique numbers on a bird to be able to identify individuals. Banding birds is invaluable for studying anything from breeding biology to migration to speciation. But more importantly we were trying to forge a new connection, a deeper admiration, a lifelong curiosity – even if it simply meant that the next time they saw a black-capped chickadee, they would pause for a few seconds to see what it’s up to. Seeing the kids’ faces light up as a goldfinch or a chickadee took off from their hands, I felt sure we had inspired a few more bird lovers in this world.