Funky Nests 2017

a mother Costa’s Hummingbird on her nest at Villa del Faro in Baja California Sur. The rim of the nest is covered in her and/or her offspring’s droppings!

In the citizen science department of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Celebrate Urban Birds program (CUBs) holds several competitions a year revolving around a certain idea of bird celebration. We have covered the Funky Nests in Funky Places competition several times,  and back when I worked for CUBs as a Cornell undergraduate student I wrote worked behind the scenes on the competition.

Now the contest is back, and ends on June 30th!

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Counting Down To Global Big Day


A world of birders has already marked out where they’ll be on 13 May. Where’s your place? Add it today!

Thanks to eBird for the one week marker until Global Big Day, which we look forward to supporting at Chan Chich Lodge. Click the map to the left to mark your territory, so to speak. This countdown notice uses one species to illustrate a conceptual premise of the annual event, and we are happy to report that this species is frequently seen at Chan Chich Lodge on birding walks, and excursions to Gallon Jug Farm, where the barns are accommodating:

The familiar Barn Swallow (right) has been recorded in eBird from 222 countries. You can hope to spot a Barn Swallow almost anywhere on the planet, from Alaska to Argentina, Siberia to Australia, Iceland to South Africa. Barn Swallows criss-cross the equator and traverse the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Their movements not only span an entire planet of birds, but connect a worldwide community of birders.

In the same way, Global Big Day and eBird connect all of your local birds with the rest of the world, making a real difference in the collective understanding of birds worldwide. On 13 May, every bird that you report contributes to the global team total for an unprecedented snapshot of our planet’s bird diversity. Every bird counts.

To join the Global Big Day team from more than 150 countries, all you have to do is go birding on 13 May!  Continue reading

Christmas Bird Count, 2016

Seth’s work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with the Celebrate Urban Birds initiative helped us all get a close look at citizen science in action. Past Christmas counts since then have been an annual tradition in these pages. Thanks to Lisa Feldcamp for a note on this topic with her post Give Kids the Gift of Birding on The Nature Conservancy’s website Cool Green Science:

The annual Christmas Bird Count is one of birding’s most cherished traditions. This year, consider introducing the count to a child. There’s no better time to get a youngster started in birding.

“When I was a kid in a large family of eight kids in Upstate New York, my parents told us we could do anything that cost less than $5; baseball, boy scouts, or birding,” says Tom Rusert of Sonoma Birding. “I joined Junior Audubon with my brothers, not realizing it would be a life sport to enjoy forever. It really is no different than any other sport.” Continue reading

UK Birders Unite

Voting for a National Bird seems like the perfect example of a ornithologically related Citizen Science activity.

Two amazing things happened in the mid 60′s. The Robin was voted Britain’s national bird and…

The surprising thing is neither has happened since.

Well, all that is about to change. David Lindo (AKA The Urban Birder) feels the Robin’s many decades in power needs to be challenged, so he is fronting a campaign to help find Britain’s new national bird. Running alongside this year’s General Election will be this alternative Election, which we’d love you to take part in. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be Anywhere In the World…

Our interest in birds shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers of these pages. With contributors Seth and Justin on a Smithsonian Expedition in search of the Golden Swallow, over 3 years of our Bird of the Day feature from many talented photographers, and a plethora of posts about the subject, we assume it’s obvious.

Prior to 2013 the Great Backyard Bird Count focussed on North America, but that year it went global and the results were amazing! Continue reading

Cool Green Science Celebrates The Celebrate Urban Birds Initiative

Hummingbirds nesting in a patio chandelier. Photo by Lydia D’moch for the CUBs Funky Nests in Funky Places 2014 competition.

Hummingbirds nesting in a patio chandelier. Photo by Lydia D’moch for the CUBs Funky Nests in Funky Places 2014 competition.

The Nature Conservancy is currently promoting their blog called Cool Green Science, which we expect to be a new source for us to regularly share links to on topics we particularly care about.  We like the blog’s stated purpose:

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy’s deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications.

Of course we would like you to consider visiting Xandari for this purpose, but we appreciate Lisa Feldkamp’s point. She is the senior coordinator for new science audiences at The Nature Conservancy and earlier this week she posted on a topic that is near and dear to us:

What is Celebrate Urban Birds?

You don’t need to book a trip to Costa Rica or the Amazon to enjoy great birding. Continue reading

An Impromptu Tacacorí CUBs Art Contest

A crudely-formed bird (airplane?) mosaic, photographed from the school roof

Last week, after many delays, I was able to get down to the school in Tacacorí and take photos of all the CUBs rocks that the students had painted. I used my camera (rather than my phone) and a borrowed tripod so that the pictures would be better quality and also more standardized. The result was 146 photos of rocks. I don’t know the exact number of students at the school, but I know that fifth-graders in particular were impatient to take their rocks home before I photographed them, because there were only a handful of specimens left last week.

Unfortunately for those students who didn’t wait until I told them they could  Continue reading

Migration Celebration

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.” Continue reading

Celebrate Urban Rock Birds

With over a week of working with other grades at the elementary school in Tacacorí, I’ve seen lots of really great paintings of birds on locally-found stones, and even one or two chunks of cement. After finding around seventy-odd rocks around Xandari that were mostly usable for this art project and scrubbing them all of mud and moss, I Continue reading

Tacacorí Rocks Birds

A sixth-grade creation

Starting last week, I began the next art project at the elementary school in Tacacorí. After learning that over time the papier-mâché creations succumbed to the Central Valley’s relative humidity and became difficult to preserve, I decided to find a more solid medium. I liked the idea of recycled plastic bottles from the hotel but I worried about the extensive use of scissors they’d require and all the sharp plastic edges that would be created in the process. Instead, I went with the option that, although not exactly recycled, at least doesn’t require industrially-created materials and is fairly abundant: rocks. And the best part is that stone is impervious to humidity (on the scale of time that we’re thinking about).

Fifth-grade creations — some kids pasted paper versions of their bird on the rock.

In the slideshow below, you can see some of the fifth- and sixth-graders’ works of art Continue reading

Birds Are Barometers, Among Other Things


A recent study projects that the summer range of the Allen’s hummingbird will shrink by 90 percent by 2080. Photo by Loi Nguyen/Audubon Photography Awards

One more story related to the centenary mentioned here, this time with a podcast interview with  to accompany our previous post linking to his editorial in the New York Times:

It’s been 100 years since the last passenger pigeon died. Would we have been able to save the bird today? What is the state of bird conservation in North America? Gary Langham of the National Audubon Society and Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology discuss which species are under threat and how climate change might affect birds in the future.

24/7 Birdwatch

Ezra, a red-tailed hawk, perches outside Schoellkopf Stadium. Photo credit, Christine Bogdanowicz.

Ezra, a red-tailed hawk, perches outside Schoellkopf Stadium. Photo credit, Christine Bogdanowicz.

In the interest of what we consider essential news about environmental or conservation issues we occasionally share an article in its entirety here, with the encouragement to give the source its due. The nature of blogging is to be quick but not sloppy, brief but clear, and missionary but unorthodox.

The link to this article is deeply missionary, in that our blog has more bird-related content than any other type of content; birds are both a metric for and icon of our conservation mission; quoting the article in entirety is our unorthodox way of getting the writer’s attention (and if he or the publication prefers we will be happy to reduce our republishing of this article to the normal “fair use” excerpt standard) because his article is about the topic Seth has been working on for the last several years at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its far reaches.  We think he might find the work Seth and James are doing at Xandari an interesting extension of this article’s focus:

Thanks to Cornell Lab of Ornithology webcams and local bird enthusiasts, anyone in the world can see into the lives of a family of red-tailed hawks that resides on a light-pole about 80 feet above an athletic field on campus.

More than five million viewers across 200 countries have been following the exploits of Ezra (father) and Big Red (mother) and their offspring since in 2012. This year three nestlings hatched.

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Celebrating Birds with Tacacori Students

About fifteen minutes downhill from Xandari by foot, the primary school at Tacacori serves first through sixth graders from the local community. Xandari has collaborated with the school on multiple occasions in the past, and also regularly cares for their grounds (mowing the lawn, etc.). This semester, third and fourth graders don’t have an art class in their normal schedule, so it seemed a perfect opportunity for James and me to go over and do a week-long art project with the kids.

Of course, I stuck with what I know best for art projects with young children, and decided upon papier-mâché and painting on little cardboard canvases, just like I had done in the Galápagos a couple years ago. James and I went to the third and fourth grade classes during their Spanish classes and for about an hour and twenty minutes each a day we showed them how to use newspaper, glue, and a balloon to create the body of a bird. Then, with recycled cardboard from Xandari, we gave them canvases to paint on as well as the materials to make beaks, wings, tails, and feet for the birds.  Continue reading