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Monday, June 18, 2012

What is in a bird word?

Nighthawk.jpgFor this edition of the e-zine, I thought I would talk a little about some fun words that describe bird behaviors. Some of these words are on my mind, since they describe the behaviors of my own study species, the Common Nighthawk. One way to describe these birds is that they fly around eating insects on the wing at dawn and dusk. But another way for an avian biologist to say this is that Common Nighthawks are a crepuscular species with an insectivorous diet and they hawk their prey. Personally, I find that while the second description can be a bit intimidating, once you understand this new vocabulary it is also a more satisfying description to use.

So let's spend some time unpacking this new vocabulary, and hopefully you will also understand my enjoyment of cool words to describe bird behaviors. The first new word is crepuscular. This refers to the time of day that an organism is active. For other species, you can use the more commonly known terms: diurnal and nocturnal. But for organisms that are active at dawn and dusk, like Nighthawks and many species of bats, there is another, more specific term which is crepuscular.

The next term in my second description of Nighthawk behavior is insectivorous. This term is more commonly used and understood, but no less interesting. Insectivorous simply describes an organism that eats insects. What I find fascinating about this term, is how you can quickly delve into a whole new world of vocabulary regarding diet with a word like insectivorous. For example, after understanding you can discuss words like granivorous, nectivorous, frugivorous, and even piscivorous and then find species that eat seeds, nectar, fruits, and fish, respectively.

The final term that I used to describe Nighthawk behavior is hawking. This term is actually a main source of confusion when I talk to people about my study species. Hawking in this context refers to the manner in which Nighthawks catch insects; they visually seek out individual insects and then chase them down and catch them in their mouth. This behavior is what has led to the hawk in the Nighthawk name. Many other species use hawking behavior to catch their prey including many raptor species, and more specifically many species of hawks. This similarity in behavior does not imply relatedness among all hawking species, even though this is one of the most common assumptions when I tell someone that I study Nighthawks; Nighthawks are not hawks, they are not even raptors.

There are many more interesting terms than I discussed here when it comes to bird behaviors. If you get bored with behavior vocabulary, you can also take a look at the terms used to describe bird anatomy. Some of these terms are more intuitive than others, but hopefully all of them can lead to interesting discussions and greater understanding about how birds act.

Sami Nichols

Evaluation tips

  • Updated evaluation summary checklist

    Here's an updated version of the overview of the evaluation process and documents. This latest version contains links to videos that explain the consent process as well as a link to the meeting planning and reporting form.

  • Return evaluation documents to Siri
    After collecting the consents and pre-assessments at your first meeting, please send all documents to:

    Attn: Siri Scott
    Center for Youth Development
    200 Oak Street SE, Suite 296F
    Minneapolis, MN 55455

Nuts and bolts

Driven to Discover Citizen Science adult leader roster

This Driven to Discover Citizen Science adult leader roster contains contact information for all current adult leaders so that you can connect and get in touch with each other.

Adult leader resource links

Reflective activities

Building in reflection throughout your research team is an important way to build the learning experience with youth researchers. This University of Wisconsin Extension guide contains 18 different reflective activities designed for service learning projects. These can all be applied in Citizen Science by adapting the language in the reflection questions for monitoring and investigating. Let us know how these work for you!

Upcoming events

  • Driven to Discover adult leader/project team conference call

    The second Driven to Discover Citizen Science conference call will be held on June 26 from 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. Join the call by dialing 1-424-203-8075 and entering the passcode 795878#. This is a place to get questions answered, share ideas, and make connections with other adult leaders.

    Read the summary of our June 12 conference call here.

  • Insect Fair announcement
    Mark your calendars! This year's Insect Fair will take place on Sat., Dec. 8. This is the day research teams will present their findings to their peers and be interviewed by other scientists. We are working on some sort of event/activity (open only to D2D participants) on the Friday evening before the fair, but details on that are yet to be determined. More details to follow as the date draws near.

Research team updates

This space is FOR YOU! We will publish exciting news from your research team here. Send any stories or pictures you'd like published to Grant at

Monday, June 4, 2012

A record spring for monarchs!

Monarch.jpgSpring 2012 has been unusual for monarchs, in a good way! We weren't expecting this good news. People have measured the area occupied by monarchs overwintering in Mexico since the winter of 1993-1994, and the winter of 2011-2012 was one of the lowest on record. The average over the whole 19 years is 7 hectares (1 hectare is about 2.5 acres). Last winter (2011-2012), monarchs occupied only 2.9 hectares; only two other years have been this low. However, it appears that a few interacting weather patterns have helped the population rebound in a single generation. First, the drought that's been drying out a large part of Texas ended. This meant that there was lots of healthy milkweed for the monarchs coming up from Mexico to lay their eggs on. Second, just when the next generation of monarchs in the south were emerging, a string of warm days with southerly winds pushed them northward in larger numbers and earlier than we'd seen for many years. Also, it's possible that several bad monarch years in the south meant that there were fewer predators and parasitoids around.

Citizen scientists in both the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project and Journey North reported seeing monarchs up to three weeks earlier than usual, farther north than usual, and in huge numbers. For example, Wendy Macziewski and I visited the University of Minnesota Arboretum on May 15, and saw hundreds of monarchs flying over the grounds. Usually we haven't even seen one monarch by that date. For reports of early and large monarch sightings, check out the Journey North website and compare MLMP state graphs from many years (check out both the timing of the first monarchs, and their numbers:

It looks that this is shaping up to be a good year for monarchs in our part of the country. So far, we've had plenty of rain, and a warm spring meant that the milkweed was ready for the monarchs when they arrived. Your data will really help us understand how monarchs respond to such an usual spring!

Karen Oberhauser

University of Minnesota Monarch Lab

Evaluation tips

  • Reminder: Email research team meeting dates

    Please email the dates of your research team's meetings to Siri Scott as soon as possible if you haven't yet had a chance to do this. Siri can be reached at

  • Bird's eye view of D2D evaluation
    We are providing this checklist of evaluation procedures and documents that you and your team members will complete this year. Please use it to help guide your evaluation activities over the summer and don't hesitate to call or respond here (See "Leave a comment" at the top of this section) if you have questions.

Nuts and bolts

  • Safety tip: Copy youth enrollment forms

    After youth and parents have completed the youth enrollment form, make a copy of each form and place them in a plastic sleeve directly in your binder so that you always have access to medical and emergency information for each youth researcher while out in the field. If you have mailed back your enrollment forms before making copies, let us know and we'll make copies and get them back to you.

  • Your contact Information: To share or not to share?
    One way to stay in contact with other Driven to Discover adult leaders is to comment here within this newsletter (see "Leave a comment" at the top of this section). We will also share a D2D 2012 Roster in the June 18 newsletter. If you prefer not to have your affiliation organization, phone number and e-mail address shared within the adult leader group, please let Grant know before June 15.

Adult leader resource links

  • Research Team Meeting Planning & Reporting Form

    Some of you asked for a digital version of this form so you can type notes directly into it before your research team meetings. After each research team meeting, you also complete the same form online to both record what was planned and what happened at each meeting. Please complete the online form within two days after the meeting so that the information can be used for the evaluation of the project.

  • Consent: Refresher video
    Need a refresher on how to explain the consent form to parents and youth? Watch this brief video before your orientation meeting!

Upcoming events

Driven to Discover adult leader/project team conference call

The first Driven to Discover adult leader/project team conference call will be held on June 12 from 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Join the call by dialing 1-424-203-8075 and entering the passcode 795878#. Andrea will lead the call and other Driven to Discover project team members will also participate.

Research team updates

This space is FOR YOU! We will publish exciting news from your research team here. Send any stories or pictures you'd like published to Grant at

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