Archive for February 10th, 2010

For the birds!

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Photo from

One of my favorite annual events is happening this weekend (and no, I’m not talking about Valentine’s Day, although that event has its merits, too). I’m excited for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The GBBC is a continent-wide count of birds – each and every bird in North American that a volunteer spots is counted! The event helps ornithologists plot trends in bird populations and ranges. For example, the GBBC helped ornithologists realize the massive impact West Nile Virus had on American Crow populations about 7 or 8 years ago. In the last two years, they discovered a change in the overwintering habits of Pine Siskin, cute little birds that are common feeder birds here in Colorado but which are slowly pushing their winter range further south in winter time.

There are so many cool things about this event that it’s almost too many to name: anyone can participate, even if you aren’t a bird watcher; the information collected informs a real scientific research project; everyone who submits a checklist is entered into drawing for prizes; you can watch online as maps and birds counts are updated in real time during the four days of the count … as I said, very cool.

It’s really easy to join this very cool thing, too. All you have to do is count birds for 15 minutes in one place during one of four days, Friday, February 12 through Monday, February 15. As best you can, identify what bird species you are seeing. Log onto, complete the online checklist form and hit submit. That’s it. Of course, if you want to, you can count longer than 15 minutes, count on more than one day, and count in multiple locations.

If you are new to watching birds, the website has a photo gallery to help you with species identification. Even better, on your checklist, you can tell the ornithologists your level of confidence in your identification skills. They review everything – if you’ve submitted a bird that does not live in Colorado and you’ve checked “beginner bird watcher” on your form, they’ll be able to figure out what bird you likely DID see based on their knowledge of birds and their ranges.

That said, sometimes rare birds do show up on the count outside their normal ranges. For example, there’s a Red-shouldered Hawk living at the Poudre River Walk trailhead west of Windsor right now. That species of bird is just not found here in winter, except this year, we have one! When the count receives multiple checklists with this bird from a bunch of us marking “experienced bird watcher,” the ornithologists have greater confidence that is bizarre sighting is real. It will be fun to see if other Red-shouldered Hawks show up in the count outside their normal range.

The Museum is an official ambassador for the coordinators of this event, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Bird Canada.  We have information packets available for free at our front desk, now through Sunday, February 14. Stop by during business hours to pick one up! If you are interested in participating but unsure of the process, we are hosting “practice counts” in our Courtyard each day at 2 pm, Friday, February 12 through Sunday, February 14. Please join us.  It’s fun, it’s easy and it’s for the birds!

Science at home: Come sniff the Archives

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Image from

I like the smell of old books. Growing up in a house that was mainly a library with bedrooms, it’s a smell I’d recognize anywhere. Turns out, not only is the smell recognizable, it’s also measureable. Matija Strlic at University College London has published research in the journal Analytic Chemistry that shows that it’s possible to identify and asses the make-up and condition of old paper by analyzing the volatile organic compounds they release. Strlic imagines a future where electronic “noses” can be used in libraries, museums, archives, etc. to “smell” the air around old papers to help determine appropriate conservation steps.

February 2010

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