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Archive for the ‘Brooklyn Children’s Museum’ Category

In our Migration Sensation program, we spotlight a vital bird behavior called preening. Have you ever observed a bird rustling their beak into their plumage? They’re retrieving special oils from a gland at the base of their tail and applying it to their feathers. Those oils help to waterproof and protect their feathers. When researching tidbits about grackles for our last post, I came across a strange phenomenon involving preening and ants. Grackles, along with over 250 other bird species, can occasionally be found standing on top of an anthill in a still posture with their wings outstretched. Their aim is to disturb the ants and send them into full home-defense mode. The ants frantically crawl over the bird’s body releasing chemicals like formic acid. These chemicals may supplement the bird’s own preening oils and they serve to ward off other insects as well as fungus and bacteria.

Along with coating their feathers with oils, preening birds are also “zipping” up their feathers. They’re reattaching each tiny hook and barbules on each barb that lines each feather. Take a close up look at these important, yet surprisingly simple, structures.

As feathers get ruffled throughout a bird’s busy day, they become less aerodynamic. Each feather is attached to its own muscle and serves to make the bird an intricate flying machine. Humans studied birds when designing the airplane, but the modern airplane pales in comparison to our feathery friends. The airplane has a few flaps and a rudder to create lift and drag while a bird has hundreds of teardrop shaped feathers manipulating the airflow around its body. Each feather must be kept neatly groomed and placed in its prime position for flight.

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Fall has arrived and we’ve been revving up for the start of our fall school programs at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Our field trip lineup has been revamped with some new offerings and we also brought back an old favorite we’ve been missing called “Migration Sensation”. In this feathery program, students investigate the adaptations that let birds take flight, learn all about how and why birds fly long distances in the spring and fall, and play a super fun migration game. In the game, the students transform into migratory birds; they must collect food and avoid human hazards on their way to distant wintering grounds. If you’re interested in booking an educational field trip for your school group, visit our School Programs page.

In preparation for a Migration Sensation visit, take your students to a park for some urban bird watching! Your class could even become part of a larger community of bird scientist by participating in Cornell’s “Celebrate Urban Birds” Program. Order a free kit for your classroom which includes facts about 16 species of local birds.

When I walked into the BCM garden today, I was greeted by a chorus of noisy grackles pecking around for seeds. Take a listen to their boisterous chorus!

When grackles migrate, they only travel short distances. Many stay put in the same place all winter. Scarce food is usually the main bird migration motive and grackles are extremely opportunistic. They’ll eat anything from seeds to bugs to trash so you’re likely to be able to spot them all winter long.

File:Common Grackle male RWD.jpg

Did you notice their beautiful iridescent feathers?

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If you teach grades 2- 5 and are looking for more ways to utilize New York as an outdoor classroom, consider heading “Into the Woods” with this four year teacher development program offered by the NY Metro GLOBE program. The first workshops begin in October 2012 and there are only a few slots left!  There will be 11 workshops throughout the first year, held on Saturdays or Sundays. Participating teachers are given a $125 stipend for each 7 hour training day.

Some topics include:

Pond Ecology in various parks in Queens

Stream Ecology, the Bronx River

Geology, parks in Queens and the Bronx

Forest Ecology

Seal Watch

Bird watching and ornithology, Prospect Park

Butterflies

Service Learning Projects

Authentic Student Environmental Research Projects

If you are interested, create a no obligation account online at www.globe.gov

For more information about registering, you can call or e-mail Peter Schmidt at 718-997-4268,  Peter.schmidt@qc.cuny.edu or Roy Harris RHarris2@schools.nyc.gov .
*This project is funded by an Environmental Literacy Grant from NOAA, and is being run by Queens College’s GLOBE NY Metro Program in partnership with the Wallerstein Collaborative for Urban Environmental Education at NYU.

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Despite what “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” would have you believe, the chrysalis of a caterpillar is not a structure that the bug spins or builds around itself. The chrysalis actually forms under the caterpillar’s skin and is revealed during its last shed! Take a look at this eerie transformation; the skin of the caterpillar splits and unzips revealing the hard, smooth skin of the chrysalis underneath.

Before the chrysalis even emerges, the first parts of the butterfly’s wings are already beginning to develop under the caterpillar’s skin. In the next week, most of the caterpillar’s body will literally dissolve and form back into the anatomy of a butterfly.


The word “chrysalis” is derived from the Greek word chrysós meaning gold. The beautiful gold dots surrounding this Monarch Butterfly chrysalis mark points where air enters the casing, but it’s the common crow butterfly’s metallic chrysalis that really lives up to the name!

Check out the leaf-mimic chrysalis of the orange barred sulfur caterpillar. Camouflage serves as a vital defense in this most vulnerable stage of metamorphosis, though some pupas can even twitch, vibrating their entire chrysalis to scare away pestering predators.

If you want your students to experience the life cycle of a butterfly first hand, you can order these kits that come complete with larvae and all the supplies you need to get them to their pupal- or chrysalis- stage.

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As we enter into August, some of our most helpful garden visitors – ruby-throated hummingbirds – will be migrating south. These quick little birds can be hard to spot, but you’ll be more likely to encounter one before their journey south if you put out a feeder full of sugar water to fuel their trip. Hummingbirds need to eat every few minutes since they expend an incredible amount of energy beating their wings up to 80 times per second!

This week at the museum, we learned all about hummingbirds and constructed our own feeders to hang in a garden, or out a window, fire escape, or front stoop. All you need are floral tubes like these, some colorful plastic craft materials (we reused old red and orange grocery bags), string, and sugar water!


The colors of the bags are important – hummingbirds have a strong preference for red and orange flowers like bee balm, bleeding heart, cardinal flower, or nasturtium.

We showed our garden helpers how to fold squares of plastic into fours, snip the center corner, and then design their own pretty petal shapes (very similar to snowflake crafting). The next step is to simply shimmy the flower petals up the neck of the floral tubes, fill with 1 part sugar/4 parts water and hang outside! It is recommended to heat your sugar water so the sugar dissolves nicely, and you’ll want to change it every 4 days so it doesn’t ferment.

After your hummingbird feeder’s hanging in a nice sheltered place, sit back and look out for a bright winged blur! Did you know hummingbirds spend so much time in the air catching bugs and slurping nectar that their weak little feet are nearly useless? They can perch, but they typically can’t walk!

Check out this tiny hummingbird nest from our collection. You can find more tips on making your garden a hummingbird nesting ground here. You can even help track their migration by reporting your sightings!

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This week, we’ve discovered another reason Brock microscopes are so awesome. With no plug to worry about, you can take them outside! We had our after school kid’s crew students pluck specimens from the garden to observe up close. Take a look at our kids’ eye view of some Hinoki False Cypress.

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Last week, our visitors discovered the phenomenon of iridescence on the scales of blue morpho butterfly wings. It turns out iridescence occurs a lot in nature! We can find beautiful examples of iridescence in mother of pearl shells, the feathers of peacocks and ducks, and even on some flies and beetles.

Some iridescent animals use their ability to reflect light to attract a mate. Male Anna’s hummingbirds will manipulate their feathers to produce quick flashes of bright red that they can direct towards a potential mate. Since the red color can only be viewed from a certain angle, the hummingbird nicely avoids also attracting a nearby predator.

Check out the wild and spooky iridescent mating dance of  the “Superb Bird of Paradise” from Papa New Guinea.

After exploring some pictures and videos of iridescence, your students may be ready  to experience it first hand. Your kids have probably been playing with iridescence all their short lives – all you need are bubbles!

Bubbles reflect light off two surfaces of soap sandwiching a layer of water. If the two reflected light wavelengths line up, you perceive a super intense color, this is called constructive interference. If the light waves reflected off the two surfaces don’t line up perfectly, they will cancel each other out, a phenomenon called destructive interference. In destructive interference the light waves become too mixed up and scrambled for your eyes to even perceive; the colors cancel each other out.  The varying thickness of the bubble surface changes which light wavelengths get amplified and which get cancelled out. How many different colors can your students spot on the surface of a bubble? Do the colors change based on the angle of observation?

After exploring iridescence through bubbles, go on a nature walk to see if you can spot any iridescent wildlife.

These iridescent green flies live in the garden at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Starlings, with their iridescent green and purple plumage, are all too easy to spot in New York. They were introduced to Central Park in 1890 by a Shakespeare fanatic who wanted to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to New York City. They went from 40 birds to 50 million birds a century later! Read more about their invasive introduction to Manhattan here.

If it’s recently rained, examples of iridescence can even be found on an oily street or in sidewalk puddles!

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