The Informed Birds group recently had an opportunity to tell high-school students from the International school of Vantaa about how we study behavioural ecology. The outreach was initiated by the teacher Veera Piironen, who teaches a voluntary class of Animal behaviour to 14-year-olds and became interested in our research based on ESB web pages and previous field experience with Katja Rönkä. Keen to expand on Informed Bird’swell-attended Vappushokkelo outreach to families and children, we gathered to brainstorm what to present to a new type of audience. With a program consisting of the basics of behavioural ecology, the types of questions we study and practical examples of the methods we use, we set out to Vantaa on November 29th.
Despite some hiccups with computers, videos, printers and snowfall, and the teacher being substituted due to sudden illness, we managed to have aninformation rich two hours with the students. They got to hear about how studies on behavioural ecology can be applied to e.g. improve wild animal welfare in Zoos (where PhD Nora Bergman has worked) and make links between an animal’s ability to learn from others and how that might affect evolution. Despite evolution not being part of their curriculum so far, the students immediately got the idea of changes in populations through generations. After an introduction talk from Rose, the students got their hands on our field equipment including a cuckoo model and a real reed warbler nest, and then watched and scored from videos how reed warbler parents behave when they find a ‘cuckoo’ at their nest. A highlight was sharing with the students how each of us researchers at different career stages had ended up studying avian brood parasitism in the group.
In turn, we learned about the practicalities of the Finnish education system and connecting with teenagers from different backgrounds. Everyone was very interested to hear how one group member had dropped out of school at around the age of the students, and then later took on university studies after finding interest in sea slugs! Once back to work, Veera sent us feedback from the students: they had learned about cuckoo behaviour and how to study birds, and had lots of fun –they found our 3D-printed cuckoo and some of us researchers particularly ‘cuckoo’, i.e. entertaining!
For more information on the Informed Birds group, check our website: www.informedbirds.com