Birds Beaks & Adaptations

Discover the many ways that Birds use their Beaks!

Birds are a class of vertebrates with more than 18000 different species. Of the various features that are common to all birds, perhaps the most characteristic is their beak. All birds have one beak. But it has evolved differently in each species to improve its functions in response to its environment. These functions include feeding themselves and their young, defending themselves, grooming their feathers, mating, regulating their body temperature or building nests.

But what exactly is a beak?

In biological terms, it is a type of mouth in which the jaws have no teeth and are covered by a horny layer of a protein called keratin (like the nails or horn of a rhinoceros).

What are the different types of beaks?

Generally, bird beaks are categorized according to their shape and function. There are several different kind of bird beaks:
1. Hooked beaks: Owls, eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey that use their beaks to rip open flesh. They are usually meat eaters.

2. Cone shaped beaks: Goldfinches, sparrows and canaries are all good examples. They have a short, robust beak that ends in a conical shape, allowing them to break open seeds.

3. Short, curved beaks: Parrots and macaws have short curved beaks for splitting open hard fruits and nuts.

4. Straight, thin beaks: Bee eaters and Robins specialize in catching and eating insects with their straight and thin beaks. Woodpeckers also have strong thin beaks to peck through wood to find bugs.

5. Long, thin, needle-like beaks: Nectar feeders such as Hummingbirds swoop their beaks into flowers to find their food.

6. Wide, flat beaks: Filter feeders such as Flamingoes, swans and ducks have a filtering system in their beaks to pick out the dirt from the ponds and riverbeds.

7. Spatulate beaks: Wading birds such as spoonbills have large long beaks that help them pick up mollusks and small animals from the bottoms of ponds and marshes.

8. Large, long, and strong beaks: Fish eating birds such as pelicans, albatrosses and seagulls have long, curved beaks to catch fish and then prevent them from escaping. The pouch on a pelican’s beak helps it take huge gulps of water to store the fish in it. Herons and Cranes have long, strong beaks to catch fish.

9. Crossbill beaks: The Red Crossbill’s crossed bill tips may look odd, but it is in fact a clever adaptation to getting seeds out of closed pine cones.

10. Multifunctional beaks: A Toco Toucan’s beak is not just for show, this multi-purpose appendage can be used to collect and skin fruit, frighten predators, attract mates, and defend territory. Recent research has also shown that it also helps to keep the bird cool in the heat of the tropical day.

Learn more about birds and their beaks by participating in our HTHT @ Home Science Experiment:

Also check out this interesting resource, provided by Mystery Science, on nests and why birds lay eggs in the spring!

Top 10 Stress Relievers During Quarantine

Many of us are extremely stressed as we adjust to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anxiety and fear surrounding the disease, economic impact, and a restricted social life is at an all-time high. Stress hormones have a negative long-term impact on physical health, so try these 10 stress relieving tips today!

1. Get Active!

Physical activity acts as a stress reliever, regardless of physical shape! Pump your feel-good endorphins by taking a walk around your neighborhood or doing yoga!

2. Laugh!

While laughter may not cure the coronavirus, it helps make you feel better! Watch a funny movie or comedy special with your family to get a dose of the best medicine! Laughter is shown to cool down your stress response, even a fake laugh helps.

3. Connect with friends (from a safe distance)!

Zoom, Facetime, and Skype have been huge resources in the age of social distancing. Chat with your friends as you flatten the curve from home!

4. Get some rest!

As we’re confined to our homes, we might as well nap! Sleeping is a great way for your mind and body to recharge and refresh!

5. Get creative!

Allow your creative juices to flow! Spend your quarantine painting, drawing, playing music, gardening, sewing, or picking up an expressive hobby!

6. Take a break from the news!

COVID-19 is dominating the news cycle, so take a break! Social media and the news are blasting us with pandemic information constantly. Tune out and tune into another one of the stress relivers on this list!

7. Light a candle!

Seems simple but is especially soothing! Burn a calming scent like lavender or chamomile to let your nose take you to an aromatherapy spa!

8. Reduce your caffeine intake!

Over caffeination is proven to increase anxiety, so skip the second cup! You get to skip the commute to work so more caffeine isn’t as necessary!

9. Enjoy this quality time with your family!

Support from family and friends can help you get through stressful times. Play a board game with your family and enjoy the one-on-one time you don’t always have time for!

10. Make a Stress Ball!

Sometimes stress makes you want to squeeze
something! Make a stress ball to release that stress in a healthy way today!
Find instructions here:

Mutants of Matter

Sir Isaac Newton was a physicist, astronomer, mathematician
and demonstrator of gravity is one of the most influential scientists of all
time!  Newton defined that liquids and
fluids behave as having a constant viscosity or flow, meaning their normal
behavior only changes with a change in temperature or pressure. Between water’s
freezing point of 32⁰F (0⁰C) and the boiling point of 212⁰ F(100⁰C), water is a
standard liquid with constant viscosity. Normal liquids have a definite volume,
but no definite shape, and take the form of the container they are inside.

Liquids that don’t abide by the usual rules are called
non-Newtonian fluids. Non-Newtonian fluids change their viscosity or flow under
stress, stress is when a force is applied onto a body. Once a force such as hit
or shake is put onto this category of fluid, the stress causes it to become
thicker and act as a solid or become a runnier fluid than before. Once the
stress or force is removed and you allow the substance to sit still or move
slowly, they will return to their earlier state.

Tomato sauce is an example of a non-Newtonian fluid that becomes
runnier once stress is applied. If you want to get the sauce out of the bottle,
you hit or slap the container to force the fluid to become runny and come out
of the bottle. Oobleck is another non-Newtonian fluid, but this mixture acts as
solid once stress is applied. Oobleck is runny and watery until you apply force,
but you can hit it with a hammer and see the particles form! If you take a ball
full of oobleck in your hand and stop rolling or squeezing it, it will then
ooze out of your hand like goo! Honey, cream, toothpaste, custard, paint,
blood, melted butter and shampoo are all examples of non-Newtonian fluids!

Make your own non-Newtonian fluid! Find the recipe for Oobleck at:

Chemical Reactions

Chemicals are all around us! Water, soap, salt, baking soda,
vinegar and bleach are all chemicals you probably have at home now. What are
chemical reactions? Most of us hear chemical reactions and we think of a crazy
haired scientist in a laboratory, but in reality, chemical reactions are
happening all around us all the time! Batteries producing electricity, your
food breaking down into energy, wood burning, and metal rusting are common
chemical reactions.

A chemical reaction is defined as a process where substances
undergo a chemical change to form a new substance. Chemical reactions can be
signaled in a color change, production of odor, change of temperature,
evolution of gas or bubbling, or creation of a precipitate meaning a solid is
formed.  Reactants and reagents are the
substances used to create a chemical reaction, and a product is the result of
the chemical reaction.

Chemical reactions occur at various rates. While pouring
bleach onto a black shirt changes the color almost immediately, it may take
days to years for metal to rust! The speed at which a chemical reaction occurs
is called the reaction rate. This rate can be sped up by exposing the reaction
to heat, stirring, concentrating the reactants, or use of a catalyst. A
catalyst is a substance that is specific to each chemical reaction and is
intended to speed the reaction rate!

Want to begin a chemical reaction of your own? Build a
chemical reaction lava lamp and see how chemicals interact!

Chemistry Cat Fight

If you’ve ever seen oil and water interact, you know some
things simply don’t mix! Like cats and dogs, oil and water refuse to get along
and work together! Oil and water didn’t get into a fight, but instead they have
differences at the very smallest unit… molecules!

All things are composed of matter, from your body to your
chair. Chemistry, the study of matter, works to understand how all matter works
and interacts. All matter is composed of molecules, the tiniest particle that
matter is composed of. To understand how matter will behave, chemists must
understand how these molecules work. Atoms are the basic unit of an element,
such as oxygen or aluminum, and these atoms form together to create larger

Let’s take a look at the molecules of oxygen and oil to
understand why they do not mix! Water molecules are polar, meaning one side of
the molecule has a positive charge while the opposite side has a negative
charge. Water’s polar charge helps the molecules to bond together; other
substances with polar molecules such as sugar, salt and ammonia will easily
bond with water! Unlike water and some of water’s closest friends, oil is
non-polar, meaning that the molecule has a uniform charge.

Due to opposing polarity of water and oil, the molecules
can’t bond together! Water molecules will attract other water molecules while
oil molecules attract other oil molecules. As these two substances stick
together, they form a visual rivalry and separate themselves. Oil will float to
the top of water; this is because water is denser than oil. Density means there
are more molecules of a substance within a given volume, making one substance
heavier than another.

If you take a bottle of oil and water and shake it, you can
get the two to mix temporarily before they separate back into themselves. This
is called emulsion, or the mixing of two liquids. To get water and oil to mix
for a longer period of time, you can use an emulsifier. An emulsifier is a
substance that has a molecule with one polar end and one non-polar end, and it
is able to attract both water (polar) and oil (non-polar). Soap is an excellent
example of an emulsifier and can be used to break down oil into water!

See water and oil molecules in action! Witness their
molecular battle by building your very own density tube today!

Calling the Coral Reef Home!

Around 71% (and rising) of Earth’s surface is covered in
water, providing a home to an estimated 50-80% of the life on our planet.  Our oceans are our most diverse habitat and are
vital to Earth’s ecology. Among the underwater habitat is the coral reef, the
most diverse ecosystem that 25% of marine life calls home! Coral reefs are
often called the rainforests of the sea!

Coral reefs are huge underwater structures composed of
calcium carbonate; a chemical secreted by animals called coral to create a
hard, durable exoskeleton protecting their mushy, sac-like body. Coral is a
hard, stone-like material that is commonly found in clear, tropical water, but
can be also found in the coldest, darkest depths in the ocean. An individual
coral is called a coral polyp, these polyps live on the calcium carbonate
exoskeletons of their coral ancestors. Each coral polyp builds upon the
existing coral structure by adding their own exoskeleton; the coral reef
growing massively over centuries from one little exoskeleton at a time.  When you look at a modern coral reef, you’re
looking at 5,000 to 10,000 years of coral history! 

Fish, octopus, lobster, crabs and even some sharks depend on
the coral reefs for food, shelter, and a place to raise their families! The
Northwest Hawaiian Island coral reefs supports more than 7,000 species of fish,
invertebrates, plants, birds, sea turtles and marine mammals! Coral reefs
provide a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship, this is an interaction
between two or more organisms living closely together. The coral reef lift
algae and phytoplankton high enough to reach sunlight to photosynthesize, in
turn these plants provide food for the coral! Coral reefs are a community of
plants and animals working together!

Photo taken by NASA of the Great Barrier Reef

Coral reefs are beautiful, vibrant colors and can stretch thousands of miles long! The largest reef in the world is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia; this reef is 1,200 miles long, you can see it from space! That’s longer than the distance between Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California! While coral reefs have been established over 10 million years, humans have severely threatened these vibrant ecosystems. Pollution, sedimentation, unsustainable fishing practices, and climate change warming ocean temperatures are contributing to ocean acidification. These stressors are causing the beautifully colored corals to bleach and can even kill the corals, bleaching hundreds of miles of coral reef each year.  

It is our duty to protect the life on our planet, and our
coral reefs need to be protected. Without this ecosystem, we would be
destroying the habitat of ¼ of the ocean’s species. Celebrate World Ocean’s Day
on June 8th to celebrate ocean life and protect our planet’s largest

Build your own coral reef today! See the experiment here:

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey

Which hand do you use to write? 90% of the population is
right-handed, while a mere 10% are lefties. Scientists are unsure why the vast
majority of prefer use of their right hand, but there is evidence to contribute
hand dominance to genetics, health, or even your environment.

Hand dominance reflects the asymmetry (lack of equality) of
our brain structure. The functional differences of the left and right
hemispheres are believed to have an underlying effect on handedness. The left
hemisphere of our brains controls the right side of our body, while the right
hemisphere controls the left side of our body; the brain is cross wired. The
right hemisphere specializes in creativity and intuition, explaining the common
idea that left-handed people are more artistic and talented. Famous lefties
include Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Aristotle, Babe
Ruth, and Alexander the Great!

While identical twin siblings have the exact game DNA, they
often favor different hands! In fact, left handedness is almost twice as likely
to occur in twins! This evidence supports that hand dominance is much more than
genetic and may have more to do with environmental factors such as position in
the womb, handedness relearning by cultural influences, having a low birthweight
or even the season you’re born during!

Ancient cultures were extremely biased towards right
handedness. Ancient Egyptians often depicted their enemies as left-handed,
while ancient Greeks and Romans told mythology of the gods handing down curses and
injury with a swift left hand. These ancient cultures reserved the right hand
for the tasks of eating, religious ceremonies, and handshake greetings, while
the left hand was exclusively used for the task of cleaning yourself after
using the bathroom. The right hand is still customary for a handshake! The word
“sinister” in Latin originally meant “left,” but took on the mean of evil or
unlucky as we still use it today!

Left-handed individuals have an advantage in sports! Due to
most of the population being right-handed, lefties can use their opposing
dominance in face-to-face interactions to take their competition by surprise!
Boxing, tennis, and fencing show a higher percentage of left-handed athletes!
Left-handed baseball pitchers take their opponents by surprise!

While you may have a hand-dominance, you may favor your
opposite eye, ear, or hand in other situations! Test your dominance today!

Have a Heart!

What does your heart do? Your heart is the center and key
organ of the cardiovascular system, working along with your blood, veins, and
arteries. Our body’s cardiovascular system serves to circulate blood throughout
our body, delivering fresh oxygen to our cells! Blood also helps to remove
unwanted waste, control your body temperature, and fight infection! Without
blood, we couldn’t survive!

The heart controls the cardiovascular system by continuously
pumping blood throughout the rest of the body. This hollow organ is a muscle,
contracting and pushing the blood in your body a little further. The heart
beats 60-100 times each minute, the rate of your heartbeat is called a pulse.
The more you move, the more quickly your heart beats to supply your body with
fresh blood. Your heart beats 100,000 times each day, 35 million times a year, and
2.5 billion times over your lifetime! The heart works very hard to keep you

There are 4 chambers in the heart, two chambers receive
blood from the body, while the other two release fresh blood into the body!
Arteries and veins are like tiny straws spread throughout your body helping
your heart carry blood. The arteries carry blood away from the heart, while
veins bring blood back to the heart. Blood vessels work similarly to arties and
veins but are much smaller and cover more ground. When you fall and get a
bruise, you’re seeing broken blood vessels!

Your heart works very hard to keep you alive, so you should
work hard to keep your heart healthy! Keep your heard healthy by eating lots of
healthy food, exercising regularly, and keeping away from smoking!

Test the power of your pulse today!

Finding Fossils!

Our planet is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, or
4,540 million years old! Imagine a birthday cake with 4,540,000,000,000 candles
on it! Modern humans have only been around for the past 200,000 years, but
scientists can date prehistoric life from 3.5 billion years ago! Fossils are
physical evidence of early organisms that lived more than 3 billion years ago!

Paleontologists are scientists that study fossils of plants
and animals. Paleontologists have found fossils of bones, footprints, internal
organs, feathers, and eggs. By studying these preserved records of life, we can
understand the environment, diet, and daily lives of these animals. Dinosaur
fossils have been found on all seven continents, allowing scientists to name
more than 1,000 species of dinosaurs!

Fossils begin to form in many ways, but fossils most
commonly form when an animal or plant dies in a watery environment and becomes
compacted in sediment. Over time, this sediment becomes compacted into
sedimentary rock, perfectly preserving the organism inside of it! Animals can
also be preserved inside tree sap, leaving an organism perfectly maintained in
amber resin. Due to fossils having such specific criteria to be preserved, there
are much fewer terrestrial (land) animals who have been fossilized compared to
animals who already inhabit the sedimentary ocean floors!

Paleontology, the science of fossils of animals and plants,
is so important to understanding the history of our planet!

Make your own fossil today? While it won’t take 3 billion
years to preserve, it will be a marvel to look at!

Make Forensics Fun!

Forensic science solves crimes by applying disciplines of
science such as physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering
to analyze evidence! Bad guys may not think they have left incriminating
evidence behind, but forensic science helps to make sure that justice is

Biometric technology is a sector of the forensic sciences
and is used to identify a person based on some aspect of their individual
biology. Facial recognition software, D.N.A. profiling, iris scanning, and
fingerprinting are all examples of biometric technology! Fingerprint analysis
is one of the original biometric technologies and is used around the world in
criminal investigations!

Fingerprint analysis has been used to identify suspects and
solve crimes for more than 100 years, making it a valuable tool for law
enforcement. Each time we open a door, drink out of a glass, or type on a
keyboard, we are leaving our unique fingerprints! While identical twins share
the same D.N.A, but they have unique fingerprints! Each person’s fingerprints
are completely unique to them, and no one has the same fingerprints as you do!

Forensic scientists can find your unique fingerprint on
almost any solid surface you may touch, including the human body. Fingerprints
are formed when your body’s natural oils and sweat are deposited onto another
surface, but they can also be left when fingers coated in paint or ink touch
another surface. Fingerprints may be collected by taking a photograph, dusting
with a fingerprint powder, or even using special laser or LED lights to detect
the latent print!

Fingerprints have a general flow in which the ridges of the
fingerprint form, following into 3 pattern types: a whorl, loop, or arch. While
you may inherit the general pattern from your parents, as well as a similar
size, shape, and spacing of the ridges, your fingerprints are completely unique
to you!

Want to become a forensic scientist? Fingerprint yourself
today! Access the fingerprint experiment at: