Squirrels and Crayfish!

Animal Behavior Learns About Foraging and Territoriality

Guest Post by Carley Kukk ’19

The last two weeks of animal behavior have been pretty busy with learning about foraging behaviors and territoriality. To explore foraging behaviors, we utilized an abundant resource on campus: squirrels!

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We set up a station next to multiple trees around campus with 4 piles of peanuts. Two piles were 2m from the tree while the others were 6m. One pile at a certain distance had unshelled peanuts and the other shelled. During our double block, we observed squirrel activity. Although we weren’t so lucky in sighting any squirrels (weird, right?), we learned the typical trend for this activity. Unshelled peanuts closer to the tree are a more popular choice because unshelled peanuts require less handling time (aka: less energy) and they are closer to a tree where a squirrel is safe from predators.

In another experiment performed this previous week, we tested the theory that residents are more likely to dominate intruders in a battle over territory. We placed a crayfish (who is extremely territorial) in a tank overnight to establish it’s dominance over the territory.

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The next morning we added an intruder crayfish: one larger and one of the same size. The resident crayfish usually dominated an intruder of the same size, yet was defeated by an intruder of a larger size.

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Like a Chick in a Maze

Animal Behavior Continues Working with Chicks

Guest Post by Carley Kukk ’19

During our last week with the chicks, we focused on teaching them how to get through a maze using associative learning. We constructed a simple Y maze with leftover shoeboxes and placed a small pile of food at the end.

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The food acted as a positive reinforcement if the chicks successfully completed the maze. Hopefully, they would later associate the correct end of the maze with the food.

In our experiment, we used 2 chicks to strengthen our data. Each chick surprisingly ran their fastest time through the maze on their first try. This was probably a fluke as later proved in the data where the chicks always explored the other end of the maze before completing it.

Eventually it took around 30 seconds each to complete the maze. There were in total around 7 trials for each chick. They finally began to associate the ending with food and ultimately learned through operate conditioning the correct way to complete our y-maze.

Firsts and Lasts

A Rabbit Pond Exploration

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

Last week in my Ornithology class, Mr. Cone split us up into groups and sent us on different missions. My groups’ task was to venture down to Rabbit Pond and record the number and condition of birds that are occupying the bird houses set up around the pond. These “houses” are similar to your typical bird house, and there are eight of them surrounding the pond. Ironically, I never noticed them until that day!

We had a spread sheet that asked whether or not there was a nest in each of the eight houses, if there were eggs present, and what kind of nest it was. Out of the eight that my group checked, we found four nests, one of which contained four small eggs. Every nest we found was a house wren’s. Very easy to identify, these nests are made up almost entirely of sticks.

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Unfortunately, we did not actually see any house wrens in the area, but here is a picture for reference.

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During our adventure, we had the great fortune to see three sets of parents and their baby geese wandering around the outskirts of the pond. Now I know these little ones are famous by now in the Science Department, but I felt it was worth mentioning again. The baby geese, just like we learn, followed their respective mothers’ every move. Despite geese’s typically friendly nature, these mothers were especially defensive. With each step that we took toward the family, the mother was quick to hiss back at us. Needless to say, we kept our distance!

In addition to our adventure down to Rabbit Pond, my class had the opportunity to see one of Audubon’s Birds of America copy in the Addison. Known as his “double elephant pholios,” Audubon’s giant prints were incredible! This massive book contains hundreds of birds, reproduced from his original work by the use of a copper plate and a printing press. Did you know this book, which is worth a lot of money, was once on display in the library? Good thing the Addison decided to take it in, as many of the edges of the book had been damaged by students. Pictured below is one of Mr. Cone’s favorite Audubon prints:

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Here comes the hard part. Given this is my last post of the term, I wanted to thank all of my readers for following my journey through this class. It’s been a lot of fun to write for the PA Natural Sciences blog and learn more and more about birds. I want to give a special thank you to Mr. Cone for teaching such a great class. You will be missed at Andover, but we are excited to see your next adventure. Happy last week of class, and happy summer! ❤

With admiration, Sabrina Appleby

Home is Where the Sticks are?

Ornithology takes a look at different birds nests this week!

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

Last week in Ornithology class, we spent the double period inspecting the nests of a variety of American birds. When I walked into class, I thought that these nests were all going to look and seem the exact same. I could not have been more wrong. Each nest was so intricately made and contained a multitude of different materials. Amongst the many materials, the most frequently seen ones were grass, sticks, spider webs, feathers, mud, and moss. Here are a few that stuck out to me:

1. Robin’s Nest
Created with mud and sticks, a robin’s nest is perfectly circular. Mr. Cone told us that the materials are gathered by the male robin and the female makes the nest. She uses her body to sculpt the nest in a way that provides the circular shape.

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2. House Sparrow Nest
This nest is pretty gross. These lovely birds essentially gather up a bunch of grass, trash, and feathers and blend it all together in a messy heap of stuff. At least it’s an easy nest to identify?

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3. Downy Woodpecker
This one’s pretty straightforward – just some bark and holes.

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4. Speke’s Weaver Bird
Made of almost entirely of grass, the nest situates similarly to a bee’s nest – circular, sometimes hollow inside, and suspending from a tree. Often times, this bird hangs upside down from the nest, clinging on by its feet.

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These are just a few of the 20 nests that we looked at last week. In addition to learning more about the homes of these curious creatures, I also learned that Andover has wonderful resources to research birds and their habitats. Sometimes we take for granted all that PA has to offer. I encourage my readers to check out the casing on the first floor of Gelb that holds a variety of birds. Even if you take just a moment, you will see some pretty cool bird features up close and personal.

As always, thanks for listening. Check back next week for my take on John James Audubon – our next topic of the term.

Holt Hill Adventure!

Mr. Cone’s Ornithology Class Ventures to Holt Hill

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

This week in Mr. Cone’s Ornithology class, we took a trip over to Holt Hill! Believe it or not, it was my first time experiencing the beautiful views of the Boston skyline and the blossoming apple trees.

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On our way up the hill, Mr. Cone, already on the look-out, spotted a female and male bluebird. By the time he pointed out the male bluebird, it had taken off! But the female stayed behind for a couple minutes. She was had beautiful light blue back, not quite as vibrant as the males usually are, with an orange tint on her underbelly. She was enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine. My picture doesn’t do her colors justice, but you can see her peaceful perch on the tree branch.

Not far from the bluebird, we spotted two cowbirds, a male and female, perched on another tree. They were calm, but playful, as they interacted with one another up and down the branch. Once the female took off, the male did not hesitate to follow her. I tried to get a picture, but they were too active to get a good shot!

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When we finally made our way toward the open field, my class all stopped in their tracks to admire the views. It was truly amazing, especially given that we were there for a class (thanks Mr. Cone!). Immediately, we could hear birds singing everywhere, and Mr. Cone was quick to call attention to two turkey vultures flying overhead. Over in one of the apples trees, in the midst of white flowers appeared a Baltimore oriole. It’s bright orange colors were hard to miss. If you look closely at the picture I took through my “binocs,” you can see a little speck of orange surrounded by the white flowers.

Considering this spell of gloomy weather, we were lucky to get outside on Thursday and enjoy the sunshine. It truly was beautiful. Each time I go outside, I am more and more keen to the birds around me. The moments when I either see or hear a bird and can identify it are the most rewarding for me. It is nice to know that I can keep this knowledge with me wherever I go! Until next time! 🙂

 

The Herring Are Coming!

Bio100 Visits the Shawsheen River

This year’s Bio100 class had the unique opportunity to visit the Shawsheen River last week and learn a bit about habitat change. Each period piled into a bus and drove down to near Whole Foods in Andover to a bridge overlooking the Shawsheen River.

There, they met Jon Honea, a professor at Emerson College in Boston whose research involves making computer models to see how habitat change effects different communities. In this particular spot, two dams that were built approximately 200 years ago were taken down to allow the migratory fish to return to the area. He is now monitoring the return of the fish that used to be native to this area, namely the River Herring. These fish are silver in color and about a foot long. Mr. Honea and his team are watching the river for about 10 minutes at a time to see how many of these fish are spotted. This data will help to estimate the fish’s spawning population time.

Mr. Honea talked to them a bit about why it is so important for us to repopulate the river with this Herring. They play an important role in the ecosystem as food for many animals. They spawn in fresh water rivers and then move to the ocean to grow up. Mr. Mundra also talked a bit about the two dams that were removed from the area. These dams were preventing the fish from coming back to spawn in the river. These dams were built approximately 200 years ago as a source of energy for the Powder Mills in the area. Mr. Honea also said that the downstream dam was purely ornamental – the owner of the Mills wanted a gurgling sound for his administrative staff to feel comfortable working in the building.

The class then helped Mr. Honea to count the fish in the river. They took some basic data down, the weather and temperature of the air and water, and began to look for the fish. We are looking for the stray fish who are now able to make it upstream, to see how many make it up now that the dams are gone. Unfortunately, in the 10 minutes that we were there, no one saw a fish, but the hope is that within the next three or four years the population will be thriving!

Non Sibi Day 2017

Students and Alumni help clean up Thompson Island on Earth Day

Up Close and Personal

The Ornithology Adventure Continues!

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

After a gloomy and rainy 3-day week, Mr. Cone’s Ornithology class is back outside again! This past Thursday, during our usual double period, my class explored more of main campus in addition to our usual route down in Pineknoll. Mr. Cone was hoping to point out a new bird to us: the starling. He said that they liked to nest in the gutters on the side of the library. We started on our route toward the back end of the library. When the group reached the path between Common’s circle and the library, the excitement began. We saw a handful of starlings and their nests, settled within the articulate copper gutters on the left side of the library (picture below).

As we circled the back of the library, we began to see more and more starlings. If you get the chance, look up around the roof of the library and you’re bound to see one! They have black bodies with little white specks, and they have a yellow beak.

We found our way over to the Gelb lawn, and we were instantly intrigued by an unfamiliar song: “chip, chip, chip!” My class had met their first Chipping Sparrow! These tiny birds are hard to find but very easy to hear. After finally finding the chipping sparrow hiding in one of the trees on the Gelb Lawn, Mr. Cone asked me and two of my classmates to fetch some loaves of bread from Commons. Without any explanation given, the three of us were en route to Commons for bread.

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Our next adventure was over by 1924 House, which is home to a Phoebe’s nest. As we very quietly approached the house, we waited to hear the distinct noise: “phoebeee.” But to no avail. Then, Mr. Cone showed us the nest, and with his handy mirror, he tried to see if there were any eggs in the nest. While we didn’t see any, this is only the beginning! We will have plenty of opportunities to see and hear more Phoebes.

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It was not until we passed Mr. Robinson’s bird feeder that Mr. Cone revealed the reasons for the bread. Of course! We were going to feed the geese at Rabbit Pond. Mr. Cone explained to us that the “tagged” geese would be willing to get pretty close to a group of humans like us, because of their previous exposure to humans – probably a result of habituation (a common bird behavior type). He was right. After about 5 minutes, we were feeding two geese about five feet away from us!

Cherry Tree Cookie Day 2017

Biology Faculty Tom Cone welcomes Spring and calls attention to one of the natural beauties of campus with cookies at the Cherry Tree

It is time again for a great tradition of Phillips Academy Andover, cookies at the Cherry Tree. For his last time, Tom Cone, put out cookies between under the nearly 65 year old Cherry Tree between Sam Phil and Morse Hall to commemorate Spring and to celebrate one of the natural treasures of the campus. Tom Cone is retiring (after 51 years of teaching!) at the end of this school year, so this is his last trip to the Cherry Tree. The Biology Department is committed to keeping this tradition alive for years to come!

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Keeping with tradition, the first period Bio100 classes helped make the trays and bring them out to the table set up under the tree.

And the crowds quickly followed! Mr. Cone reminds everyone who takes a cookie to look at the tree and marvel in its beauty.

This nearly 65-year-old cherry tree has a rich history on the campus – it has been around for decades and was almost cut down – twice! The first time was in the early 1970’s, when the old Evans Hall Science Building still stood. Some in the school thought that the cherry tree blocked the view of the building from the west side of campus and planned to cut the tree down. Students and faculty heard this and many people literally “hugged” the tree the day the cutters came so they could not cut the tree down. They did not come back.

Later, after the Gelb Science Center was built in 2004, some in the school again thought that the tree blocked the view of the building from the Foxcroft area. Members of the PA community fought to keep the tree and when the architects of Gelb agreed with the community, the result was an agreement to keep the tree.

If you look closely at the tree, you can see it is held together by wires! The tree would probably fall right over if they had not brought in an expert to repair the tree and keep it standing. Thank goodness they did, because this is certainly one of the most amazingly beautiful trees on campus. It only blooms for a few days – as you can see, the petals were already starting to fall off! So, enjoy this natural beauty while it lasts!