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At PRBO we have many amazing and inspiring stories to tell, to all types of audiences.

Getting the Word Out

Melissa Pitkin


Learning to identify birds in the field, near the students' own school.
If you were asked to draw a scientist, revealing your notion of the people involved in sciences, and what they do, what would appear on the page? That is the purpose of an exercise nation¬wide, involving fifth-grade students. The "Draw A Scientist Test" was first administered in the 1950s and has been repeatedly given to fifth-graders throughout the years. Common attributes appear in many students' drawings: facial hair, glasses, white lab coats, working in a lab; and men are more commonly pictured than women.

As you may know, PRBO scientists don't fit that stereotype. One of the main goals of our Education and Outreach Program is to connect people with science and scientists, in order to build a public more informed about science. This is no easy task; the American public has a poor understand¬ing of science. In a survey completed in 2002 by the National Science Board, 70% of Americans lacked a basic understanding of the scientific process. In other words, they couldn't explain, in their own words, that the scientific process is simply: 1) asking a question, 2) conducting research to find the answer, and 3) check¬ing to see if your findings answered your original question.

At PRBO we use science to study and understand birds and their ecosystems. We then apply that scientific knowledge to conservation. Applying our science can mean many different things, but it is in that application of science where we really make a difference. I want to highlight a few of the ways PRBO gets the word out about our science.
A student group visits a PRBO bird banding station in the Eastern Sierra.

We start with students. We teach science through demonstrations of bird banding and bird surveys at our research sites in California. Students of all ages are captivated by the presence of a live bird being safely banded, measured, weighed, and released unharmed. The bird is the "hook" that draws people in like no other. Taking students out to count birds they gain science skills such as recording data, identifying birds, and keeping field journals. As they peer through powerful spotting scopes that illuminate each buffy edged feather on a Western Sandpiper, they want to know more, and new doors to careers in wildlife biology are opened to each of them.

Reaching Out to Conservationists

When biologists find that the rice fields in the northern Sacramento Valley are used by over 100,000 shore¬birds each year, we get that message out to rice growers. The results are powerful, for example, biologist Catherine Hickey is working together with Sacramento Valley rice growers to create "Best Management" practices--how to grow rice and protect bird habitat.

On Alcatraz island, biologist Sara Acosta documents what frightens sea¬birds off their nests. It turns out that kayaks, canoes, and small fishing boats approaching the island too close, along with low flying airplanes, are the most disruptive to nesting seabirds. We are getting the word out to these groups--urging them to stay 100 yards away from the island. This will keep the six species of seabirds that nest (March-July) on Alcatraz safe from disturbance.

Finally, PRBO is joining other "ocean communicators" in California as part of a statewide campaign to teach every California citizen to care for our ocean. Called "Thank You Ocean," the campaign consists of a website, billboards, public service announcements, public programs, and lots of information about what people can do to help protect our oceans. Visit www.thankyouocean.org to learn more about how to get involved.

As many of you in the PRBO family know, we have many amazing and inspir¬ing stories to tell. We are going to keep telling them, to all types of audiences, as we work hard to get the word out!