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2013 Mini-Grants Available

2012 November 20
by Karen Purcell

A student helps free a bird from a mist net

A student helps free a bird from a mist net during a banding demonstration at the summit for Latino youth held at the Cornell Lab this past summer. Photo by Pat Leonard

Ithaca, NY–The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Celebrate Urban Birds” project is accepting applications for mini-grants to fund neighborhood events that promote an appreciation for birds and nature. Organizations working with underserved communities are strongly encouraged to apply. No experience with birds is required. Grants average $250-$500.

Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grants should be used to support a bird-activity day at a local museum, afterschool program, library, or community center, or fund art and gardening activities at clubs, businesses, schools, senior centers, or neighborhoods. Events or projects should feature activities involving birds, community service, art, and greening. Participants are encouraged to collect simple information about common birds and report to the Cornell Lab.

Learn more about how to apply for a mini-grant. Deadline to apply is December 15, 2012

Celebrate Urban Birds is a free, year-round citizen science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants watch birds in their neighborhoods and report what they see. This information helps scientists better understand how birds survive in cities and make use of green spaces, including parks and gardens.

Contact: Karen Purcell, Project Leader, (607) 254-2455,

An Unforgetable Event about Arts, Gardening, Birds and Community in Cortland, NY

2012 September 26
by Marta del Campo

Cortland is a city in the middle of New York State

In mid August, a wonderful community event took place in Cortland NY. Have you ever heard of the city of Cortland in New York State? It is possible that you have not because it is a little, quiet city in the middle of the state, away from all the major urban centers.  However, Cortland really shone in mid August, thanks to an awesome event organized by JM Murray, and funded in part by the Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grant program.

Beautiful bird mobiles made of folded or cut paper by participants

Over 120 people from Cortland and towns nearby visited the JM Murray building to participate in their successful and fun “Bird Celebration” event. Wonderful activities were prepared with dedication and care by the participants in the OPTIONS JM Murray Day Habilitation program in Cortland, NY. The activities combined the arts, gardening, community work and the observation of local wild birds. The participants in the Options JM Murray program were organized in twelve teams focused on the preparation of different activities for the event. Teams worked on handcrafts such as mobiles of beautiful birds, including hummingbirds and Blue Birds, Northern Cardinals, and American Robins made of folded or cut paper. The mobiles were hanging in hallways, rooms and in every corner of the building you could imagine. They were gorgeous!

Proud participants and staff next to one of the beautiful interactive posters at the JM Murray event

Other teams worked on interactive posters and games for the visitors to have a lot of fun while walking and going from room to room or table to table. The posters taught visitors about birds and bird identification and how to help birds by planting certain kinds of plants and by having access to water in bird baths, and much more. Other groups worked on detailed drawings and collages of birds of vibrant colors. Other teams prepared tables to showcase potted plants to help wild birds. Some cooked delicious original dishes dedicated to birds such as Bird Nest cookies, Rice Krispie Bird cut-outs and treats, Bird Jello cut-outs, Bird Nest pie, Dirt and Worms cake, and more. All of these fun and delicious dishes were enjoyed by visitors as well as the cooks!

Impressive photo taken by one of the participants and showcased at the photo gallery room

Other teams were dedicated to the audio and visual arts. They had a spot for siting and watching a slide show about the 16 Celebrate Urban Birds’ focal species. Another team prepared a room in which the songs of many local birds and our focal bird species were played recurrently. It was so nice and relaxing to walk into this room! In addition, there was a gallery room in which photos taken and posted by the participants in the program were exhibited. They were so beautiful! Many of them captured the beauty of the surrounding beauty of Central New York.

Participants and staff showing their garden. Mural can be seen on the back. Photo by Bob Ellis

The arts “overflowed” the tables, walls, ceiling, and all the corners of the building. However, not all the art was kept indoors!  In the backyard we found an impressive and inspiring surprise: a stunning mural on one of the walls of the building showing trees, flowers, insects and our focal species, which can be seen around Cortland, NY. It was exciting, and these were only the art activities!

Participants also grew lush gardens in the backyard. They planted sunflowers, flowering plants in full bloom at the event, and many veggies, not only for the birds, but also for themselves to cook and enjoy in salads and desserts, too. Delicious!

Next to the mural and garden, they also installed a tent with large comfortable chairs, where participants and staff in the program as well as visitors to the event could do their 10-minute bird watching activity for Celebrate Urban Birds. How proud they were to show and share their bird sightings as they collected valuable data for our citizen science project. The event was really awesome! They were inspired to participate with us and make this event a complete success for their local community and for the birds! How about you? When are you going to get started? Everyone is welcome!

The beautiful mural and garden at JM Murray backyard

Latino Youth Summit: An inspiring experience!

2012 September 7
by Karen Purcell

Students from LACE in Syracuse, NY

Our last few weeks have been hectic! We’ve been busy with phone calls, emails, invitations, reservations, schedules, caterers, plans and all kinds of activities in preparation for our Youth Summit. We wanted to give students a wonderful and inspiring experience at the Lab. In collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, and Nosotros Radio, Inc., we were able to host Latino youth groups from Syracuse and Patchogue-Medford on Long Island. What we did not know was how privileged we would be to host such an amazing group of young people!

The Syracuse group is called LACE (Latino Students, Advancement, Commitment, and Excellence) and the Long Island group calls itself The Thicklets. They traveled with their chaperones to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on August 24th to participate in a full day of lectures, tours, and walks, and to  present the projects they have developed in their own communities focused on habitat improvement, birds, and community service. All lectures and tours were available in Spanish and English because many of these young people arrived in the U.S. only recently and are still working on attaining fluency in English.

When the teenagers arrived at the Lab they had breakfast and then went on a brief tour of the Cornell University campus (about 5 miles from the Lab). For most of these youth it was the first time they had traveled to an “Ivy League” university. They saw a bit of central campus including the undergraduate library. They were very impressed and wanted to continue their visit–but they still had a full day of activities ahead at the Lab of Ornithology.


Once back at the Lab the youth attended a lecture by Ashik Rahaman from our Bioacoustics Research Program. His talk showcased the

The Thicklets from Patchogue-Medford, NY

wonderful work that the Lab is doing recording and tracking natural sounds across the world. Our young visitors learned  about whale communication in the depths of the ocean and the impact of human commercial shipping activity. He spoke about cutting-edge conservation projects the Lab is involved in to protect North Altantic right whales using high tech apps ( In addition, he spoke about the work the Lab is doing tracking  forest elephants in Africa using sound and heat technology so that we can better understand their social behaviors during the night ( They learned how sounds can be used to identify species and better understand animal communication and the impact of human activity. Ashik was incredibly impressed with the questions the students asked him!

After the lecture, we took a sweet walk through Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary. The young people got to see plenty of wildlife, including deer, squirrels, turtles, frogs, snakes, and beautiful birds such as Northern Cardinals, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, sparrows, chickadees, and lots of goldfinches. The Lab was able to provide binoculars for all of the students, and they loved the experience.

After lunch the students visited the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates which is housed within the Lab,.

Visiting the Museum of Vertebrates

Collections manager, Charles Dardia, first showed them the prep lab where the specimens are prepared for the museum and he explained the procedures used. Then he showed them an impressive collection of fish, amphibians, mammals, and birds of course! Everyone was impressed and again they asked fantastic questions. They were especially interested in birds from their countries of origin (Cuba, The Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico).

The day continued with a  bird banding demonstration from the Lab’s David Bonter and his assistant Luke DeFisher. Bird banding was exciting. Students got to participate in trapping birds using mist nets, carefully freeing the birds from the nets, identifying them, recording lots of data (weight, wing measurements, etc…), placing bands on their legs, and then releasing them. David explained why it is important to band birds and let the young people touch the birds and some even got to hold tiny birds in their hands! David had students listen to the birds’ impressively fast heartbeats by placing the birds right next to their ears. It really was an amazing experience to hold such fragile creatures!

A participant holds a bird in his hands during a banding demonstration

After bird banding we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen to scientist Eduardo Iñigo Elias, who heads our Neotropical Bird Conservation Initiative. He spoke to the youth about the work he is leading in the Caribbean and Latin America. He explained how important it is to preserve the high cloud forests and jungle for birds and for the people that depend on this habitat for their economic survival–for example for cocoa plantations.  The youth were very inspired by his talk. Many of the students are recent arrivals in the U.S. and they loved to listen about the important role their countries of origin play in the the survival of so many species of birds and other wildlife. It was a wonderful connection to their cultural roots,, birds, and the natural world.

After dinner Cornell undergraduate Seth Inman gave a short talk about his experience at Cornell and his summer working for the Cornell Lab in Ecuador. He shared photos, wonderful stories, and video.

Then, it was time for the students to present their projects. Most of the youth were a bit nervous–but they did a wonderful job! We were so impressed with their poised and inspiring presentations about the work they have been doing in their communities focused on greening, the arts, bird monitoring, and community education. Many presented their work in both English and Spanish,while others relied on translators. They showed photos, PowerPoint slides, movies, and posters. They spoke with elegance and energy and did a fantastic job describing the work they did–writing their proposals to obtain funding, planning, implementing, and presenting their work. They spoke of the ups and downs–the barriers and successes. They laughed and shared with enthusiasm. We loved it!

At approximately 8:00 pm the day was done and all the young people continued on to Syracuse for more presentations about their projects the following day at the New York State Fair.  They left with a smile–and we were left absolutely inspired and energized for our youth summit in 2013!