[Monique Pipkin] All right, everyone. We’re about to get started. And I just want to first off say hello. And welcome to today’s webinar from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the LEGO Group.

Today, we’ll be discussing how to build a better world for birds. We’ll share about the importance of play with some activities using LEGO bricks, talk about the problems facing birds, and share how scientists use creativity and how you can help.

My name is Monique Pipkin. And I’m a PhD student at Cornell University. And I’ll be hosting this webinar. Now let me introduce you to some of the faces you’ll be seeing with us today. So first off, we have my fellow PhD student, Acoustic Biologist, National Geographic Explorer, National Science Foundation Fellow, Fulbright Fellow, and Musician Ben Mirin. Hi, Ben. How are you doing?

[Ben Mirin] Hey, Monique. Doing so well. Thanks for having me.

[Monique Pipkin] Great. And next, I want to introduce someone who’s joining us all the way from England, the Director of Learning Through Play at LEGO Group, David Pallash. Hi, David. How are you doing?

[David Pallash] Hi, Monique. I’m great. Hey, Ben. Good to see you guys. It’s late here. But good to be here.

[Monique Pipkin] All right. Thank you so much for you both taking the time to join us. And we’ll be hearing a little bit more from Ben and David soon after a few announcements. Today’s webinar is hosted from Ithaca, New York. And I first want to acknowledge the Indigenous people as the original inhabitants of this area.

Cornell University and the Lab of Ornithology is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohó:nǫɁ or of the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogohó:nǫɁ are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land.

The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of the Gayogohó:nǫɁ dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of the Gayogohó:nǫɁ people, past and present, to these lands and waters. Thank you.

OK. So for first-time webinar users, the closed captioning is available via Zoom. So click on the CC button on the bottom of your screen to turn them on or off. For those of you on Zoom, you can also click the Q&A button located at the bottom of your screen to type in your questions into the Q&A.

We’ll be answering some questions verbally. And for others, we’ll be typing them in our responses via that function. And you’ll be able to see our responses in the answered column. Please, only use the Zoom chat for tech support.

I have colleagues who are behind the scenes and responding to the Zoom Q&A and chat. We are also streaming live to YouTube. So if watching from the Cornell Lab YouTube page, you can add your questions into that comment section.

OK. So now let’s get started. We are so excited to talk about the Build the Change and what we can do about birds. David, can you share a little bit more about yourself and build the change?

[David Pallash] Sure. I’m going to share a screen quickly, so let me know when you can see that. Hopefully that’s showing now. Is that good, Monique?

[Monique Pipkin] You’re all set.

[David Pallash] Perfect. Well, a little bit about myself first. As you can hear from my accent, as Monique pointed out, I am in England. Right now, I am just outside London where I work for the LEGO Group. I’ve been there for over eight years. And I work on Learning Through Play and using the power of play to connect amazing young minds to important issues around the world, young minds like hopefully you watching right now.

Now, that’s the first picture there. Now you can see the next one. I am crazy, crazy about birds. I can’t emphasize that enough. I have loved birds since the age of 11. I’ve always loved wildlife, so doing this with Monique and Ben today with Cornell Lab is an absolute pleasure.

Well, I can’t see you. But great to imagine seeing you all out there. I’ve also included this picture. I’m not actually good with horses, unless they are LEGO horses, then I’m pretty good with them. I’m pretty good at calming them. I thought I’d include that one.

And then lastly, my most important job. I am a father of two, who are a lot older than this picture. Now they’re in their teens, late teens now. And they are also crazy about wildlife. Anyway, let’s get started.

So Monique asked about the Build the Change program. Now, Build the Change is a program that I’ve worked on for a number of years. And it’s all about using creativity to address real-world issues, so thinking about things like climate change, thinking about things like biodiversity, and social problems too, and then putting our brains to use using creativity, whatever materials we have, to come up with solutions and sharing that with the world.

It’s super important. Anyway, I think this video will give you a better insight into what it is. So let’s have a little look at this. I’ll just press play.


– Are you’re ready to build the change? The Earth needs your amazing ideas to take on the big challenges that our planet and people face, like protecting the environment or building a future where everyone is included.

Building the Change is all about using imagination and play to come up with your creative ideas for a better, more sustainable future because your ideas are awesome. And everyone needs to hear them, from your friends and local decision makers, to world leaders, and people everywhere. So are you ready to build the change?


[David Pallash] There we go. I’ll stop sharing there briefly. That’s Build the Change in a nutshell. It’s all about using creativity to talk about, to share ideas on real-world problems. And we all know– don’t tell the adults out there. But we all know young people, children, you have the best ideas, right? I can hear you nodding. I can hear you nodding already. Monique, how cool is that? Are you ready to build the change later?

[Monique Pipkin] Yeah, I’m absolutely ready to build the change later. And I’m also super interested. You just talked about the importance of Learning Through Play. Can you share a little bit more about the power of play?

[David Pallash] Yeah, absolutely. That is my day job. So Learning Through Play is what we talk about at the LEGO Group and at the LEGO Foundation, who fund all of our programs that I work on and my team works on.

Now, play isn’t always recognized as something important. But we really disagree with that. We really disagree with that. Play is super important. It is our brain’s favorite way to learn. We explore the world through playing.

We experiment. We fail. We succeed. It’s an incredible tool. And we develop all of these awesome skills, skills that Monique and Ben and myself use every day, day in and day out when we’re talking about all these important issues.

Now, I could talk for hours on this. So I think it’s better and way more interesting if we get a little bit interactive. OK? So I’m going to just show you– I can hear there’s a bit of tech difficulties. Monique, can you still see me?

[Monique Pipkin] I can still see you, yes.

[David Pallash] Yep, you’re good? Excellent. Now we are going to do something we’ve never done before. We need some smart phones ready for this because I’m going to show you a QR code. And you’re going to get your smart device and open a task, a building challenge on your phone or tablet, whatever you have.

If you don’t have access to this right now, then get a piece of paper, get some materials. And you can do the challenge on there. You can all take part in this. You don’t need the technology. So let me just get this ready for you.

We love this. And it’s perfectly themed for all of you too. So I’m just going to share my screen. One second. One second. Here we go. And let me know when you can see that, Monique. Can you see that?

[Monique Pipkin] I can see something. I see a screen that looks like there’s a pool on it. But I do not see a QR code.

[David Pallash] I will show you the QR code in a minute. But that space is very empty, isn’t it? Now if we get this QR code up. There you go. And if the QR code doesn’t work, we have a very easy-to-remember sequence of numbers there for you to put in as a web address.

Now, all you have to do is open that up. I’m going to leave that on the screen for a couple more seconds. I’m going to take part two. So I’m opening it on my phone right now. And when you get on there, what we want you to do is build a duck. Build a duck.

There are no instructions. You have to connect all of the bricks. You have to connect all of the bricks. And then you press Quack. And then your duck will magically– if the internet is playing ball, it will magically appear on the screen. So I’m just going to take this off now. And let’s have a look at this space. So I’m going to build one too. Monique, are you building yours?

[Monique Pipkin] I am building mine right now.

[David Pallash] Oh, we’ve got one already. Amazing. Look at this. It’s happening everyone. It’s filling up. And you can change the eyes on there. I’m going to give mine a little. Here we go. Quack.

So mine should be coming up now. Look at this. They’re starting to appear. Love it. This is great. So we can’t see you on this broadcast. But this is a way that we can see you. We can now see that, yes, there are people listening to us, which is great. I love that. Wow, look at these. Look at these ducks. Monique, isn’t this cool?

[Monique Pipkin] This is so cool. Oh my God, there’s so many that keep popping up. And I’m so excited to see how all these ducks are a little bit different. It’s really exciting.

[David Pallash] No, we’re going to talk about that in a second actually because it’s a really key point on this. Wow, look at– these are so creative. Well done, folks. Well done. One of the ducks has decided to go walking into the water. That’s fine. It’s come back out. Maybe it’s British sea a bit cold.

I was just near the sea today actually. I saw some sea ducks. I saw some eider duck, long-tailed duck. What else did I see? Some scorp. I think all of those ducks appear in North America. Look at all of these. I love it.

I don’t want to stop this. We’re going to have to stop it eventually. We can’t let this run until the hour ends. But it is tempting. I love it. I love it. All of you out there can’t hear what I can hear. It is a cacophony of sound. There are ducks quacking left, right, and center, everywhere. And it is incredible.

We’ve got about 30 ducks on the screen perhaps now. I love that. We’re going to have to move on in a second. So I’ll give it about 10 more seconds. Don’t worry if your duck doesn’t make it on there. I’m sure it was awesome. You can always take a screenshot and send it to us as well. But this is wonderful. Wonderful. Well done.

Wow, some more coming in, Monique. Look at these. Look at these. There’s some real punk rock ducks as well. Love this. Some have gone really adventurous. Look at that. They’ve gone over to the corner of the screen. They’re turning round, those cheeky little ducks.

Look at that. Wonderful. OK, guys. 10 more seconds. And that’s really it. I’ll give you 10 more– it’s so difficult to move on but we’re going to have to. Oh, wow. Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.

[Monique Pipkin] They so many.

[David Pallash] It is. I’ve never seen– actually, well done, folks. I think this is the record for most ducks in a session online, so well done. All right, I’m going to have to give it 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

And we’ll just stop there. Well done. Oh my goodness. Now, what I’m going to do is– you can’t see me doing this now. But I am going to just take a session summary and export the PDF. And hopefully we can send that out to all of you via the email list if that works. Well done, folks. Well done.

So, Monique, I know we didn’t plan this to talk to you. But I’m going to ask you because you mentioned earlier, when you saw all of those ducks, you said something that was very key. What did you notice about all of those ducks?

[Monique Pipkin] All of the ducks looked a little bit different.

[David Pallash] They did. They did. So that variety, they all look different. But I gave you all the same task. I gave you the same tools, the same constraints, the same time limit. But you all came up with different answers. Isn’t that amazing? We all have imagination. And because of that, we can come up with different answers. We use crazy numbers of skills.

In that exercise alone, you used at least 24 different skills. Isn’t that crazy? So imagine if you play, if you have playful learning every day, how many skills you’re developing. Awesome. Monique, that’s enough on the duck and Learning Through Play. I’ll hand it back to you.

[Monique Pipkin] Thank you so much. I love seeing all the little ducks waddle across screen. And actually, we could hear some quacking on our end, so I hope the audience out there could hear some of your ducks start quacking as well.

But I’m kind of curious now. So Ben and I both work with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And so maybe some people out there in the audience today also love birds. I want to ask you today, why birds?

[David Pallash] Well, personally, first of all, I’ve mentioned I’m crazy about birds. I’ve been crazy since seven. And really not an hour passes without me thinking about when I can get out to the countryside next.

So I’m also a bird bander outside of work. I love doing that. So I do a lot of research. I was doing it this morning in the English countryside. And when we started doing a bird topic in the LEGO Group, no one believed that it wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t my idea. It was the Natural History Museum in London’s idea.

But birds are everywhere. Right, Monique? They are everywhere. And they are pretty much anywhere you go on the planet give or take a few spots. There’s always birds nearby. But they need protection. They need our help.

And Monique and Ben are on the front line of doing work. So just take a look at this clip. And it will give you a little bit of an introduction to what we’re doing in the LEGO Group. One second. I’ll share my screen again seamlessly. And hopefully–

[Monique Pipkin] Yeah, we can see it.

[David Pallash] You can see it? Great. OK. Let’s see if this works.


– Welcome to the Natural History Museum in London. The perfect place to learn about the natural world and how humans can help it. Here at the museum, we have millions of specimens and hundreds of scientists. But one thing we are particularly famous for is dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. They laid eggs, had scales, and some even had feathers. These ancient dinosaurs are now extinct. Scientists think this was caused by an asteroid that hit the Earth. But some of them survived. Can you think of any animals alive today that lay eggs, have scaly feet, and are covered in feathers?

Birds. Birds are dinosaurs. Studying fossils has taught us that these ancient dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds, who are kind of like their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

Birds are dinosaurs. But unfortunately, many birds are endangered. And many birds have already become extinct just like their prehistoric cousins. And this time, it’s human impact, not an asteroid, that’s affecting them.

So even though it’s too late to save these ancient dinosaurs, we do have the chance to save today’s dinosaurs, birds. Everything we humans do has an effect or impact on the natural world. An impact can be negative, bad for nature, or positive, good for nature.

Too often our human impact is negative. We build things on land, destroying habitats. We pollute water environments, making them unsafe. We create noise and light in the air, confusing and scaring living things.

But sometimes our human impact can be positive. By using our creative human brains, we can imagine and build solutions from scientists working hard to tackle big issues to communities protecting their local environments, to families making simple choices. Many humans are looking for ways to make our impact more positive. Together, we can build the change.


[David Pallash] There we go, Monique. So now it’s over to, as I said, the folks on the front line working to help all of our birds. Over to you, Monique.

[Monique Pipkin] Yeah, thank you so much. And again, everyone, David is the Director of Learning Through Play at the LEGO Group. Someone asked in the chat just as a reminder of who you are.

But thank you so much for sharing that David. I’m now going to share a little bit about the problems that are facing birds today, give a short introduction to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and talk about how you today out there can help build the change. So just give me one second to do.

There we go. My screen should be shared. So I just want to say that today’s webinar is hosted from Ithaca, New York. And that is where Cornell University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are located. And for those of you who aren’t familiar, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world who appreciate birds and the integral roles they play in our ecosystems.

And our mission is to advance leading-edge research, education, participatory science that helps solve pressing conservation challenges. So in short, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is made up of researchers and people like you who love birds. Actually, ornithology means the study of birds.

And we have researchers from around the world studying and asking questions about animal behavior and animal sounds, climate change, conservation, how we can protect birds, evolution, migration and movement, and more.

But recently, we found out that we’ve lost almost 3 billion birds since 1970 in North America alone. And so that’s about one in four or 25% of adult birds in North America. And this is because of things that David shared previously like habitat loss.

So there’s less food, shelter, and places to raise young. There are outdoor cats that are attacking birds. We see collisions with glass windows, pollution. There’s fewer insects, which are important food source for some birds. And also climate change.

But all is not lost. And it’s not too late. We can make a difference to help birds. And we can help the planet too in doing this. So here are some seven simple actions. Well, if you’re old enough, you could drink shade-grown coffee. You could reduce your plastic usage, participate in science, make your windows safer, keep cats indoors, use native plants, and avoid pesticides.

But I today want to focus on how you can participate in science. And this is because we need your help. Scientists can’t be everywhere. And so we need you. And you can help us by collecting data from around the world.

And this can help scientists understand, ask, and answer questions about birds. And a great way to get started with this is through the Great Backyard Bird Count. I want to say, everyone, please, if you want to, take a photo of this as a resource for you for later.

But the Great Backyard Bird Count is organized with the Cornell Lab, the Audubon Society, and Birds Canada. And it’s been a project for over 20 years. And so what we’ll ask you to do is on the days of– so that’s next weekend, February 16 through 19. We ask you to pick a day, watch and count birds for 15 minutes, and then submit your list to us. And that’s it. And you can learn more about this at birdcount.org.

You might ask, how do I actually create a list and submit it to you, guys? Well, if you want to submit and you don’t know birds that well, I recommend that you use the Merlin app, which is a free app in the App Store and on the Google Play Store.

And this app lets you ID birds through sound recordings, through taking a photo of them, or even going through a step-by-step checklist to talk about and describe what your bird is doing and what they look like. And all of these things can help you ID birds.

If you already know birds really well, I recommend you use the eBird app. And you’ll get a screen very similar to this where you can just tap and start a new checklist. And then write and count the birds that you are seeing wherever you are. And if you don’t have a smartphone, you can always manually write down the list of birds you see in the number. And then submit your list on ebird.org.

But by doing this, you can join us and submit your list. And you can be one of the millions of people who have submitted their data to help scientists learn more about birds. So I’m going to go back to the slide one more time. And so that I hope you can watch, count, and share and help us learn more about birds today.

And with that, I will take any questions. I think we might have one or two in the chat. Let’s take a look. I know previously someone asked how old you had to be to participate. Well, if you’re going to do it fully on your own, you’d be 13 years old to make an eBird account.

But we think this is a really fun activity to do with friends and family and as a large group. And if you have a group going, you guys can just see the birds and have one person submit their list to us. And yes, this will be recorded and sent out to everyone as well. OK.

All right. So next, Ben and I are going to share a little bit about our research and how we think creatively. So I want to remind everyone. Hi. I’m Monique Pipkin. I’m a grad student here at Cornell. And I study three things. I study color and art because I think they’re both beautiful.

But I also study stress. And I want you to think about for a second, what makes birds stressed out? What do birds find challenging? And I’ll give you a hint. Birds and humans can find similar things challenging.

And you may start to think about some of the more natural things that are challenging like finding food or having young or having a social life because not every bird meets out there is going to be your friend.

But there are also some human-caused challenges. And these can be pollution not only of our air and our water but from the lights and sound of our cities and our roads. We can also have a limiting of habitat loss or more habitat loss, which limits food and shelter for birds to use.

And also climate change. And often we think about climate change, we think about hot temperatures. But with climate change, we are also seeing a change in extremes. And we’re seeing more frequent hot days and more frequent cold days. And that’s what I and some other researchers study, how is cold affecting birds’ stress levels?

And in order to do this, we had to think of an experiment with birds outside and have them for a short time experience what it’s like to feel cold. And so I have a question for you all. And a poll should pop up on screen quite soon.

And I want to ask you, how did we as scientists make it feel colder outside? And so if you don’t know, just make a guess. Did we use an air conditioner? Did we use ice packs? Or did we use a snow machine? So how did scientists temporarily make it feel colder outside?

OK. Let’s give you guys a couple more moments to lock in some answers. I have someone behind the screens also seeing how you guys are answering. So let’s say we’ll close it in about 5, 4, 3– oh, I think it closed. And I think your responses should pop up

Oh, so many of you guys said we used a snow machine to make it colder outside. That’s a great idea. It would also be a really fantastic idea to make it feel like it’s even snowing outside so having a full environmental reaction.

Actually what we used was ice packs. And so what we did was it’s an idea pioneered by Dr. Jennifer Houts. And we initially built a birdhouse on top of another birdhouse. And so we put ice packs in the top birdhouse. And then the birds were in the bottom birdhouse. And they would feel slightly colder for a short period of time.

And the reason that I share this with you is because sometimes when you do something new, the supplies and technology haven’t been made yet. And so scientists have to think creatively. And so I have two more poll questions. And I’m going to ask you to think like a scientist. I will show you an everyday object and ask you how scientists use this object.

So next, what are pillowcases used for? So we have two plain white pillowcases on screen. And I think we have the wrong poll up, so we’re going to look for a second. Poll should pop up. But what are pillowcases used for? Are pillowcases used to carry gulls? And galls are a type of bird.

Are they used as a sleeping bag for coyotes? Perfect. The right one’s on screen now. Are they used as an octopus hammock? So what do you think? What are pillowcases used for? To carry birds around, for coyote sleeping bag, or for an octopus hammock?

And feel free to type those answers in you all as you guys think about your answers. And it slows down. We’ll have the poll close in a little bit. I’m excited to see what you guys think about this. It was really fun to learn about how scientists are using different objects creatively to get their research done.

OK, let’s say we’ll close it in a couple moments now. Let’s say 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We will close this poll. And we’ll see what you guys said. So it looks like a lot of you guys believe that pillowcases are used as a bird carrier. And in fact, you guys are correct.

Liam Berrigan said that this large pillowcase is a perfect container for a gull. Many people think that we use bird cages in research. But sometimes bird bags are used too. And bird bags are like a piece of like– a simple piece of cotton that you sew together to hold your bird.

And these bags can help keep birds warm and safe and calm when you need to handle them. And instead of sewing your own, Liam was like, hey, a pillowcase, it’s a big bird bag for a big bird. It’s perfect.

All right. So this is my second and last question for you. What is Gatorade used for? Is it used to quench giraffes? Is it used to hydrate whales? Or is it used to fuel butterflies? Gatorade is used to help athletes when they’re on the field playing games and like– so what do we think scientists are using Gatorade for? How is it being used? Who is it being used to hydrate or quench or fuel?

So you guys put in your responses. And as we see a slow down, we will close the poll. So let’s say we’ll do that in about 5 4, 3, 2, 1. Let’s have you guys lock in your answers. And let’s see what you guys have said.

So it looks like you guys said that Gatorade is used to fuel butterflies. 95% of you said that Gatorade is used to fuel butterflies, which makes me think that you guys knew something that I didn’t know because you are 100% correct. Gatorade is used to fuel butterflies.

This is a photo taken from the Florida Museum of Miami blue butterfly on a Gatorade soaked cotton swab. And so yes, Gatorade is used to fuel them. And a fun fact that I learned is that fierce melon is the Miami blue butterflies favorite Gatorade flavor. So you have a favorite? Guess what, so do butterflies.

OK. And that’s the end of all the questions I have for you today. I am going to take a look at the Q&A because I believe we have some questions also about the Backyard Bird Count. And I probably can answer a couple of these for you.

Someone said, for the Backyard Bird Count, is it OK to count at your bird feeders? Absolutely. It’s OK to count wherever you are at. You can go out to a new area like a park with friends. You can look out your own backyard window. You’re welcome to do that as well.

And someone said, do they have to do it? They already participated in FeederWatch. Should I do the Bird Count at a different location? It’s totally up to you. You can count birds and watch them wherever you would like to do it.

And for people who live in an apartment building, I would recommend you guys find a nearby park. There’s plenty of birds actually in urban areas. I grew up in the suburbs and really found my start in science in the city, going to parks, going to natural history museums.

And so I would say, find a group of people you want to go to. And then go out into any area that’s screened. And then just spend some time walking around IDing seeing the birds you see around you. There’s a lot more than you think will be out there if you just take a stroll and actually are paying attention and listening hard.

All right. So I think we are slowing down some of the questions. And so I am going to then stop sharing my screen. I’m going to pass it along to Ben to share a little bit more about how he uses creativity in his research.

[Ben Mirin] Thank you, Monique. Can you hear me all right?

[Monique Pipkin] Yes, I can.

[Ben Mirin] OK, I’m going to switch this audio to a different mode to accommodate what I like to use to make my science more creative.


I’m not just an ornithologist. I am a wildlife DJ. I travel the world recording animal sounds and then sample their voices to create music that shares science with new audiences and hopefully gets them inspired to become conservationists in their own way.

And today, I’m going to take you on a quick world tour of some of the ecosystems I’ve visited. We’re going to start with the ecosystem I visited most recently, the jungles of Borneo. This is the empress cicada, the loudest insect in the world.


Thank you, Lauren. That’s really nice. And here we go. We’re going to take another trip to the sounds of a Gambel’s quail and some vultures and a roadrunner. And did you hear that kick drum sound? Hang on.


There it is. What could that be? Turns out that’s a javelina pig. They make this woofing sound. The males do. And it’s truly astounding to listen to.

Now we can go underwater. That’s slap bass? That’s a humpback whale. But you hear the glassy kind of chipping sound. If you’ve ever gone snorkeling, or if you’re lucky enough scuba diving, you might recognize that sound. This is the sound of parrotfish chipping away at the coral and the coral reefs with their sharp beaks.


And last but not least, we have a remix of a field cricket mixed with a couple of frogs and a northern mockingbird from the Chesapeake Bay. Let’s bring everyone in together in a symphony that never sleeps.


I hope you all enjoyed that tour around the world. So now I’m going to share a little bit about my research which grew out of my passion for bird songs. Give me a second just to share my screen here. And you should see a shot of me working in the field. And let me know in the chat if that’s coming through, or if you can’t see, and we’ll troubleshoot it.

Back in 2013, when I was still living in New York City, I couldn’t really hear birds singing outside my window. So I decided to start sampling the voices of New York birds using recordings from our Macaulay Library here at the Lab of Ornithology to make music from the sounds of nature.

I reconnected with my backyard and started performing in clubs and even on television. And to my surprise, music became my tool for celebrating nature around the world. It also helped me realize that I wanted to become a scientist who recorded birds and other sounds in the field.

I’m an acoustic biologist and an ethnoornithologist. So I combine the study of human cultures with the study of birds. I think it’s really important that we remember that humans are part of nature and that we share the planet with so many amazing species. So that’s why I’m an ethnobiologist. And my studies focus on sound and its cultural importance to humans and to birds and to other taxa.

And oftentimes, when we’re in the field and we’re recording sounds, we get something that looks like this. Now, this is a recording from Papua New Guinea. It’s a stereo recording, which is why you see the same image repeated on the top and on the bottom.

But this is a graph. You may recognize graphs from– the x-axis and y-axis from your math classes. The y is the vertical. The x is horizontal. And horizontal on the x-axis, we have time. And on the y-axis, we have frequency. So this is actually a beautiful representation of sound over time. And the really bright parts are the loudest parts. And that’s how we– we call that amplitude. They have a really high amplitude.

But just look at the intricacies of this pattern. It just shows that there are all kinds of vocal acrobatics going on. And this is a group of birds. And you can see they change from one structure to another over the course of a long performance. It’s like listening to an orchestra perform. It’s just really wonderful.

Detecting sounds like these can help us measure the health of ecosystems and protect all kinds of habitats, if we hear something rare. Sometimes we even hear sounds that are new to science. Sounds also tell stories, if we listen.


This is a recording of bowhead whales crying out in the depths of the Arctic Ocean, as industrial airguns emit deafening pulses of sonar to scan the seafloor for oil and gas. So you can hear the whales. And then that [LASER BEAM] sound is the airguns. There it is.


In the jungles of Kalimantan, the scream of a chainsaw rips through choruses of birds and insects, whose homes are being repurposed for cash truck crops. Can you hear the chainsaw?


This is actually a recording of illegal logging inside of a protected area.


And you can hear the thud of the tree as it falls at the end. This is a recording by one of our scientists here Dr. Wendy Erb. And finally, in a rainforest in Java, we hear a forest without birdsong, because all the birds have been captured and sold in markets as part of the wildlife trade. You can hear a few birds left.


But when I imagine a rain forest, I hear a lot more in my mind. I just was living in Indonesia recording sounds like this for the past year. And walking through those forests, I was always surprised by the absence of the voices I was hoping to hear.

So documenting sounds like these has been a challenge technically and emotionally, as I’m sure you can imagine. It’s also been a privilege. But it all started by listening to the sounds of my backyard. Just the way you folks can do. So I encourage you to take a minute later today, go outside, listen, and see how many natural sounds you can hear. This will help you boost your stats next week in the Great Backyard Bird Count, because you can start counting birds by ear.

And if you need help, you can use some of the tools that Monique talked about like the Merlin app. The Macaulay Library has a great set of public references. There are also other online libraries you can check just to see what you’re hearing and compare different sounds across regions.

And as you start to identify these sounds, you can start telling stories about what makes your backyard so special. If sound isn’t your thing, I understand. That’s OK. I grew up having a hard time with math and science never knowing that art and music could help me reach my dream of studying birds. But here I am.

So my main message for all of you today is just to be yourself. Share the things that make you happy. And if you want to bring them into science and conservation, I promise, you are welcome here. You have the power to build the change in how we see the world and help us take better care of it.

And just to prove you can all be creative in science, we’re going to play my free online game. You guessed it. BeastBox. We’re going to issue a poll to get some requests from the audience for their top animal sounds that they want to add to our beat that we’re going to make as a group.

And while we’re doing that, I’m going to stop this share and load the game itself. So you might hear the loading sound here we go.

– BeastBox.

[Ben Mirin] How are we doing with that poll, everybody? Give you a few more seconds here. Trust me, there are no wrong answers. All of these animals are incredibly musical and delightful. Let’s see. Give it a few more seconds here. All right, looks like the votes are in. OK, here we go. Let’s play.


The top choices. All right, bear with me here. I’m going to add them in one at a time. Bottlenose dolphin and parrot fish.


Gray crowned crane. Good choice.


Savannah elephant.


Oh, I was hoping you’d do this one, hadada ibis.


Well done, everyone. That was your bespoke BeastBox beat made entirely from the sounds of nature. And of course, a few sounds from yours truly. If you want to try playing this game yourselves, you can visit Bird Academy at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Or if it’s easier to remember, just go to Benmirin.com and click BeastBox. It’ll take you to the same place either way.

And my favorite part of the game is when you can scroll down here, learn a little bit more about what it means to be a wildlife DJ, meet this noisy mammal here giving a Ted Talk, and then listen to the original artists themselves.

I never get tired of listening to these sounds. Because, of course, when you hold the mic up to nature itself, they don’t take cues very well. There are a lot of divas in the wilderness. So you’re really lucky if you can get a beautiful sound like this one from Ted Parker. It’s a blue wildebeest.



Let’s listen to one of the ones we sampled just now. The bottlenose dolphin, here we go. Now this is actually a recording from captivity, I believe.




I could spend all day doing this. But we have some other things to share. Thanks so much for tuning in to me and to the sounds of nature.

[David Pallash] Amazing. Ben, that was so incredible. And I think my takeaway line from today was there are so many divas in the natural world. I think those roughly your words. That is brilliant. I totally know what you mean. They never quite cooperate as you hope.

Amazing, Ben. And so, so inspirational, both of your talks on how creativity is part of your world. And, Ben, you picked up on a really important point. I remember when I was at school and I wanted to do art and I wanted to do science, and my teacher sat me down and said, that’s not how it goes. You don’t do the two together. But luckily, one teacher– it’s often one teacher that pulls you through. And this one teacher encouraged me to do that. So, Ben, I could relate definitely.

[Ben Mirin] So glad to hear that. We are the sum of all of our parts. We don’t have to choose. In fact, that’s how whole fields of science are created. I’d said I’m an ornithologist, an acoustic biologist. It used to just be biologist or anthropologist. But whole new fields are now being created, because people are willing to take that leap. So I hope other people will do the same.

[David Pallash] I love that. Brilliant. I hope you were all equally inspired by our two wonderful conservationist scientists, musicians, creatives. I love it. Now, we are getting to the end of the hour. So I think it’s time that we gave you a little challenge.

Now, this challenge isn’t going to end, when we drop off line. This can continue. You can keep creating on the challenge I give you beyond this webinar and share those ideas. We’ll give you a link later on how you do that, share those ideas with us. Because the big thing with the LEGO Group’s Build the Change program is we want to hear your ideas. And we want to use them collectively to inspire change.

So imagine if we get all of the young people’s ideas on how to protect birds, we group them together, and then we take them and we show them to politicians or decision-makers somewhere in the world. Imagine how powerful that will be. We can do that. And we want to do that. So please do share your ideas.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away. Now, we’ve been talking a lot about birds. Now your challenge now is to get creative and Ben, Monique, and I are going to do the same. Get creative with whatever materials you have nearby. Lisa put in the chat earlier. You can use any materials. If you want to draw something, if you want to sculpt something, if you want to chisel something, then please do. We love all materials.

Now, in a nutshell, your challenge is all about designing a neighborhood that is friendly for migrating birds or any bird really. But migrating birds often need a place to rest, to refuel, to eat, to get some water. And that is what we want you to do. We want you to design a space for them to be safe and to carry on with their journey once they’re ready. But let’s watch a little clip to show you more, OK? Here we go. Let’s find that one And hopefully, you can see that now. Here we go.

SPEAKER: Now let’s talk about our human impact on migratory birds. Many different species of birds migrate or travel from one area to another. They do this for many reasons, to go somewhere warmer during cold months or somewhere with more daylight hours for finding food. Some birds use the stars and moon to help navigate and work out which way to go.

Bird migrations can be very long journeys, so they need to stop along the way. For example, Arctic terns have the longest migration in the world. They raise their chicks in the Arctic before setting out on a journey to the other side of the world.

The trip can last months with the tern stopping off in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa before arriving in Antarctica. But as we learn, everything we humans do impacts the natural world. Sometimes this impact is positive. And sometimes, this impact is negative. And this includes our impact on migratory birds looking for somewhere safe to stop along their journey.

We build things on land destroying habitats. We pollute water environments making them unsafe. We create noise and light in the air confusing and scaring living things. The people all around the world are also using simple ideas to help nature. Together, we can make our impact positive.

But what if migratory birds need to make a stop near where you live? Your challenge is to redesign a neighborhood to make it safe and welcoming for migratory birds. They will need somewhere safe to rest and find food, clean water, and to be protected from noise and light pollution.

But don’t forget, humans need to live here too. Can you design a neighborhood that humans and birds can share? We can’t wait to see what you come up with. Together, we can build the change.

[David Pallash] Amazing. So that’s your challenge. Now, you’re probably thinking, OK, what am I going to do with this? But before you do that, I have some inspiration. So here are some ideas from other children around the world, just to get you started. And you can see different materials being used here.

One person’s built a place that is bird-friendly with trash bins and water. As simple as that. But a lovely design, a lot of stuff going on there. Someone’s focused on kiwis, the New Zealand species. There are four species of kiwi, of course. They haven’t specified. And that’s OK. But it is a safety zone for kiwis. Has a tunnel, it seems, that goes under the road, so they can move around.

And the last one is simply a gull building its nest on a clean beach. So the beach has been cleaned, hopefully, by us. We’ve helped them out. And it’s very, very happy there building its nest. So just a little bit of inspiration.

I’m going to stop sharing now. And I am going to welcome back, my friends, partners in crime. Here we go. Monique and Ben. How are you guys doing? Have you got some ideas going?

[Monique Pipkin] Absolutely. And I’m ready to start building.

[David Pallash] Let’s go. Let’s just start building. Now everyone out there, if you’ve got some creative materials, get going. Or you can just sit there and think and listen to us talking to each other about what we’re going to build. And then afterwards, go off and build yourself. But I’ve got a lot of LEGO. I’m going to show you here. I’ve got a lot of LEGO.


Of course, I have LEGO bricks. Of course, I have LEGO bricks. I’ve also– Ben, really likes. I’ve got a lot of music to there as well in the background. I’m not using that today. So I’m going to build something. I’ve got some ideas. I quite like building– I’m very lucky I’ve got some base plates here. I’m going to build– I’ve already started building some water here, put some plants down.

I’ve got a tree that had on another build. So I’m going to get that and just put that down. It’s a bit of shelter for the birds as they’re coming in. Now, we mentioned in the build that the humans have to also live here and live peacefully side by side. So thought, let’s see, let’s get some maybe a little– maybe that’s a little tower block I’m going to put on there as well. So you can see this kind of area. What’s missing, I wonder? What’s missing?

I know what’s missing. I’m going to put a platform in. You’ve got a little tower here, built a little platform. Now, that platform can be used for– I don’t know. It could be a nesting platform like we have for ospreys. Or it could just be a resting post. Anyway, that’s enough of me talking. Have you guys got some ideas coming? I’d love to hear them.

[Monique Pipkin] Yeah, absolutely. So I’m currently working on rebuilding what my personal apartment looks like. So my apartment on this side, I didn’t build the rest of it, because I wanted to focus on mine, and then the little garden I have in my side yard. And I’m thinking a lot about how sometimes you don’t always think that if you rent, you can make it more bird-friendly.

But we know that window collisions are an issue. And having something as simple as a screen on the outside of your window to prevent bugs from coming in can also help prevent some bird collisions. So I have a little window here that I have a little screen on front of as well. Yeah.

[David Pallash] That’s super cool. That’s a big problem. And someone else has just mentioned– Sally’s mentioned birdhouses. Yes. Definitely some birdhouses. Ben, how’s it going for you?

[Ben Mirin] Sir, well, I just whipped up some binoculars here.


[David Pallash] Love those. Show– put them to your eyes.

[Ben Mirin] Well, there are tuned to see–

[Monique Pipkin] I’m so sorry.

[Ben Mirin] –everything in the world right now. But I’m just kidding. These were actually a gift from the LEGO Group the last time we did a jam together. But I’ve kept them on my desk ever since, because they’re a statement piece, obviously.

But in the interim, it’s important to have the right tools with you to enhance your ability to observe your surroundings. Because, again, we want to light that spark just to help people realize, oh, I don’t need a plane ticket. I don’t need the fanciest tools in the world. I can just go outside. I can use these free tools that we’ve been talking about all day today.

And you know what? I bet a lot of you have smartphones. They have microphones. You don’t need to buy something fancy like what I use. So I found this hyper realistic. I think the species is duckus rubberus–


–the rubber duck. And it’s in its natural environment, as you can tell. But I’ve started creating a little tech platform here where maybe you could put out your phone for an hour or so every day using the voice memos app and just see what comes back. There’s a great way to document what’s happening all around you

[David Pallash] Oh, man. That is awesome, Ben. That is awesome. I love that. Is that a little– because that’s a little megaphone speaker type thing?

[Ben Mirin] Yes, yes. And I think it’ll get more sophisticated as I iterate on future designs. But–

[David Pallash] Wow.

[Ben Mirin] –the pilot project.

[David Pallash] That’s it. And iteration is the name of the game here. Iteration play is so powerful at encouraging iteration. I’m just going to point out. I’m going to point out some in the chat some builds that are coming. We’ve got a bird villa going on. Very cool. Including a diving board and picnic table to share food with squirrels, love it. Another person’s got ideas flowing, building lots of trees, birdhouses. Very cool. Duckus rubberus, yes.

Can you actually create your ideas? Yeah, please do. Please do create them. We’ve got actually a web. There we go. Lisa’s put it in there. You can actually share your ideas by uploading them on that web address. And we will definitely see those in the LEGO Group and be taking them wherever we can and sharing your ideas.

Amazing, amazing. Did you guys enjoy getting hands on, minds on in that activity? Just a few minutes, but you can carry on after this.

[Ben Mirin] Oh, you’ve lit the fire. I think my whole Saturday is booked now.


[David Pallash] Amazing. Very good. Well, we are running out of time, sadly. I’m going to have to hand it back to Monique. But just please do share your ideas. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for letting us join me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure joining my friends here. And, of course, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Monique, over to you.

[Monique Pipkin] Yeah. Thank you so much. I just want to remember everyone out there today that you can help build a better world today with whatever you have on hand. And the Great Backyard Bird Count, it’s a great way to get started. That’s going to be next weekend from February 16th to 19th.

And you can go to Birdcount.org for more information. And that’s going to be all for today. Thank you so much to Ben and Dave for taking the time to talk share your work and play with us. I also want to thank you to the audience and everyone out there joining us today.

This webinar is a part of a webinar series, connecting you all to the lab of research– to the Lab of Ornithology, researchers, and projects. We hope to see you at an upcoming event. We’ll be emailing our Zoom attendees with the recorded webinar and some resources that we talked about during this webinar. And if you enjoyed today’s program, please consider becoming a Cornell Lab member. All right.

End of transcript

Let’s put our creativity to the test, and work together to build a better world for birds! Join the Cornell Lab and the LEGO Group’s Build the Change team for a fun-filled virtual event for the whole family. First, we’ll learn how researchers are using creativity and play to understand and solve environmental challenges. Then, it’s your turn! Use materials you have at home to design your own ideal outdoor space for birds and biodiversity. Grab your materials and get ready to change the world through play!

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