Flight of the Hummingbird MAG

By Robyn S., Northridge, CA

     The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote that "The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions." This truism became apparent to me after years of doing scientific research. Each year my projects have become more sophisticated and my love for science developed into an admiration for both the natural world and technology. I even found myself intrigued by one of the greatest naturalists, Charles Darwin, whose evolutionary theory struck a chord with me. Since studying his work, I have developed an interest in laboratory research and also learned the importance of field research. Last summer, an Earthwatch Institute expedition focusing on the flight of the hummingbird gave me an opportunity to further this interest and do research with scientists studying these amazing birds.

The Earthwatch Institute's mission is to engage people worldwide in "scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment." As a result of the expedition, I have an entirely new respect for nature. I live in Los Angeles, a metropolis filled with pollution. I had never really been in nature uninterrupted by cars, noises, streets or large buildings. On my few hikes, I would reach the summit only to see cars and streets and large buildings through the haze. On our expedition in Arizona, we had time to hike for pleasure. One day I and another volunteer followed a trail and when we reached the top, looked down on trees and mountains as far as the eye could see. I just sat there and breathed in the fresh air and looked at the massive landscape, thinking, Wow, I have missed so much. At night, I was able to look up and see the stars clearly, not as distant glints of light through the smog of Los Angeles.

Working with the scientists and other volunteers, I learned to identify birds (both hummers and others), trees, moths and, perhaps most important, recognize the beauty that is nature. I now see the importance of conservation and understand the impact of pollution. I now understand why it is necessary to conserve our earth, both because we are using up natural resources and because of nature's beauty.

My experience in Arizona with the hummingbird was truly something I will never forget. While doing behavioral observations in the field, I constantly thought about the advantages and disadvantages of field research and how different it was from what I expected. I had always been more inclined to do research in the lab, thinking that there were just too many variables that could not be controlled in the field. After doing behavioral observations and watching the amazing things hummingbirds are capable of, I began to think of how difficult it would be to set up a controlled environment for these birds that chase each other at amazing speeds with maneuvering capabilities that would make anyone's jaw drop. In fact, studying hummingbirds in an artificial, controlled environment would produce its own variables. Researchers attempting to create a habitat would need to eliminate flora or animal species and their absence could result in different behavior. Weather conditions could not as easily be replicated in an enclosed environment, yet the habitat, changing seasons and humidity may all be related to the species' behavior.

The advantage of field research is seeing the organism in its natural habitat and observing its actions. While I am still fascinated by lab work, I see the importance of field research for studying and understanding those natural interactions.

During the expedition, I spent time with a great team of volunteers that included teachers who, like me, had a thirst for knowledge. It gave me the opportunity to practice my problem-solving skills. Secretly, I've always wanted to be the next MacGyver. I have found that science, especially field research, allows you to practice problem-solving skills. While studying the flight mechanics of the hummingbird, I had a great time thinking on my feet and figuring things out.

In the end, I found I had more questions than answers, both about hummingbirds and my own career, but according to Levi-Strauss, raising questions is as important in scientific inquiry as finding solutions. When I consider field research, I am reminded of Darwin who wrote about his experiences on the voyage of the Beagle as the most important event in his life. He felt that it provided the first real training, and said, "I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in natural science." Perhaps some day, through persistent curiosity and questioning, I will make a contribution to science. My research has motivated me to continue working toward becoming a scientist.

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This article has 4 comments.

i love this so much!

Arti.M BRONZE said...
on Feb. 24 2017 at 2:18 am
Arti.M BRONZE, Tirana, Other
4 articles 0 photos 46 comments
Great essay, I really enjoyed it.

on Jan. 11 2017 at 4:22 pm
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The rat under inspection stands there, unsure as to whether or not he’s been approved. REMY (CONT’D) --which means “clean”. You know-- “Cleanliness is... close to--?” (no response) Remy waits, expecting the rat to get his joke. Beat. REMY (CONT’D) ...never mind. Move on... The rat moves on. Remy rolls resumes his bored inspection. INSIDE ATTIC - LATE AFTERNOON Django & Remy stand on a beat-up chair, overlooking the rat clan as they go about their day. 4. REMY (V.O.) Well, it made my Dad proud. DJANGO Now don’t you feel better, Remy? You’ve helped a noble cause. REMY Noble? We’re thieves, Dad. And what we’re stealing is-- let’s face it, garbage. DJANGO It isn’t stealing if no one wants it. REMY If no one wants it, why are we stealing it? They continue to quarrel. It’s clear this is an old argument. REMY (V.O.) Let’s just say we have different points of view. ATTIC - NIGHT Django and Emile are gobbling up an assortment of RUBBISH, which is in fact dinner. REMY watches them, appalled. He looks down at his own plate in disgust. REMY (V.O., CONT’D) This much I knew: if you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff. He pushes the rotted food away. Django reacts. REMY (V.O.) But to my Dad-- DJANGO Food is fuel. You get picky about what you put in the tank, your engine is gonna die. Now shut up and eat your garbage. REMY If we’re going to be thieves, why not steal the good stuff in the kitchen? Where nothing is poisoned. 5. DJANGO First of all; we are NOT thieves. Secondly; Stay out of the kitchen and away from the humans. It’s dangerous. OUTSIDE THE FARMHOUSE - DUSK Remy watches the farmhouse, drawn to the warm light and the sounds emanating from inside. REMY (V.O.) I know I’m supposed to hate humans. But there’s something about them... FARMHOUSE - KITCHEN Remy carefully sneaks into the kitchen. REMY (V.O., CONT’) ...they don’t just survive, they discover, they create. Just look at what they do with food. The TV is tuned to the same show we saw in the opening. CHEF GUSTEAU is cooking, speaking to the camera. Remy watches. GUSTEAU (ON T.V.) Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only be aware to stop and savor it. Remy notices a leftover plate of FRUITS & CHEESES. He picks up a small slice of cheese and takes a bite. REMY (V.O.) Gusteau was right. Each flavor was totally unique. As Remy closes his eyes his surroundings FADE TO BLACK. A amorphus COLORED SHAPE appears above his head accompanied by a cello bass line. REMY (V.O., CONT’) Oh, yeah. Amazing. But... combine one flavor with another-- Cheese still in his mouth, Remy takes a bite of the STRAWBERRY. 6. REMY (CONT’D) -and something new was created. New COLORED SHAPES and musical signatures appear; swirling and dancing in harmony with the others. A light SNAPS ON, breaking the spell. The OLD LADY has awakened. Remy drops the food and scampers away. FIELD - DAY Remy follows a pleasant scent in the air. It leads him to a beautiful MUSHROOM. REMY (V.O.) So now I had a secret life. The only one who knew about it was Emile. BEHIND THE FARM HOUSE - LATE AFTERNOON Emile is atop a full garbage can, rooting around under the lid. Remy calls up from the tall grass below. REMY Emile! Psst- hey, Emile--! Emile looks up, holding the remains of a brown-bag lunch. REMY (giddy) Look! I found a mushroom! Come on, you’re good at hiding food, help me find a good place to put this! GRASSY FIELD - LATE AFTERNOON Remy and Emile walk together; Emile on all fours, dragging the enormous bag he grips between his teeth, while Remy walks upright, carefully cradling his mushroom. REMY (V.O.) He doesn’t under-stand me, but I can be myself around him... EMILE Why are you walking like that? 7. REMY I don’t want to constantly have to wash my paws. Do you ever think about how we walk on the same paws that we handle food with? Do you ever think about what we put into our mouths?? EMILE All the time. REMY (he shudders) When I eat, I don’t want to taste everywhere my paws have been. EMILE Well, okay. But if Dad sees you walking like that... he’s not gonna like it. Remy SNIFFS Emile’s BAG. His eyes LIGHT UP. REMY What have you got there? He disappears into the bag, RIFLES through it, emerging with-- REMY Cheese?? You found CHEESE? And not just any cheese- Tomme De Chevre de Pays! That would go beautifully with my mushroom!! And! And and andHe sniffs the air, quickly finds a plant nearby. He PLUCKS it from the ground, his excitement growing by the second.

gretchen said...
on Dec. 10 2010 at 8:36 am
nice job i really like everything you have on here i agree!!!!:)

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