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Regarding Rabbits and Eggs: The Origins of Easter Traditions

Easter is almost upon us, and soon the legendary Easter Bunny will make its annual Sunday morning appearance, delivering chocolate, candy, and toys, and (of course) hiding Easter eggs. The Easter Bunny, or Easter Rabbit, is certainly the most well-known secular symbol of this Christian holiday. But how did this beloved animal become so deeply ingrained in the celebration of Easter?

 

As with many ancient legends, the origins of the Easter Bunny are primarily unknown. One theory suggests the Easter Bunny’s beginnings are with the ancient pagan festival of Eostre. This celebration honored the goddess of fertility, Eostre, whose animal symbol was the rabbit. Even separate from this particular festival, some sources note that the pagans historically viewed the rabbit as a “symbol of fertility and new life.”

 

No one really knows how this rabbit of antiquity morphed into the Easter Bunny we know and love today. Research suggests the legend of the Easter Bunny may have traveled to America with German immigrants in the 1700s. German traditions at the time upheld the tale of the egg-laying Osterhase or Oschter Haws (Easter hare) that appeared specifically for Easter. German children would create nests for this creature to lay its colored eggs. After German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, the custom soon spread to other areas of the United States.

 

Like the Easter Bunny itself, colorful eggs may also originate from pagan traditions. Eggs were traditionally regarded as a symbol of new life and were consequently incorporated into many different festivals celebrating the coming of spring. With the advent of Christianity, the egg and its accompanying symbolism were given new meaning and came to “represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection.”

 

The custom of decorating eggs for Easter Sunday may have begun as far back as the thirteenth century. In addition to its status as a symbol of new life, the egg was also on a list of prohibited foods—thought to date back to the fifth century—that Christians could not eat during Lent, the forty days of fasting and penance before Easter. In preparation for Easter, Christians during the 1200s began to come together to decorate the eggs they could eat again that Sunday. While eggs are no longer banned for modern observances of Lent, the practice of decorating eggs has since become a permanent fixture in Easter celebrations.

 

Whatever its history may be, the myth of the Easter Bunny and its colorful eggs is fully ingrained in culture today. In fact, the Easter Bunny is such a mythical creature that even rabbit children are convinced their father could be this legendary figure! This scenario is exactly what occurs in Lorna Balian’s Humbug Rabbit: while Grandma prepares for Easter, five little rabbit children, who live below ground, learn the legend of the Easter Bunny for the first time and are quick to believe their own father is the culprit. Watch the two worlds meet in a joyous celebration of Easter!

Helping Children Learn About Colors

Why is learning color recognition at a young age so important? Color is an easily noticeable part of the world around us and is, consequently, one of the ways children can initially classify what they see. Learning the similarities and differences between colors is a basic skill—one that serves as a building block for a child’s future development.

 

Dr. Judith Myers-Walls, project director of Parent-Provider Relationships at Purdue University, says that recognizing different colors is highly important. People, she explains, interact with color in roughly two different ways: we find colors both useful and expressive. Colors are useful in that they can describe an object (e.g. ask someone to hand you the blue bowl during dinner), convey specific information (a red light means “stop”), or help indicate and solve problems (if the front lawn is brown instead of green, then perhaps it should be watered).

 

Colors can also be expressive and convey emotional and artistic meaning (yellow is often associated with happiness and red with energy and strength, for example). Learning both the colors themselves and their many implementations is key for young children as they continue to discover more about the world around them.

 

As easy as this task may be for adults, most children struggle to learn the different names of colors. A Scientific American article discusses a study conducted at Stanford University that asked two-year-olds to name a color and pick it out of a lineup. Surprisingly, “most failed the test outright.” In fact, the study notes, children as old as six can continue to incorrectly name different colors.

 

Why is this so? The article continues by explaining that different categories of colors are not universal. Different languages “vary both in the number of basic color distinctions they make . . . and in the ways they draw those distinctions on the spectrum.” For example, English has eleven basic color words (red, blue, yellow, green, black, white, pink, brown, gray, brown, purple, and orange), while the Pirahã language has only two terms for describing color (light and dark). This complication of learning colors through the lens of one’s own language, combined with the fact that colors themselves are overwhelmingly present at all times, can make learning the names of colors surprisingly difficult for most children.

 

Parents and teachers need not despair, however: a variety of resources on the topic are readily available. The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community acknowledges the difficulty in learning colors and lists several tips for parents who want to help teach their children. Teaching color words and color recognition at the same time—especially by using primary and secondary colors—helps children identify colors more quickly. While reading a story, a parent can point out an object in a specific color and then ask the child to find another object in the same color. In Eating the Rainbow, for instance, you can show your child the green pear and then ask her to find the green broccoli on the same page.

star-bright-books-eating-the-rainbow-cover-new

Another helpful tip from the Indiana Institute is helping children understand how color differs from shape. The Institute notes, “Children tend to notice the shapes and uses of objects before they notice color,” so parents are encouraged to “use identical objects that are different colors” to help children learn.

 

Finally, playing games and involving children in different activities is always an enjoyable way to help with learning colors: sort laundry into different colors, draw pictures with colorful crayons, and play “I Spy” with your child! You can ask your child to find the purple sock while reading Barnaby Bennett or the blue parakeets in Brian Wildsmith’s Animal Colors.

 

Learning about colors doesn’t need to be a discouraging process. Children can have fun exploring the colors in the world around them!

Celebrate National Reading Month at Home with Your Toddler

“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book” —Dr. Seuss

 

The birthday of one of the most celebrated children’s authors of all time, Dr. Seuss, just passed, and it falls in March—National Reading Month. In 1998, the National Education Association of America established National Reading Month to honor author, cartoonist, and animator Dr. Seuss, and to encourage reading and literacy habits in children. The month-long celebration is intended to help children discover the pleasure in reading, while aiding their language development skills at the same time.

 

While schools all across America celebrate National Reading Month for children in kindergarten and above, parents can celebrate with their toddlers at home, too! Here are some roles that you can play to celebrate National Reading Month with your young ones in order to jumpstart language development and an interest in reading.

 

Let’s start with an activity as simple as singing the alphabet song, which can greatly improve a toddler’s literacy and cognitive skills. Singing out loud to children helps create a phonological awareness in them, which is the first step in early language development. They will gradually be able to pick up on the sounds of the alphabet and learn to associate each sound with a word. The best way to do this is to recite every letter using an alphabet chart or alphabet flash cards, while pointing to a related object (e.g. A for apple, B for ball, etc.). Animal ABC by Juan de Lascurain and ABC by Brian Wildsmith are two great titles that can help catch the attention of toddlers with eye-catching designs and colors.

 

Rhyming and poetry books also serve the same purpose as alphabet books. Children will learn to pick up on rhythmic patterns and vibrations in sounds, making it easier for them to alter their tones accordingly. The added benefit is that reading rhymes out loud coupled with some fun activities will help toddlers recognize pauses and patterns in speech. You can play a picture-card game with your child and have them come up with rhyming words for every card they draw (e.g. if they draw a card with a picture of a ball, encourage them to come up with rhyming words like “tall,” “wall,” and “call”). Some Star Bright titles that can assist in this aspect of learning are Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and Edith Baer’s Words are like Faces.

 

Wordless picture books may contain little or no text, but can be vastly important. They allow children to interpret the stories from only pictures, details, and character expressions. Kids learn the art of prediction and improve their observational skills and critical thinking. One among the many fun activities to do with wordless books is to ask your toddler to retell the story in their own words, and watch how the story unfolds in their imaginative eyes. Children pull words from their memory in order to recite their version—and honestly, they have so much fun doing it that we can’t help but smile. A Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi, with beautiful illustrations and an equally beautiful storyline, is a perfect fit for this activity.

 

Puzzle books and activity books go a long way in helping children exercise their brains and improve their imaginations. Although toddlers may be too young to solve the puzzles, it will greatly improve their spatial reasoning and hand-eye coordination. An in-home activity that you can try with your toddler is to bring together the different shapes (square, circle, triangle) in their favorite puzzle book and help match the shapes and shape colors to patterns in the book. Over time, they will develop a knack for recognizing patterns and shapes, and associate colors with them (e.g. an apple is a circle and is red).

 

Make this year’s National Reading Month a special one for your toddler by illustrating the impact reading can have on them and indulge in some fun, quality time with your tiny tot.

Leprechaun Lore

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and with it comes the ever-popular figure from Irish mythology and folklore: the leprechaun. Though not connected with the historical figure of St. Patrick, or the original celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the leprechaun is now a well-recognized symbol of Ireland and Irish culture.

 

The earliest origins of this mythical creature are thought to date back to before the arrival of the Celts in Ireland. Some scholars speculate that leprechauns were originally linked to “faerie forts” and “faerie rings,” small mounds of earth with unknown origins scattered throughout Ireland. At some point in history, the leprechaun morphed into its own entity, distinct from the other fairy beings of Irish folklore. These early leprechauns were characterized as little old men and were thought to be shoemakers or cobblers for these fairies.

 

Leprechauns Never Lie by Lorna Balian

The legend of the leprechaun soon came to describe these supernatural beings as “crotchety, solitary, yet mischievous creatures”—diminutive shoemakers who hid the gold they made from their labors in a pot at the end of a rainbow or scattered throughout the mountains and forests. Additionally, leprechauns were originally thought to wear red, and only in the twentieth century did the image of the leprechaun change to a figure in green, coinciding with a general shift in associating the color green with anything Irish.

 

Today, leprechauns in popular culture are perhaps not as cranky, yet they still maintain a reputation for mischief. In Lorna Balian’s Leprechauns Never Lie, Ninny Nanny and Gram are in a bad state—the rain barrel is empty, the potato field needs digging, and all they have for food is rainwater soup! Yet, Ninny Nanny is lazy, so she decides to catch a leprechaun and find out were he has hidden his pot of gold. But finding the leprechaun’s fortune turns out to be much more than Ninny Nanny and Gram bargained for. The leprechaun leads them on a merry chase throughout their farm—all with the best intentions!

 

If young readers would like to catch their own leprechaun, consider helping them set up a leprechaun trap to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Construct a trap that lures the leprechaun onto a fake floor with spray-painted “gold,” or assemble a trap that uses a shoebox, a dowel, and (of course) gold to catch the leprechaun under the box.

 

Have fun building and decorating a trap, but don’t forget that leprechauns are mischievous and smart creatures, so you never know what to expect!

Support Your Baby’s and Toddler’s Math Development

Children are naturally curious and have an inborn ability to make connections. From birth they begin learning the concepts of language and math. While it may be easier to observe a child learning language as they begin to speak and put sentences together, at the same time they are also discovering the ideas of pattern, shape, size, and spatial relationships like up, down, and across—all of which are the foundations of math.

 

Parents and caregivers can help their children develop a strong base on which to build their math understanding by engaging them in age-appropriate activities. As Audrey Martínez-Gudapakkam, an associate researcher at TERC who evaluates K-12 STEM education programs and develops programs to engage Spanish-speaking families in STEM learning, explains: “To help children be ready to learn in kindergarten and beyond, they need repeated concrete experiences in daily life to develop math vocabulary and the experiences that will support their understanding.”

 

These activities do not need to be structured learning times and do not require expensive materials. Playtime, mealtime, shopping, and helping around the house all offer opportunities for children to get hands-on experience with math. Talking with kids about what they see and do is one of the best ways to raise awareness of math concepts.

 

Here are some ideas for babies and toddlers.

Babies

From birth, babies are discovering their hands and fingers; learning how to roll over, sit up, and crawl; watching as they are diapered, bathed, and dressed; and gaining the ability to feed themselves. All of these activities offer ways to talk with your child about math. As you spend time with your baby while shopping, taking a walk, or playing with them, point out shapes, colors, and spatial relationships.

 

Spatial Relationships

  • You are crawling so fast across the floor!
  • I will pick you up and put you in the high chair.

Numbers

  • You have two hands. Let’s wash one hand. Then we wash the other hand. One, two!
  • You have one bowl and one spoon.

     

    Ying-Hwa Hu (Banana for Two)

Shape, Size, and Measurement

  • Look at this big, round ball!
  • The front of the cereal box is a rectangle.

Toddlers

Toddlers are excited to join in on what adults are doing! Use that energy to engage your child in exploring math—and get a little help around the house! Your child will gain invaluable hands-on experience that helps make otherwise abstract concepts concrete.

 

Patterns

  • Make up a movement pattern and have your child follow along: step, step, hop. Step, hop, step. Have your child make up a pattern.
  • Have children point out patterns on their clothing.

Spatial Relationships

  • When coming in from outside, ask children to put their shoes on the ground or a shelf below.
  • While cleaning, ask children to put books on a shelf above and a toy in the bin or box.

     

    Ying-Hwa Hu (Clean Up, Up, Up!)

Shape, Size, and Measurement

  • Take a walk in your neighborhood and play “I Spy” with shapes or colors.
  • As your child builds a tower with blocks or recycled boxes, talk about small, medium, and large blocks or boxes. Talk about tall and taller, short and shorter towers.

Activities like the ones above and talking with children at all ages will make a big difference in their perceptions of math, their joy in doing math, and their readiness for school. For more discussion on math for young children and ideas on activities you can do with your child, visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website.

 

Also check out the Star Bright Books website for additional home activities on numbers and some fun sing-alongs!

 

In our next blog post, we talk about what you can do to help older children (K-1) develop a love for math that will take them far.

Valentine’s Day as a Teaching Opportunity

Valentine’s Day can be an excellent teaching tool for young students. Today, rather than focusing on the “Hallmark holiday” aspect of Valentine’s Day, many elementary teachers and parents instead seize the opportunity to discuss the concepts of inclusivity, kindness, and generosity in the classroom and at home.

 

In Miriam Cohen’s Bee My Valentine, all the first graders in Jim’s classroom are excited to exchange valentines. “Everyone must send a card to everyone else in the first grade,” says the teacher. “Then nobody will be sad.” When Valentine’s Day arrives, everyone is happy—except for George, who somehow receives fewer valentines than everyone else. Through the encouragement and guidance of their teacher, Jim and his classmates find different ways to show George how much they care about him.

 

If valentines are distributed to classmates, as in Bee My Valentine, some teachers remind children they must bring enough for everyone. Doing otherwise easily results in hurt feelings (like George’s). Perhaps not all students want to bring valentines for everyone in the class. But some elementary teachers, like Eric Henry from Skokie, Illinois, counter this stance with discussions on fairness and inclusivity. Eric explains different scenarios to his students and asks how they would feel if they didn’t receive any valentines, or were given poorly made ones. Students are encouraged to see things from another point of view and empathize with one other.

 

Other elementary teachers integrate different activities, rather than ask students to exchange valentines. Jessica Boschen, for example, incorporates an activity focusing on self-love into her Valentine’s Day syllabus. Jessica notes that many children in her class “don’t hear words of affirmation on a daily basis nor do they come to school with a positive self-worth.” In her classroom activity, students are asked to reflect on three things: what they can do, who they are, and their different character traits. The students must then pick their favorite attribute and write it on a heart to be posted on the wall for everyone to see!

 

Parents can also use Valentine’s Day to celebrate kindness and generosity at home with their young children. Before Valentine’s Day arrives, parents and children can hold a valentine-making session together: construction paper, markers, glitter, and stickers are all part of the fun! Kids will have fun creating valentines with personal messages for friends and family members, and parents can use this time to talk about being considerate and compassionate to others. On Valentine’s Day, some parents begin the morning with a special breakfast before school, such as heart-shaped waffles and strawberries, and leave little notes of appreciation for their children to find throughout the day, either at home or in backpacks and lunchboxes. Other parents volunteer at retirement centers or pet shelters with their kids. During dinner, parents can initiate a conversation in which kids go around the table and name what they love and appreciate most about each person there.

 

While generosity, kindness, and inclusivity are all concepts that children can learn throughout the year, focusing on these ideas in celebration of Valentine’s Day will only make the holiday more meaningful. This February 14th, use the day as a teaching opportunity (and a time to eat chocolate)!

The Origins of Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the essential role of African Americans in United States history and commemorate African American achievement. It is important to take a moment to understand how and why Black History Month came to be.

 

Widely regarded as the “Father of Black History,” African American historian Carter G. Woodson made it his life’s mission to remedy the dearth of information about black historical achievements and black contributions in the making of the United States as we know it today. The son of former slaves, Woodson felt a proper education was vital in understanding and upholding the right to freedom, noting: “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” In 1912, Woodson graduated from Harvard University with a PhD in history, the second African American ever to obtain a doctorate from the school. (The first was W.E.B. Du Bois, who graduated in 1895.)

Carter G. Woodson

 

Given his academic focus, Woodson was acutely aware of both the distinct lack of attention given to black history and the potential consequences this could hold. Consequently, in September 1915, he joined forces with Jesse E. Mooreland, a prominent minister at the time, to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Today, this organization is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

 

In 1926, under Woodson’s guidance the ASNLH sponsored a national “Negro History Week” and chose the second week of February for the event, since the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14) are celebrated during this time. Woodson, together with the ASNLH, printed and distributed photographs, books, historical bibliographies, and other literature that suggested different ways to celebrate, such as parades featuring notable African American figures, banquets, speeches, poetry readings, and lectures.

 

The week then began to gather momentum. US cities and towns held various celebrations, founded history clubs, and hosted events, while teachers enthusiastically gathered relevant materials and dedicated coursework to the occasion. Soon, the Departments of Education for various states like Delaware, North Carolina, and Virginia partnered with the ASNLH to promote the event.

 

Over the next few decades, mayors throughout the country established proclamations that recognized “Negro History Week” every year. In 1969, African American professors and members of the Black United Students group at Kent State University proposed extending the week to an entire month, and, in 1970, students and faculty celebrated the first Black History Month. Other colleges and universities soon followed suit.

 

On the fiftieth anniversary, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling on American citizens to seize the “opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since this announcement, every US president has put forth proclamations that officially endorse the ASALH’s annual theme for Black History Month.

 

Since 1928, each of these weeks—and later, months—has been oriented around a specific theme in order to even further direct the attention of the public. Such themes have ranged from “Civilization: A World Achievement” to “African Background Outlined” to “African Art, Music, Literature: A Valuable Cultural Experience.” ASALH provides the full list of these themes for further exploration. This year, the theme for Black History Month is Black Migrations, which, as the ASALH describes, specifically highlights the “movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities.”

 

Today, Black History Month is celebrated throughout the United States in schools and communities through lesson plans and classroom activities, history clubs, lectures, performances, museum exhibitions, and so much more. Starting in 1987, other countries also began celebrating Black History Month: Canada in February, and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland in October. Be sure to research what events are being held in your area for Black History Month so you and your family can participate!

Make a Friend Day!

February 11th is National Make a Friend Day!

 

Good friendships play an important role in maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. In fact, some studies have shown that having close friends can positively impact your health, boost confidence, reduce stress levels, and even increase your chances of living longer!

 

Friends are key for everyone, but studies have found that friendships in young children may have even more of a mental and emotional impact since such relationships are highly influential in a child’s development. A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign determined that friendships made during a child’s preschool years can provide a valuable setting for developing communicative, emotional, and overall social skills. Even at such a young age, these friendships give children feelings of security and a sense of being part of a group. Additionally, similar to its effects on adults, having friends can lower children’s stress levels and thus increase overall health and happiness.

 

Dr. Paul Schwartz, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College and an expert in child behavior, further explains some of these crucial social skills learned in childhood friendships. Schwartz notes that friendships create an area for children to learn about differing viewpoints, as well as grow to understand the nuances and rules of conversation. Schwartz even speculates that a child’s experiences with good friendships could be a factor in positive school performance.

 

How can children demonstrate how to be good friends? In Friends at School by Rochelle Bunnett, which intertwines friendship and learning at a mixed-ability preschool, friends go to the park, eat snacks together, and tell stories. At the end of the day, all of the students put on their coats and wave goodbye to each other before going home.

 

For slightly older children, Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! by Miriam Cohen shows readers how they can notice when someone is lonely and begin a new friendship. When Alex, the new kid at school, gets in trouble for lying, everyone shuns him—except Jim, who decides Alex needs a friend.

 

 

Be Quiet, Marina! by Kirsten DeBear and Laura Dwight illustrates how children can be friends in light of differences and difficulties. Two girls—Marina, who has cerebral palsy, and Moira, who has Down syndrome—have a hard time playing together. However, the two soon learn to communicate their feelings, and are now the best of friends!

 

In Show Me How To Be A Friend, J.A. Barnes helps young children on the Autism spectrum understand how they can be good friends. The book opens with “What do I do to make a friend?” before displaying young children sharing toys, taking turns, and saying sorry when they hurt each other. Pictures throughout the book feature children hugging, laughing, and playing, to help the reader understand how to be a good friend.

 

Today, encourage your child to make a new friend!

One Act of Kindness

Compassion is one of the most important lessons a caregiver can teach children, but it can be a little tough with the world we live in. A survey conducted by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the beloved Sesame Street, shows that 70 percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers “often worry that the world is an unkind place for children.” Though the high marks are worrisome, the survey also provides hope for the direction in which caregivers aim to take the next generation: 81 percent of parents and 84 percent of teachers agree that “people need to be responsible for helping their own children and families and other people in society.”

 

As children grow and learn more about the world they inhabit, we hope they become compassionate and empathetic toward everyone, without the awful –isms and –phobias of society. Aside from making the world a better place, there are other reasons for kids to be kind—it is human nature. Research shows that humans are inherently good and have an instinct to be cooperative. This is great news for humanity, but sometimes children still need a little nudge in the right direction to fulfill this human need.

 

Raising children to become thoughtful and generous humanitarians may seem like a tall order. How can adults expect that from children when it is not always easy for adults themselves to be kind? It is, however, important to remember that being kind is a choice. As with other choice-based behaviors, kindness can be learned and internalized. Ages 4-7 is a critical learning period for children, so lessons on how to be kind should start as soon as possible and be consistently reinforced as they grow.

 

One way to demonstrate the importance of kindness is through modeling. According to Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, people internalize behaviors by observing others perform those same behaviors. In short, children often imitate adults. With this in mind, adults can model kind behaviors that align with the lessons they teach children; thus, children can internalize the information and perform the same behaviors themselves. Consistency between the lessons being taught and one’s own behavior will help a child understand how to truly be kind in practice.

 

Another way to encourage kind behavior in children is to volunteer for the community together. There are many ways to get involved! Sit down with children and discuss the impact of each option and which avenue to take. Some examples include volunteering at an animal shelter, starting a canned-food drive, or picking up trash at the beach. Even gathering clothes and items around the house and donating them to a charitable cause can have a huge impact on those who need it—and inspire children to continue doing good deeds from the kindness of their hearts.

 

It is important to remember that no act of kindness is too small. This lesson is apparent in A Circle of Friends, where one child’s generous act of sharing his snack with a homeless man sparks a chain reaction of caring. An action that may seem miniscule to one person can mean the world to another.

 

Being kind is not always easy, especially when one is told to do otherwise. In Hunter and His Dog, a hunter takes his new dog on a hunting trip. However, upon seeing injured birds, the dog feels compassion and takes them away from the hunter to heal. In going against the hunter’s orders and instead choosing to be kind and empathetic, the dog saves the birds’ lives.

 

During this season of giving, what acts of kindness can you take to help someone in need?

A Bird’s Eye View of the City

Sixty years ago, the peregrine falcon was on the verge of dying off in the United States. At the time, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was widely used as a pesticide for both agriculture and households, and it proved to be poisonous to many forms of wildlife, including fish, bald eagles, and falcons. DDT was especially harmful to apex predators because the chemicals accumulated internally as infected animals were eaten. DDT also caused falcon eggshells to thin, leading to higher rates of broken eggs.

 

It was not until biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson that these issues became known. Her book Silent Spring exposed the harmful side effects that pesticides such as DDT had on the environment. Although Carson’s findings were initially dismissed or criticized, John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee eventually investigated and confirmed the truth of her book, leading to policy changes.

 

With the ban of DDT  and the passing of the Endangered Species Act in the early ’70s, the peregrine falcon population finally had a chance to recover from years of decline. A captive breeding program was put into place to help boost the dwindling population. But another issue arose when it came time to release the fledgling falcons into the wild. Because they were not yet fully mature, the falcons were vulnerable to a number of predators, including owls and foxes. In order to survive, this was not a gamble the species could afford.

 

Then, researchers came up with a radical solution inspired by history. Falcons have been documented nesting in cathedrals and towers as far back as the Middle Ages. In hopes that an urban environment would present fewer threats to growing falcons, researchers garnered the support of government agencies, environmental groups, and the public to introduce the birds to their new homes. The captive birds were released on high-rise buildings in various cities across the US, particularly in regions where the falcon population was especially low. By the mid-1980s, the falcon population had slowly, but steadily, increased. Driven by this success, researchers continued releasing falcons into cities.

 

Eventually, high-rise buildings became homes for more than just captive bred falcons. Wild falcons were also able to adapt to changing landscapes and rapid urbanization by settling into cities. This adaptability is attributed to similarities in habitat. Falcons outside of cities often nest on cliff edges, a habitat well mimicked by tall structures like skyscrapers and bridges. Moreover, falcons mainly feed on medium-sized birds such as pigeons, which are abundant in urban areas.

 

As well as peregrine falcons have taken to urban areas, the unnatural environment does present threats and challenges not found in the wild. Falcons are not nest builders, preferring instead to dig a hole in which to lay eggs. Since this is not possible on a human-made structure, nesting boxes must be provided to keep eggs from rolling off buildings. Falcons are also particular about nest disturbances. Anything from helicopters to construction—and even nearby human activities—could prevent a successful nesting. Young falcons just spreading their wings also face the possibility of falling off structures without the updraft winds found at cliffs to help them learn to fly. The falcon population has an effect on humans as well. In some cities such as New York, which is home to about 40 falcons, they can interfere with construction projects due to their territorial nature.

 

Despite the challenges, peregrine falcons have made an astounding comeback and have even become a shining example of urban wildlife. Today, peregrine falcons are no longer endangered; they are now classified as a species of least concern. Their success story can hopefully serve as a model for the rescue efforts of other species on the brink of dying off.

 

Is your city home to peregrine falcons? In City Birds, two falcon hatchlings named Stars and Stripes call a skyscraper in Cleveland, Ohio, home. The humorous story follows the two young birds as they learn to navigate the real-life challenges of their big-city home.