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Cave Swallows by Emily and Isabel

We're Isabel and Emily and we're spelunkers! That means we like exploring caves. We went to Carlsbad Caverns to help with an ongoing cave swallow study. But first, we stopped by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science to check out what animals lived in our state during different times in history. They even have a simulated cave from the Ice Age. There were plenty of interesting dinosaurs here, too, including some predecessors to birds! All of them are extinct now, of course. But that got us thinking: How are the cave swallows in Carlsbad Caverns doing?

What did we do?
Carlsbad Caverns is made up of over 100 caves, including the largest cave chamber in the United States! We met up with Steve, a local high school teacher who has been helping run the cave swallow monitoring program for 25 years now. He recruits students like us to help. Our job for the day took a little training. We helped trap swallows in a net as they flew out of a cavern. Then we weighed and measured the length of each bird. We collected data in three main categories of birds: those less than one year old, adults, and re-traps-that is birds that were already banded from a previous catch. Before we released the birds, we banded them all, so researchers could track the growth of individual birds when they catch them in the future.

What did we find out?
The birds in Carlsbad Caverns are doing pretty well. Although they aren't a native species to the area, and have only been here the past 40 years or so, their population continues to grow. They seem to like it at Carlsbad Caverns!

What can you do?
  • Observe how chemistry affects the way caves form. Find some large pieces of sidewalk chalk, and get some vinegar from the kitchen. Work outside where there's plenty of fresh air, and wear rubber gloves and goggles. Take a cotton swab, dip it in the vinegar, then touch it to one spot on the chalk. Repeat as necessary, until the vinegar slowly begins to eat away at the chalk. See if you can make a hole form right through the chalk piece this way.
  • Learn how to be a good "birder", or, birdwatcher. Do a web search on "birding" or "birder", and find a birding club in your area. Otherwise, simply get your own binoculars, and head outdoors to watch bird behaviors. Record the things you see the birds doing in a notebook.
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