Friday 28 August 2009

Baby bird communication (II)

This is Piolín:

(Piolín is pronounced [piɔˈli:n], and it is the Spanish name of Tweety)

My niece found Piolín in June, saving him (or her... I have here the same problem I had with Patxi) from certain death, as he fell from his nest on a very hot day (under the Sun it must have been around 40ºC), lying on one side of a road. You can see a small wound on his back, probably caused by the fall.

As I discovered later, after some research, and despite his aspect, Piolín was not an ET, but a baby sparrow. When we found him he was one to three days old. He could not be quite older than that, because he had not even opened his eyes yet.

We started feeding him with some water and wet bread, and, as this video shows, he was hungry:

I observed that Piolín, as every baby, used to sleep or rest a lot when there was no activity around. But when he felt my presence, he always opened his big mouth, asking for food. He was striving for life, and did not give up at all. Bird parents must be very hard workers, as these babies request a huge amount of food! But when Piolín's tummy was full, our friend simply started resting again.

There was a difference between resting alone and resting with mum: when he felt I was near, he used to tweet. When he felt he was alone, he used to keep quiet. Probably this is so, because he has to tell his parents in some way he is alive and OK. Otherwise, the parents could think he died, and so they would start worrying about the other babies.

But if you are a baby bird, and you are alone, you will get more chances to survive if you keep quiet, or otherwise you could be discovered by an undesired predator.

The experiment

Well, that was what I thought, but... was it really so? Or was just my imagination? After all this is a blog about experiments, no matter how simple they are. And every experiment needs an idea to check, predictions (we just guess something from our idea), measurements (to check if they fit what we predicted) and conclusions.

So, the idea to check here is:

A baby sparrow will tweet more often if he feels his parents' presence

The prediction is simple: if I touch Piolín, he will tweet more times per minute than if I don't. So, I started counting how many tweets he did per minute. In the next video you can see a sample:

Even if I was covering him with my hand, I was not pressing at all. I was just touching him.

And here are the measurements:

  • On my hand (covering him) > 38, 42 and 54 tweets per minute in three different moments

  • On my open hand (not covering him) > 18 tweets per minute

  • Touching him directly, while being in his nest > 65 tweets per minute

  • Touching him through some cotton in his nest > 63 tweets per minute

  • In his nest, not touching him > 0 tweets per minute

  • In his nest, not touching him, but with my hand near him (so he could perhaps feel my warmth) > 0 tweets per minute

  • In his nest, covered with cotton, but not touching him > 0 tweets per minute

  • In his nest, covered with cotton, two minutes after being touched by me > 26 tweets per minute

Every measurement has been made leaving enough time in between, so each time I started from "zero tweets per minute". This is important, as we will see soon that Piolín kept tweeting for a few minutes each time he had been touched.

And the conclusion: it is obvious that there is a big difference in his message if he feels the mild pressure of my fingers/hand than otherwise. By tweeting, he is trying to express something to his parents, probably just to let them know he is OK.

As I said, Piolín used to keep tweeting for a while after he was left alone (about two or three minutes). Here you can see him alone in the nest we made for him, a few minutes after the previous video (where he was in my hand):

What about Piolín?

Very unfortunately, this story has a very sad ending. He did not make it. The day later, while we thought he was sleeping, he started choking on his own vomit, and when we arrived it was too late. Everything happened in just five minutes. We felt really unhappy about this, but at least we gave him a chance and it has been a very enriching experience for us (even if it has been really exhausting, as they need to be fed every 20-45 minutes).

Piolín sleeping

However, if you ever find a baby sparrow, don't be discouraged, as you have many chances to help him become an adult, healthy sparrow. If you are in this situation, you can check these videos:

Video about a baby sparrow, with happy ending
Video about how to feed a baby sparrow
Video about how to make home made baby bird food
Eight baby sparrows asking for food!

Friday 21 August 2009

Baby bird communication (I)

Last month my sister brought a baby duck to my mother. Its name is Patxi (pronounced [patʃi]), and apparently what he (or she, but I will say he until we know what he/she is) loves most in this world is... tomatoes.

He probably thinks he is a human, as he has always been among humans. So, when there are no humans around he starts feeling scared of this dangerous world, and asks for help. In his language "help me, I am alone!" is translated into a siren-like shrill sound, while "I am OK and happy with you" is a normal ducky chirp.

This gave the idea to check for this experiment:

If a baby duck (grown up among humans) is left alone, he starts making a siren-like shrill sound to ask for help

Apparently this is quite simple. As any experiment should have at least some objective measurements, I timed the siren-like sound.

You can see the result in the following video.

I don't mention timing in the video, but you can see easily with a stopwatch that Patxi used his siren-like sound for about 24 seconds in four sessions.

Then I found something interesting: there is an exception to this. When Patxi is home, he does not feel scared of being alone (for him home means the plastic blue box). Even if I leave, he just calls mummy for a few seconds (about six seconds) and then he stops and continues doing whatever he was doing before (usually just chirping, pecking at things or... ehm... leaving his droppings around). Everything is explained in the second video:

As I show at the end of the video, funnily enough both places are in close proximity to each other.

So, by way of conclusion, we can make the following diagram:

I repeated the experiment several times, and many times there was not even "panic interval" when I left Patxi alone at home.

There is another experiment about baby bird communication I made. But that will be for the next entry.

Friday 1 May 2009

Eating uncooked lentils (postanalysis considerations)

If you think the previous experiment about eating uncooked lentils lacks of an essential condition every real experiment (either important or unsignificant) should have... In all likelihood you are right!

Everybody who agrees with the previous statement is invited to leave a comment in this entry telling us what was wrong in that experiment and why should it be indisputably repeated to be accepted by the very thorough referees of this blog (oh, yes, did you think anybody can write here? This blog is so tough that only experiments done by the referee himself are accepted!).

Thursday 23 April 2009

Eating uncooked lentils

I made an interesting experiment last year, but I never spoke about it. There is a lot of people who enjoy eating sprouts of different seeds. I was used to see in the local store soya bean sprouts and I sometimes ate them.

OK, but eating once more soya bean sprouts wouldn't be quite an interesnting experiment. I needed something different. So, let us try lentil sprouts. Huh? Am I forgetting something? Oh, yes... the hypothesis! A real experiment is just a way to check a first idea. Otherwise it is... OK, simply, it is something else. So here is the initial idea:

Lentils are edible without cooking.

Yes, lentils are rather hard if you don't prepare them. No good for teeth, for sure. So, I thought first I needed several days to grow them.

I remember I saw a friend who was growing sprouts: he used some kind of sieve in some kind of tupperware with water. This way the seeds kept the humidity and had space to grow at the same time.

I couldn't find something similar, but I had an idea: I could just use a clean towel on a pan. For some stupid reason I thought this was a wonderful idea. Don't do it, I will tell you later why...

Here is the set-up:

This was the aspect the lentils had on Day 0 (which was 3rd August 2008, at 9 pm):

Day 0; 9 pm

OK, nothing surprising for the moment. Everybody has seen raw lentils. On Day 1 I didn't take photos, so we will skip this, and we go straight to Day 2 (5th August):

Day 2; 5 pm

Here you can see the first white roots. They are alive! Nothing surprising: if 99.99% of the population has ever seen a raw lentil, probably 99.9% has already seen a growing lentil (leave a comment if I am wrong). On Day 3 (6th August) the experiment proceeded well:

Day 3; 5 pm

I remember I tried one of the lentils, and it was quite hard. Not edible yet. I was surprised, I thought it would take less time. "Give it another day" I thought. And this way we get into Day 4 (yeah, 7th August...)

Day 4; 5 pm

We can see on Day 4, for the first time, that most of the seeds have green tiny leaves. Photosynthesis is on! But seeds are still very hard. Hm... Am I going to need to cook this after all? So I left them there one more day.

This was what I got on Day 5 (8th August, just in case you lost count):

Day 5; 6 pm

At this point the plants were about ten times longer than the original seed diameter. You can check this wiht the first image of this post, as it has been taken on Day 5. Seeds were much softer. Here is what I got on Day 6 (ehm... 9th August):

Day 6; lunchtime

A wonderful lentil salad! I added some onions, tomatoes, parsley and dressed them with olive oil and salt. Probably pepper as well.

My impression: lentils are perfectly edible even when you don't cook them, but you will need around six days to be able to enjoy them. They have a strange texture in the mouth, I don't know how to explain it. It is as if they were kind of grainy when you chew them. But I think I could perfectly get used to this. And in some ways I think lentil salads are much better than lettuce salads.

Now... you remember when I said it was a stupid idea using a towel for this experiment? OK, here is why: I didn't know the roots of the plants were going to root so deep into the towel. They were amazingly strong! It was impossible to remove them completely, so some roots stayed in the towel. Additionally, the pan I used, after almost one week in contact with a humid towel, started to go rusty! This way, the towel blackened.

One less towel...

So if you want to reproduce this experiment... use a different system!

After this experiment I read a bit about lentil sprouts, and I discovered some wonderful properties they have. For example, they have a 25% of protein, lots of vitamins and three times more fibre than cooked (as they produce fibre while growing). Maybe I should restart growing them.

Enjoy your meal!

Wednesday 18 February 2009

The International Space Station with the naked eye

Some years ago, translating into Spanish the book Out of the Blue, by John Naylor, I learned it was possible seeing artificial satellites (see section 13.3 of the book). Well, actually I didn't learn it, I just believed in what the author said. It's funny, but the author was encouraging us all the time to be less bookish and try to learn things through our own experience, but I didn't try this.

I remembered this last month. I found in (here to be precise) two guys who said they had seen the International Space Station (presumably with the naked eye). In fact, the ISS is big enough to be easily observable with the naked eye, and apparently it can be seen with no problems from most of the places of the world (excluding paces above 63º N or below 63º S).

So I had probably the most essential ingredient an experiment needs: an idea to test. This idea was:

I can see the International Space Station with the naked eye.

For this experiment I used two tools:

  • the website (a website with loads of information about when and where you can see the ISS, including the path of it across the sky or the apparent magnitude of it).

  • the alarm of my mobile phone.

I had some chances to see the ISS after sunset in late January, but some days I left work late, or I forgot about it, and other days it was cloudy or rainy. So I missed this period.

Recently it started being observable again before dawn (according to the mentioned website). I saw that 18th February was promising, as the ISS was going to have an apparent magnitude of -2.3, making it brighter than any other star in the sky (and even brighter than Saturn and Mercury, which were in the sky at that time). According to, from El Goloso (I put El Goloso as my place, which is near, as Tres Cantos was not in their database of places) it could be seen from 7:08:37 (time at which the ISS was going to leave Earth's shadow) to 7:16:20 (time at which it would disappear behind the horizon).

I set the mobile alarm for 6:58, and when I got up, I saw the sky was clear, as I could see stars very well. I checked which window was providing a better sight. Apparently it was going to pass near Vega, and then through Cygnus, which were easily identifiable from my bedroom window even with the city light pollution. So I calculated I would see it from my window at 7:12.

Funnily enough, exactly at that time, a little bit under Cygnus, I saw a bright double light crossing the sky. But... wait! It had a double trail! I didn't think the ISS would leave any trails at all, as it is outside the atmosphere and it is not burning so much fuel. I was puzzled for a few seconds. After that I checked the sky near Vega, and I saw the real ISS (so the other object was with no doubt an aircraft).

It crossed the sky following exactly the path the website told me. I used also binoculars, and this is a drawing of what I saw more or less:

It moved at a constant pace, through Cygnus. After that, it continued to the horizon, quickly losing brightness and becoming smaller and smaller. At 7:16 it hid behind some buildings.

It has been a great experience!