The Making of a Program

I’ve always said that I love having one foot in the world of scientific research and another in education and outreach. I’ve done a bit of the education part before, but it mostly revolved around answering interesting questions. This week, I took it a step further in designing and giving my own interpretive program.

Rufous Hummingbird (used in program with permission)

My problem when it comes to talking about science to the public is that I never consider the “why” – as in, “Why is it important? Why do we care?” For me, that’s never a question I think of because science is just inherently cool to me. I always need to be reminded not to give information for information’s sake. In this talk, the “why” became the connection of hummingbirds as a keystone species. For anyone who’s not science-oriented, a keystone species is one whose presence and role has far-reaching effects on the ecosystem as a whole. Because hummingbirds are such important pollinators, any change in their numbers or behavior could potentially affect far more than just their own populations. If the birds are declining or changing what flowers they rely on, what might that do to the wildflower populations? And what might THAT do to animals that eat or otherwise rely on those flowers?

Pollen sample

I chose to make my talk very visual, including seven pictures. These were the four species of hummingbird found at Capulin, a photo of a hummingbird-pollinated flower, and two images of what a pollen sample looks like under a microscope. I also brought a penny to demonstrate the weight of a Calliope Hummingbird, and several sample bands to show their tiny size. After running my talk by two different coworkers before finally seeking (and getting) the approval of our top interpretation staff member, the program was ready to run in front of visitors. And it went really well!  I only spoke to a small crowd, but they were very enthusiastic. I found that my “cool facts” (hummingbirds are the fastest animals on the planet relative to body size; the display of a Broad-tailed male creates g-forces greater than that encountered by any fighter pilot, etc.) went over especially well. I was also very happy with how many questions they had! They were really amazed and engaged and wanted to know more, and the questions showed they had been interested in my talk. l got a lot of compliments on the program from some of my coworkers who had been watching, and I’ll likely be giving it a few times next week…which is my last week! Things have been winding down fast, but I’m happy I had the opportunity to design a program before heading out.

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