HEBRON — For years Lydia Eusden’s students at Hebron Station School have observed birds feeding through the windows of her class room. The feeders provide both entertainment and calmness.

Students also utilize the feeders for various studies as part of Cornell University’s Project Feederwatch, dutifully recording behaviors, populations and other trends. Project Feederwatch is a winter-long seasonal survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America during the winter

While looking for a class project last winter, fifth grade student Cameron Pulkkinen decided to tap the seven years of data Eusden had maintained of students observing black capped chickadees at the bird feeder. He analyzed their findings and wrote a report summarizing it. With Eusden’s guidance, Pulkkinen completed the project and she submitted it to Cornell University’s annual student magazine Bird Sleuth Investigators.

Pulkinnen wrapped up his fifth grade studies and when he returned to school this fall he asked Eusden if she had heard what happened to his project. She had received no word. No word, that is until the end of October. Then Eusden learned that not only was Cornell going to publish Pulkkinen’s research and essay, they had selected his submission to receive a national challenge award.

“The publisher of Bird Sleuth Investigators wrote me that there were several applications and that it was a very competitive year for students to get published in the 2019 edition,” announced Eusden at Hebron Station School’s End of Trimester Assembly on Friday. “One of our students not only was published in the 2019 issue of ‘Investigators’ but also received a national challenge award for his written work. Congratulations Cameron Pulkkinen.”

From left, Hebron Station School teacher Lydia Eusden, principal D.J. Barnes, student/writer Cameron Pulkkinen. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

With the magazine not quite on press, Eusden presented Pulkkinen with a framed copy of his essay and displayed a photo copy of the cover to the school.

Pulkkinen was very surprised to receive such an honor. And while his written work was considered top quality by Cornell’s panel of judges, his chickadee project came about almost by chance.

“Originally I was with a group that wanted to see if pictures affected a group of birds,” Pulkkinen said. “But that wasn’t that interesting to me so I left the group to think of my own topic. Mrs. E. suggested I check out the black capped chickadees so I got into that project.

“It took me about six months, on and off, to do. I had to figure out a graph that I wasn’t happy with so Mr. Thorne helped me with it. I gathered all my notes from the Feederwatch data. And I had to think what to write about, too.”

Pulkkinen looked for patterns that were happening around the feeder, comparing them to what had been recorded starting in 2011. Each year had three months of observational data. Pulkkinen compared the population trends Hebron students had logged with observed chickadee data from other places. He researched climate information as well.

“I wrote drafts and gave them to Mrs. E. to see what I could fix and revise. I went through that process like four times,” said Pulkkinen.

“To work through this project, Cameron had to apply himself like a real scientist,” said Eusden. “We would review his progress and see that the written work and the data were still not quite right. He persevered with a real world scientific investigation, using years of student-collected data. He used accurate evidence to support his claims.”

“I found two different hypothesis to support the declining population,” said Pulkkinen. “One was that chickadees take seeds and other foods and hide them to eat later. They use different spots. The chickadees can remember thousands of places. Maybe they hide enough for up to a couple years so they don’t have to always go to the feeders for food. Another hypothesis is that maybe they have found a better food source and have migrated away.”

“The educational impact for Cameron was taking his strengths of both mathematical thinking and informational writing to a higher level,” said Eusden. “His submission took several weeks of revisions and edits. He learned that this is where the bulk of the writing process takes place. Also, he learned how to create a graph in Google docs which was the most challenging activity for him.”

The combination of writing and research is one that Pulkkinen enjoys.

“I like to do informational writing and to research,” he said. “I don’t like writing narratives so much. Researching is more interesting, learning about something new.”

In addition to his scientific pursuits, Pulkkinen juggles playing sports on both travel and booster teams. His list of favorite sports is long: basketball, baseball, soccer and football. He plans to attend college in the future but for now looks forward to starting seventh grade next fall at Oxford Hills Middle School.


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