B95 can feel it: a stirring in his bones and feathers. It's time. Today is the day he will once again cast himself into the air, spiral upward into the clouds, and bank into the wind.
He wears a black band on his lower right leg and an orange flag on his upper left, bearing the laser inscription B95. Scientists call him the Moonbird because, in the course of his astoundingly long lifetime, this gritty, four-ounce marathoner has flown the distance to the moonand halfway back!
B95 is a robin-sized shorebird, a red knot of the subspecies rufa. Each February he joins a flock that lifts off from Tierra del Fuego, headed for breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, nine thousand miles away. Late in the summer, he begins the return journey.
B95 can fly for days without eating or sleeping, but eventually he must descend to refuel and rest. However, recent changes at ancient refueling stations along his migratory circuitchanges caused mostly by human activityhave reduced the food available and made it harder for the birds to reach. And so, since 1995, when B95 was first captured and banded, the worldwide rufa population has collapsed by nearly 80 percent. Most perish somewhere along the great hemispheric circuit, but the Moonbird wings on. He has been seen as recently as November 2011, which makes him nearly twenty years old. Shaking their heads, scientists ask themselves: How can this one bird make it year after year when so many others fall?
National Book Award–winning author Phillip Hoose takes us around the hemisphere with the world's most celebrated shorebird, showing the obstacles rufa red knots face, introducing a worldwide team of scientists and conservationists trying to save them, and offering insights about what we can do to help shorebirds before it's too late. With inspiring prose, thorough research, and stirring images, Hoose explores the tragedy of extinction through the triumph of a single bird. Moonbird is one The Washington Post's Best Kids Books of 2012.
A Common Core Title.
About the Author
Phillip Hoose is the widely-acclaimed author of the National Book Award winner Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, which is also a Newbery Honor Book, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, a YALSA Finalist for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, among other honors. His other books include The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and We Were There, Too!, a National Book Award Finalist. Mr. Hoose lives in Portland, Maine.
Read an Excerpt
October 2009 through February 2010: Beaches near Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
To watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years ... is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.
— Rachel Carson
DECEMBER 8, 2009, RIO GRANDE, TIERRA DEL FUEGO, ARGENTINA
My laptop says I am 6,811 miles from home. I have just arrived at Rio Grande, a small city in Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago at the southern tip of South America. I'm here to join an international group of scientists in the wintering grounds of rufa red knots.
I have never been this far from home. The night before last I slept in the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, where tourist attractions include penguin watching, glacial hiking, catamaran trips to Antarctica, and the End of the World Museum. Small herds of llamalike guanacos looked up from patches of shrubs as our rental car rattled by. Condors soared high overhead on kitelike wings. Though I am sleep-deprived from twenty-four hours of flying and running to make tight airplane connections, I remind myself that I have traveled barely a third of the distance a red knot flies each year.
Even though it is December everywhere, it is not winter everywhere. Winter is a relative term for a bird that spends its year moving along an eighteen-thousand-mile circuit throughout the western hemisphere. Here, at the bottom of Argentina, it is austral (meaning southern) summer. Pale light bleeds around my window shade all night long, and by 6:00 a.m. the sun is glaring. A stubborn wind shakes the shrubs outside at all hours and rattles the tin sign out front.
TIERRA DEL FUEGO: LAND OF FIRE
Rufa red knots have chosen a famously remote place to pass the months October to February. Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago (group of islands) separated from mainland South America by a navigable channel called the Strait of Magellan, featuring bitter winds and treacherous currents. The biggest island, Isla Grande — partly in Chile and partly in Argentina — contains the only two major settlements, Rio Grande and Ushuaia, both in Argentina. In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan, seeking a passage to the spice islands of Asia, passed through the strait and saw fires set by indigenous peoples. He named the land Tierra del Fuego, or "Land of Fire."
In 1831, HMS Beagle, with the naturalist Charles Darwin aboard, made a closer study of the land, but the first European colonists did not settle on Tierra del Fuego until 1871. Indigenous peoples quickly died of diseases such as measles and smallpox, against which they had no immunity. Others were imprisoned. Today the main language is Spanish. Ushuaia has become a major tourist destination for adventurers, and is a jumping-off point for Antarctica, some six hundred miles to the south.
After breeding in the faraway Arctic, thousands of red knots — an estimated 60 percent of the entire rufa population — gather here, on the shores of this barren, windswept region, between the months of October and February. I have been invited to join a research team organized by Dr. Allan Baker, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto, and Patricia González, a noted Argentine shorebird biologist. Here in Tierra del Fuego, we will attempt a "catch," banding and studying knots on the Atlantic shoreline near the town of Rio Grande. Because the rufa red knot population has crashed so drastically in such a short time, scientists are keen to discover how many knots are here and what percentage of them are juveniles. They're hoping for a higher-than-normal percentage of young birds within a catch, as that would indicate a successful breeding season.
After breakfast, Allan and Patricia announce that we will attempt a catch this very morning. A large flock of knots has been spotted on a beach near the Naval Prefecture — a fortresslike building that functions as a coast guard station — a few miles away. With luck, we'll be able to briefly capture birds with a cannon-fired net, band those not already banded, and record measurements indicating their age, gender, weight, feather condition, bill length, and overall health before releasing them.
We pack up the net, cannons, and assorted instruments and drive to the target beach. The tenacious offshore wind tears at our clothing as we struggle to haul the red-mesh net onto the shore. I climb to a ridge of sand and shield my eyes to squint at the beach and the glittering sea beyond. The tide is halfway out now, but returning rapidly, channels filling with water. The exposed ocean floor is unlike anything I have ever seen. It looks like a pavement composed of flat, overlapping reddish-brown shelves that are pocked with thousands of holes still gleaming with water from the last high tide.
WHY DO RED KNOTS GO SO FAR?
"The lives of all wild creatures revolve around food," says Dr. Clive Minton, shorebird expert. "Knots go to the Arctic because there's an incredible volume of food there for a few short weeks. Also, there is enough space up there for each pair to have a separate breeding territory with enough food for their own chicks. And it is light nearly all the time, so they can see their food. It's worth it to risk the hazards of migration to gain that food resource. But they have to be out of there before winter returns in early August.
"Knots have learned to find food along the tidal shores of the world. After breeding, most return to places far south, like Tierra del Fuego. There they can find invertebrate shellfish and worms in the mudflats, and since it is summer there, they have plenty of daylight to see their prey.
"If you could ban birds from the southern hemisphere, there wouldn't be enough food to support them in the north. So they've learned to spread out. And by spreading out, they've maximized the world population of their species."
Experts say the lure of Tierra del Fuego to red knots — the reason they fly all this way — is the food locked within this seascape. The seafloor here is called restinga, formed when reddish dust swept seaward by the wind off the treeless plains is packed down into a hard pavement by the weight of the tides. Throughout the restinga shelves lie dense beds of mussels, whose young are known as spat. Their shells are not yet fully formed, making them soft enough for knots to digest. The spat are just strong enough to cling to the restinga as waves wash over them, but no match for the tug of a ravenous red knot's bill. Red knots work the pitted restinga shelves quickly during low tide, picking off spat with mechanical efficiency and also feeding on populations of worms and clams that peak here between November and January.
B95: CALIDRIS CANUTUS RUFA
In 1753 the Swedish biologist Carl von Linné, better known as Linnaeus, developed a system that gave every species of plant and animal in the world a unique sequence of Latin names. The framework had seven parts. A red knot belongs to the kingdom Animalia — the animal kingdom — and the phylum Chordata — meaning it has a spine with vertebrae. Like all birds, knots are of the class Aves. They belong to the order Charadriiformes — a large group of shorebirds with 16 families and 314 species — and to the family Scolopacidae, shorebirds with long legs and bills, and slender bodies. The genus is Calidris — sandpipers of the seashore and tundra. Linnaeus himself named the species canutus after the Danish king Canute, who was said to be so powerful that he could hold back the tides with a simple command.
There are six red knot subspecies, named rogersi, piersmai, canutus,roselaari, islandica, and rufa. B95 belongs to rufa — meaning "red." Scientists believe all six subspecies came from a single red knot species that lived near the North Pole until the earth's climate got so cold that they were forced to migrate southward to warmer places. Over thousands of years they sorted themselves into six different migratory routes, until they became permanently separated into subspecies. As of this writing, rufa is the only one of the six red knot subspecies with a population crashing toward extinction.
There's another reason that Tierra del Fuego Lures rufa knots: daylight is almost constant here at this time of year. Because there are more hours of daylight at this extreme southern latitude than, say, the typical twelve hours at the equator, birds have more time to see their prey. So in Tierra del Fuego food is often uncovered by seawater and in plain sight during two low tides instead of just one. Here, the birds not only have more food, but more time to find it.
One reason for the excitement the shorebird researchers and I feel, as we finally attach the long net to the rockets that will propel it, is the chance to meet the most famous shorebird in the world. The legendary B95 has been captured four times, always on the restinga of Rio Grande during austral summer. We can almost feel his presence. As we conceal ourselves in nearby beach grass and wait hopefully for the cannons' muffled roar, many of us wonder: Can B95 still be alive?
1995: THE BLACK BAND
B95 made his debut to science on February 20, 1995, within sight of where we are right now. That year, a Canadian research team, organized and led by Dr. Baker, flew to Tierra del Fuego to band red knots. Baker wondered why these birds would bother to fly so far each year and what their exact routes were. How had these pathways developed? Some of Dr. Baker's Toronto colleagues balked at traveling great distances to trap birds in the wild. They preferred instead to learn the old-fashioned way — by shooting birds when they came through Canada and then examining the dead creatures as specimens in a laboratory. Dr. Baker made it clear that he would have none of it. "I said to them, 'How can you talk about conservation biology when you are killing thousands of animals?'?"
Dr. Baker took to the field — unarmed. He devoted his energy to trapping knots briefly and marking individuals with lightweight, color-coded leg bands — and then releasing them. If researchers could band enough shorebirds and see them again and again atvarious places throughout their migratory circuit, the pathways and stopping places would become apparent. The more birds they could catch and band — and then release — the more data would pile up and the more clues they would have.
But red knots are very hard to catch. Knots aren't like ducks, which can be baited with bread crumbs or decoyed in. They are notoriously wary. They feed, sleep, and travel in cliquishly tight flocks. While feeding they post sentinels, birds that send the whole flock flashing away with one warning cry. Dr. Baker hoped to catch at least three hundred knots, but he didn't know how. To increase his chances, his team flew in the famed Dr. Clive Minton from Australia. Minton, a metals scientist by profession, had spent much of his life perfecting techniques to trap shorebirds. He pioneered the art of using cannons to shoot rockets attached to nets over the feeding flocks. After decades of experimentation, Dr. Minton had become the unquestioned world expert. If anyone could catch red knots, Clive Minton could.
Because the early-morning air was unusually warm, workers stripped to their shorts and T-shirts. At ten o'clock the incoming tide pushed a huge group of shorebirds squarely into target range. Dr. Minton fired off his tennis-court-size net, which whizzed through the air and came down upon a mammoth group of shorebirds, mostly red knots. It was a spectacular catch, much bigger than they had anticipated. Team members sprinted through the sand and plunged into the surf to gather up the front edge of the net and save the trapped birds from drowning.
It took two hours just to untangle all the birds, during which time the temperature steadily dropped. Local teenagers jumped in to help carry birds to cloth-covered cages where they would remain calm until they were measured, weighed, and released. By the third hour the researchers were shivering in wet clothes. A violent storm welled up, pelting everyone with hailstones that soon turned to snowflakes. Freezing workers struggled to move their stiff, numb fingers enough to band the birds, take measurements, and record data.
The Argentine navy sent two canvas-covered trucks out to the beach so that the scientists could climb in and finish their work. They labored for hours in a crouched position, their backs bent under the low roof. The team captured so many birds that they quickly ran out of colored bands. Improvising, they fired up a camp stove to heat thin strips of black plastic found in one of the trucks until the strips were pliable enough to bend into bands. Repeatedly scorching their fingers on the stove's flame, the researchers carefully wrapped the black strips around each bird's lower right leg and joined the end with a soldering iron. They also applied a yellow band to the lower left leg.
The bird we know as B95 was among 850 red knots caught that day. His now-iconic black band was applied to his lower right leg by a shivering worker with stiff fingers and an aching back. Of the hundreds of knots that received black bands in the trucks that day, he is the lone survivor that scientists can identify. Records show that this knot had adult plumage even then, which means he had to have been at least three years old in 1995, and could have been older.
The process of exchanging used and worn flight feathers for new feathers is called molt. A knot's feathers are replaced in a regular sequence. Primary feathers — the long feathers on the outside portion of the wing — are replaced feather by feather from the inside out. Secondary feathers — those closer to the body — are replaced from the outside in. The feathers die and regrow in a careful order, so that the bird always has enough feathers to fly. It takes about sixty days for a knot to replace its primary feathers. Flight feathers are renewed once a year and body feathers twice, first in autumn to produce the gray winter plumage, and again in spring to create a bright red breeding plumage.
2001: AN IDENTITY
Six years later, on November 17, 2001, one of the black-banded birds from 1995 was snared in a cannon net catch, just miles from where he was originally caught. Both bands were still on his legs. Patricia González added a new flag to his upper left leg, bearing the inscription B95. "On that day we used laser-inscribed flags for the first time," recalls González. "We inscribed one letter and two numbers on each band to give each individual bird a distinct identity. The figures were big and clear and easy to read through a spotting scope. We used up all one hundred of the bands in series A and we still had more birds to band, so we started the B series. This bird got a flag reading B95. The 95 doesn't represent the year he was caught. We just happened to be at that number when we banded him. It's a coincidence that '95 was the year when he was first captured."
2003: A SURVIVOR
Now he was — and always would be — B95. And when he turned up again at Tierra del Fuego in 2003 it was clear he was more than just an extraordinary pilot who could find his way back year after year. He was a survivor, for the entire rufa subspecies of red knots was plunging toward extinction. Researchers in the United States, Chile, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina were all reporting significantly fewer knots. Some estimates indicated that half of all adult birds had died in just two years, between 2000 and 2002. Yet in 2003, B95, at least eleven years old, was still completing marathon migratory flights. Something about this bird was exceptional; he seemed to possess some extraordinary combination of physical toughness, navigational skill, judgment, and luck.
Excerpted from "Moonbird"
Copyright © 2012 Phillip Hoose.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Superbird,
Profile: Clive Minton,
Chapter Two: The Flight Machine,
Profile: Patricia González,
Chapter Three: Showdown at Delaware Bay,
Profile: Brian Harrington,
Chapter Four: Twinkling and Trapping,
Chapter Five: The Arctic Breeding Grounds,
Profile: Amanda Dey,
Chapter Six: Mingan: The Bellwether Site,
Profile: Guy Morrison and Ken Ross,
Chapter Seven: Southbound: Closing the Circuit,
Chapter Eight: Extinction Is Forever,
Profile: Mike Hudson,
Appendix: What You Can Do,
Also By Phillip Hoose,
Reading Group Guide
B95 can feel it: a stirring in his bones and feathers. It's time. Today is the day he will once again cast himself into the air, spiral upward into the clouds, and bank into the wind. He wears a black band on his lower right leg and an orange flag on his upper left, bearing the laser inscription B95. Scientists call him the Moonbird because, in the course of his astoundingly long lifetime, this gritty, four-ounce marathoner has flown the distance to the moonand halfway back! B95 is a robin-sized shorebird, a red knot of the subspecies rufa. He can fly for days without eating or sleeping, but eventually he must descend to refuel and rest. However, recent changes at ancient refueling stations along his migratory circuitcaused mostly by human activityhave reduced the food available and made it harder for the birds to reach. Since 1995, the worldwide rufa population has collapsed by nearly 80 percent. Most perish somewhere along the great hemispheric circuit, but the Moonbird wings on. He has been seen as recently as November 2011, which makes him nearly twenty years old. Shaking their heads, scientists ask themselves: How can this one bird make it year after year when so many others fall?
National Book Award–winning author Phillip Hoose takes us around the hemisphere with the world's most celebrated shorebird, showing the obstacles rufa red knots face, introducing a worldwide team of scientists and conservationists trying to save them, and offering insights about what we can do to help shorebirds before it's too late. With inspiring prose, thorough research, and stirring images, Hoose explores the tragedy of extinction through the triumph of a single bird.
This guide was created in alignment with the Common Core State Standards. Questions and activities develop skills outlined in Reading Standards for Informational Text and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Writing, and Speaking and Listening. In an effort to support educators, reference is made to specific anchor standards where appropriate.
Music/Speaking: Research songs from different genres written about the environment, including Phillip Hoose's "The Delaware Bay Blues". Divide the class into groups. Each group analyzes its song's lyrics and techniques and prepares for and holds a class debate to argue which song is most effective in sending its message about the environment. R.1, R.4, R9, W.1, W.7, SL.1, SL.4, L.1, L.3, L.5
Writing: Read the Smithsonian Magazine article "Return of the Sandpiper" by Abigail Tucker (Oct. 2009) and the New York Times article "Casualties of Toronto's Urban Skies" by Ian Austen (Oct. 2012). Watch videos from People for the ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Research how various media influence their audience. Compare and contrast these techniques with those used in MOONBIRD. Using supporting evidence, write a persuasive essay arguing which techniques are the most effective and why. R.1, R.2, R.4, R.5, R.6, R.7, R.9, R.10, W.1, W.4, W.5, W.7, SL.2, SL.3, L.1, L.2, L.5
Multimedia: Research public service announcements, videos, films, podcasts, and other media whose message it is to protect the environment. Analyze how they create their message. Divide the class into groups. Each group chooses an environmental issue and creates a multimedia presentation using similar techniques/strategies. The class debates and votes on the most affecting and effective message and shares with appropriate local officials to try to make change in environmental policies. R.3, R.4, R.6, R.7, R.8, R.9, W.1, W.6, W.7, W.10, SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, SL.4, SL.5, SL.6, L.1, L.3, L.5, L.6
Art/Photography: Teacher creates Gallery Walk in the classroom. Hang conservation photographs around the room with poster paper below each. Include photographs from MOONBIRD. Students walk around the room in groups, discuss what methods the photographer uses to move his/her audience and to convey his/her message, and jot notes onto the poster paper. After 3 minutes, the groups continue on to the next photograph and repeat. As a whole class, discuss what messages are conveyed through the photographs, and how they are most effectively communicated. R.7, SL.1, SL.6, L.1
Writing: How does Hoose make his readers care so much about B95 and the red rufas? Analyze the choices Hoose makes in his nonfiction book to open up our hearts. Find "bird-loving pen pals" at http://www.fws.gov/sssp and explain in your letter to them 3 ways Hoose most affected you with his writing and his choices. Be sure to use specific examples. (Consider personification of B95, structure of the book, inspirational quotations opening each chapter, profiles of researchers so we get to know them as real people, photography, addressing of opposing views, connection of nature to human needs, stories about how young people can get involved, etc.) Ask your pen pals what they liked about Hoose's book and look forward to them writing back! R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.5, R.6, W.2, W.4, W.5, W.9, W.10, L.1, L.2, L.3, L.5
Science/Social Advocacy: Set up a banding expedition…in your own classroom! Research the steps, tools and latest inventions used to create a successful expedition. Classroom groups may include the scientists who measure and weigh the birds, the cannon net team, volunteers who help band and transport birds, etc. Record your "findings". Volunteer for a real banding expedition and as a class write an op-ed piece to your school or town's newspaper highlighting knowledge learned and persuading your peers to get involved. R.10, W.1, W.2, W.4, W.5, W.7, W.10, SL.1, SL.6, L.1, L.2, L.6
Art/History/Science: Create an informational packet on the red rufas' migratory circuit. Divide the class into groups. Each group researches a different stop along the circuit and creates a visual representation that informs the reader about that location's geography, climate, environmental policies, history, local industries, pollution levels, etc. and how these all play a part in the success of the red rufas. Also include information about your local birds! Look out your window: how are they different from each other and from the red rufas? What are their behaviors? Each group presents to the rest of the class. Combine each group's work to create an informational packet. Mail the packet to another school to help them learn more about the red rufas' remarkable journey and your local winged friends. R.1, R.10, W.2, W.7, W.9, SL.1, SL.4, SL.6, L.1, L.6
History/Writing: What does success look like? Choose an historical figure that you view as "successful". In an essay, explain your definition of "success" and compare and contrast B95's qualities that led to his success with those of this person's from history. Use significant supporting evidence to make your argument. R.1, R.2, R.3, R.10, W.1, W.2, W.4, W.5, W.7, W.8, W.9, W.10, L.1, L.2
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Since this is an audio recording of a published children's book I feel like it's age appropriate by default. The author, Phillip Hoose, gives a word-for-word reading and starts off by talking about B95 in the present tense and his awe-inspiring migration. To put things into perspective, he takes the time to explain about the Red Knot bird species as a whole and its current plight. He also delves back in time to speculate on B95's early years based on current knowledge of Red Knots and their known habitats and migration paths. Despite B95's renown, he is described as hard to capture for research and scientific purposes, although he has faithfully returned to the same locations or nearby places along his known migration route. The story focuses on this elusiveness. What makes this story more compelling is that Hoose participated in shorebird banding and is personally invested in B95's story. Other highlights include interviews of people involved in conservation efforts and who have personally heard of B95's story. Chapter 9--the appendix--is especially helpful for children who feel compelled to help shorebirds, including Red Knots, in any way they can. The only real issue I had was the lack of pictures/CD covers to go with the chapters since I added this to my music player. Overall, I would recommend this book to families with children or, specifically, parents looking for a way to help instill an environmental ethic and stewardship values in their children. The length of the book is good in terms of details and overall content.