Camp What-a-Wonder™ Expert - Zach Slavin

Jul 26, 2012

Fines Family

Greetings Wonder Friends!

This week we've been celebrating the WONDERful world of Creepy Crawling Critters at Wonderopolis Camp What-a-Wonder.  We've had some bug-filled adventures keeping us busy.

We also have the pleasure of having Zach Slavin as our EXPERT during this weeks camp. Zach was a guest contributor for Wonderopolis Wonder of the Day® #652 - Where Do Bugs Sleep?You'll have a chance to meet him tomorrow evening, Thursday July 19th during our online twitter chat from 7-8PM EST. Follow the hashtag #wonderchat.

I was fascinated by his work with the National Audobon Society Together Green Initiative and what led him to become so passionate about wildlife conservation. I contacted Zach to ask him a few questions. You'll find his responses below.

You can find out more about Zach at as well as the following social media handles and websites.

I'd like to thank Zach in advance for joining us this week. We really appreciate you and your work in the field!

What is the National Audobon Society and what kind of work do you do with them?

The National Audubon Society is an organization that works to protect birds, other wildlife, and their habitats. Birds are a great focus for a conservation organization because not only are they charismatic and beautiful, but their migration and broad range of habitats means that almost the entire world is habitat for one species or another.  

I work with our Education & Centers department, supporting our network of Audubon Centers across the country and helping to run our national education programs including Audubon Adventures and the Great Backyard Bird Count.  I also work with TogetherGreen, an initiative to conserve habitat, energy and water through grants and a fellowship program which is funded by Toyota.

How did you become interested in the field you are in now?

I grew up in a relatively rural part of Connecticut where I spent most of the spring, summer, and fall outdoors, and the majority of the winter watching birds (and squirrels, raccoons, and opossums) visiting our bird feeder. The more I learned about animals and the environment, the more I wanted to make sure that they were protected, both for their own sake, and for future generations to enjoy. What is your specialty?

I hesitate to call it a specialty, as I am learning new things almost every day, but I have had the pleasure of answering all kinds of bird questions from around the country in my time with Audubon. As a result I have learned to identify many of the 900+ bird species that are found in the US, and have learned a lot about their behavior, habitat needs, and their role in the ecosystem.

What are some of your favorite facts about birds that you love to share?

One of the most incredible bird migration stories is that of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, by far the most common hummingbird in eastern North America. This tiny bird is only about 3 inches long and weighs only 2-3 grams (about the weight of a penny), and in order to get from their wintering grounds in Central America to their summer breeding grounds throughout the eastern US and Canada it must make a grueling non-stop flight of 400-500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico – all without a single stop. In order to have enough energy to complete this arduous 20-hour flight, many individuals will more than double their weight to about 5-6 grams by gorging on insects and nectar in the weeks before.

What do you know about bugs and their relationships with birds?

The lives of birds and insects are very closely linked. Many birds eat almost exclusively insects, and with an estimated 5 billion breeding birds in North America alone, that adds up to a lot of insects! An estimate from the early 1900’s put the value of pest control done by birds at over $400 million.

The story of their interactions go beyond just predator and prey – here are a few examples:

  • ·Many birds practice a behavior known as anting, where they rub ants on their feathers, getting the ants to release their chemical defenses on their feathers which helps keep them clean and free of parasites.
  • In Central and South America there is an entire family of birds called Antbirds. About eighteen species of Antbirds specialize in following huge groups of army ants, picking off the many insects that come out of hiding to get out of the army ants’ way.
Here is a great fact sheet from the Smithsonian about How Birds Keep our World Safe from Plagues of Insects

Do all birds eat insects/bugs?

Not all birds eat insects, in fact, birds as a group have incredibly varied diets. Some families such as warblers, woodpeckers, thrushes, flycatchers and wrens eat mostly insects, and most birds will eat insects if they are available. Other birds eat mostly seeds, fruit, or other animals, and some even specialize in eating other birds. Do you have a favorite bug/crawling insect?

      In terms of the true bugs, I would have to say that treehoppers are my favorite – I love their           unusual shapes and colors. Cicadas are a close second, and would probably be my favorite         if they would be just a little bit quieter on those hot summer nights…


Latest Posts from Our Lead Ambassadors:

Susan Hellard Sep 24, 2017

Overnight Environmental Camp: Take it or leave it?

We just returned from our biggest field trip of the year. Our 5th grade overnight environmental 4H trip. This trip never seems to go as planned, I ...

Renee Cunningham Mar 17, 2016

Power in the Partnership

Do you have a work BFF? That person that you can say anything to, bounce ideas off of, even share workplace gossip (it happens everywhere). Beyond ...

Delsia Malone Mar 7, 2016

A Dream Come True!

Hi everyone! I am very pleased to officially join Wonderopolis as a Wonder Lead Ambassador. As I discussed this first blog post with my husband and ...