The Life with Dead Birds blog describes itself thus: A Bird Division rookie at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology tells of amazing science, weird collection objects, and why she’s constantly picking up dead things.
That self-described rookie is Kaitie Janecke, a recent undergraduate alumnus who majored in ecology and evolutionary biology with a minor in environment through the Program in the Environment. She is working as a research assistant in the Bird Division at the UMMZ this summer with Janet Hinshaw, collection manager, where Janecke said, “basically, I move a lot of dead stuff.”
Janecke has been adding data into the online specimen database and finding missing specimens. “Currently, I'm working on a big project to reorganize our entire skeleton collection, as it was last organized to fit a phylogeny from the 1960s, and our understanding of avian relationships has changed so much since then,” she said.
Janecke is looking forward to a career in science communication through museums or other nature and science programs. She has been interested in science communication and ornithology since high school. Since then, she’s been a nature camp educator, a wild bird rehabilitation intern, a sustainable building tour docent, and she job shadowed with a raptor ambassador program.
“What really got me interested in taking up my job at the UMMZ was a YouTube channel, The Brain Scoop, hosted by Emily Graslie,” Janecke said. She’s watched the series since its inception when Graslie showed off specimens at the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum. Janecke’s been inspired by the reach and amazing diversity of life and science techniques covered by The Brain Scoop.
“I've followed as the channel as it's been picked up by the Field Museum and grown to a huge educational force! Emily is now the chief curiosity correspondent of the Field Museum, and she's become one of my personal heroes as a science communicator and a woman in science. Now, she follows my blog, which I still can't believe.”
Janecke has 115 followers on her blog, a number that increases every week. She’s been contacted by readers without Tumblr accounts who let her know that they are reading and enjoying her posts, which is gratifying to her.
Life with Dead Birds will continue in its current format through the summer with her future plans for the blog to be decided – so stay tuned!
“Really, I'm just glad to be able to reach a larger audience about ornithology and science in general," she said. "U of M has been wonderful, and I've learned so much here, especially through EEB. Science doesn't have to be accessible only to those in academia, and all of us scientists need to work to increase communication to the public, whether it's through becoming communicators ourselves or helping to increase the availability and effectiveness of outreach programs.
“Museums have always been an excellent place for these outreach programs, but unless they reach out to people who can't physically make it to the museum, then they aren't meeting their full potential as an educational institution. Blogs, YouTube channels, and other social media platforms are a great way of reaching huge numbers of people in a kind of new, informal classroom, and they allow wider audiences to connect with scientists, communicators, and with the knowledge itself!”
Recent blog posts are about: the Gray catbird that actually meows; one of the smallest skeletons Janecke’s found so far, belonging to the White-crested coquette; and a recent birding outing to see the peregrine falcons nesting on campus. Best of all is to let the blog enchant you itself: Life with Dead Birds blog.