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10 Quirky Bird Feeders

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Amazon

This summer, invite some feathered friends to your garden. Here are some interesting and fun-looking bird feeders to entice your avian visitors.

1. MODERN BIRD CAFÉ; $29

This trendy birdhouse is perfect for birds and homeowners with an eye for architecture. The sleek white building has rectangular windows that show the birdseed inside. There’s a little tray at the bottom on which birds can perch and enjoy a snack. Designed by Teddy Luong, the contemporary-looking feeder is great for a minimalist backyard.

Find it: High Fashion Home

2. FOOD TRUCK; $20

Who says the food truck craze has to be limited to humans? This tiny plastic feeder hangs in your tree and offers “cheep eats” to the birds in your yard. The seeds are poured into the truck, and a small silver tray on the side allows birds to perch on the feeder and grab a quick bite to eat.

Find it: Amazon

3. TIRE SWING; $11

Have a tire swing in your backyard? Get this fun matching ceramic feeder and never swing alone again.

Find it: Amazon

4. WATERCOOLER; $10

Inspired by the classic office watercooler, this feeder acts as a watering hole for birds in your neighborhood. The design slowly provides a pool of water in which birds can drink (or bathe).

Find it: Amazon

5. TARDIS; $41

Further evidence that there is TARDIS-inspired everything: a bird feeder in the shape of the iconic time traveling phone booth. Fans of Doctor Who will love seeing birds hanging around the feeder and possibly going on some timey-wimey adventures.

Find it: Amazon

6. POST OFFICE; $39

Birds don’t get mail, but they can stop by this mailbox for a snack. The feeder is apparently popular amongst blue tits and finches; the seller suggests filling it with peanuts.

Find it: Amazon

7. HAPPY CLAM; $76

Any bird that visits this quirky feeder will be happy as a clam. Artist Jenn Lamb took her inspiration from her time by the ocean when creating this stoneware shell. The feeder offers a bowl for food and a top cover for shelter when it rains. It can also be repurposed as a planter.

Find it: UncommonGoods

8. ONE WAY MIRROR; $39

Let your cats spy on birds without letting them actually enjoy them as a snack. A special screen makes it so cats can see the birds, but the birds can only see their own reflection. The feeder comes with suction cups so it can be attached to most windows.

Find it: Amazon

9. LIGHTHOUSE; $23

Birds with nautical aspirations will love hanging around this lighthouse-shaped feeder. The mesh body lets birds pull out seed, but it also keeps away squirrels. It can fit about a pound and a half of birdseed at a time. There is an LED light in the top of the feeder that can be switched on at night.

Find it: Amazon

10. RETRO DINER ; $85

This nostalgic birdfeeder is meant to mimic the style of diners from the ‘50s and ‘60s. While birds won’t be able to order pancakes, they can get some birdseed that fills the base of the structure. It comes with a dramatic orange roof to complete the look.

Find it: Etsy

BONUS: HORSE AND UNICORN HEADS; $15 - 25

Technically these are squirrel feeders, but hey, even sneaky mammals need to eat—and hopefully they’ll be so distracted by these novelty feeders that they’ll leave the bird food alone. Best of all, they’re shaped like horse and unicorn heads, so when the squirrel climbs up to grab some food, it looks like it’s wearing a mask. The vinyl feeder comes with a hole to hang it with, but you have to get the string on your own.

Find it: Amazon, Amazon

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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iStock

Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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