iStock
iStock

7 Easy Ways You Can Help Bees Right Now

iStock
iStock

At this point, most people are well aware that the bees are in trouble. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially placed seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees on the endangered species list. They believe their decline in population is the result of a long list of threats to the species, including predation, habitat loss, and human involvement.

Bees are pollinators and crucial to our ecosystem; we depend on them for much of our produce. Around 30 percent of the world's crops rely on cross-pollination [PDF]. If you want to help the tiny buzzing insects from dying out completely, here are some small things you can do.

1. PLANT THE RIGHT THINGS

Bees are steadily losing ground in our modern culture. Flowers and gardens are dwindling, meaning less and less food for the hungry bees. You can help protect the species right in your own backyard by starting a bee-centric garden. Plant flowering plants native to your area with a preference toward single flower tops like marigolds, tulips, and daisies. Double flower tops and hybridized plants don't yield the same level of nectar as single flowers tops, so it's harder for bees to reach the pollen. You should also try to have something flowering all year, so make a calendar for your garden that includes flowers in spring, summer, and fall.

Once your bees have something to eat, you can build a potential home for the visitors. Leave a place in your garden open for bees to burrow, and add some branches or bamboo for wood-nesting bees. And always remember to only use natural pesticides and fertilizers that won't harm the bees who stop by.

2. LET SOME WEEDS GROW

Controlling gardeners are going to have to loosen their iron grip for the sake of the bees; a healthy collection of dandelions and clovers can actually do a world of good. The leafy intruders—along with various wildflowers—offer substantial and much-needed nutrients. Dandelions in particular are extremely beneficial to bees, as well as other pollinators like butterflies, beetles, and hoverflies. Because these yellow weeds flower between March and May, they're ready to be pollinated just as the bugs are waking up from hibernation. Each flowering dandelion can have up to 100 florets, meaning plenty of food for your buzzing buddies. Laying off the pesticides will also keep the air poison-free and more accessible to bugs who would like to visit.

3. BUY LOCAL RAW HONEY AND BEESWAX

Buying honey and other bee products from a local beekeeper is a great way to support local pollination. As long as the beekeeper knows what they're doing, they won't harm or disturb the bees in any meaningful way. Often bees make a surplus of honey, so they won't notice if we take some for ourselves. Beeswax is used to coat the honeycombs and is either sliced off by the beekeeper to get to the honey or burrowed through by the bees in the winter—either way it's discarded, so it would be a waste not to use it.

4. LEAVE OUT WATER FOR THIRSTY BEES

It turns out bird baths aren't just great for birds. Bees need water just like all animals, so they seek out shallow puddles and bird baths to quench their thirst. You can get a bird bath or leave out a small saucer to help hydrate the bees in your neighborhood. Bees like to share information, so if you keep your water source consistent, the local pollinators will get wise and come visit. Just make sure to include a small rock or other object for them to perch on while they drink—bees are unfortunately not equipped with tiny floaties.

5. GO SHOPPING

There are plenty of products on the market that will help you help bees. If planting a full garden is too much work, you can opt for seed bombs. The little clusters of seeds can be tossed in areas like your backyard or an empty lot where they'll eventually turn into a colorful patch of wildflowers. You can also try seed money or pencils that can be planted in the ground to grow flowering and edible plants.

Another option is to look into getting a Flow Hive. After an extremely successful Indiegogo campaign, the simplified beehive is available for purchase. The honey comes from a tap, making the extraction process easier for humans and bees alike.

6. VOLUNTEER

Feeling committed? There are plenty of ways you can give your time to helping the bees. You can host a bee hive and agree to have a bee block situated in your backyard. The New York Beekeepers Association offers a program where people can offer up available yards or rooftops to keep hives for urban beekeepers. The program matches people up to help encourage more hives in the city. You can also volunteer to join the Back Yard Beekeepers Association. The Connecticut-based group provides information for fledgling beekeepers and organizes educational programs for the community.

7. GET POLITICAL

Sign a petition and let your government know that you care about the declining bee population. This petition is a call for the EPA to suspend use of pesticides and this petition asks your representative to support the Saving America's Pollinators Act. If enough people come together to fight this problem, real change can happen.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles
iStock
iStock

Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.

1. YOUNG BALD EAGLES AREN'T BALD.

A young bald eagle with a brown head on a beach.
iStock

So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.

2. BALD EAGLES SOUND SO SILLY THAT HOLLYWOOD DUBS OVER THEIR VOICES.

A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.
iStock

It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: an eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.

Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.

3. THEY EAT TRASH AND STOLEN FOOD.

Two bald eagles guard their prey against two magpies on a snowy field.
iStock

Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch it themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.

Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).

4. BALD EAGLES USUALLY MATE FOR LIFE.

Two bald eagles perched on a tree.
iStock

Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: the male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.

5. … AND THEY LIVE PRETTY LONG LIVES.

Two bald eagles sitting on a rock.
iStock

Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.

6. THEY HOLD THE RECORD FOR THE LARGEST BIRD'S NEST.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
iStock

Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.

On average, bald eagle nests are 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide. But one pair of eagles near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest weighed over two tons.

7. FEMALES ARE LARGER THAN MALES.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
iStock

In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weight about 25 percent less than females.

Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.

If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.

8. TO IDENTIFY THEM, LOOK AT THE WINGS.

A bald eagle flies across the water.
iStock

People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.

9. THEY'RE COMEBACK KIDS.

Baby eagle chicks in a nest.
iStock

Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.

Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.

10. THEY'RE UNIQUELY NORTH AMERICAN.

An African fish eagle flies over the water.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.
iStock

You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.

Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.

11. THEY'RE AERIAL DAREDEVILS.

A bald eagle carries a fish off in its talons.
iStock

It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the Earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.

12. THEIR EYES ARE AMAZING.

Close-up of a bald eagle's face.
iStock

What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.

Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.

13. THEY MIGRATE … SORT OF.

A bald eagle sits in a snowy tree.
iStock

If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.

14. THEY CAN SWIM … SORT OF.

A bald eagle
iStock

There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.

Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
iStock
iStock

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios