This bird species was contributing to the demise of another. So scientists stepped in to help.

Image by Gus Van Vliet/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Pictured above is the marbled murrelet, a seabird native to the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.

Marbled murrelets stay mostly around Oregon, Washington, Northern California, British Columbia, and Alaska (although also somewhat in Russia and northern Japan).


They thrive in old-growth forests, and if you're a human it's rare to find one of their nests because they tend to build them hundreds of feet off the ground.

As a species, they're endangered, in part because of logging that has reduced the size of their habitat. But there's another concern as well that is also, but indirectly, human-caused.

This guy:

Image by Noel Reynolds/Flickr.

That's the Steller's jay, another species of bird.

The jay isn't a very picky eater and therefore tends to go to where the food is.

We humans go and visit old-growth forests — that part is OK — and then we toss bread or seeds or other such stuff on the ground, hoping to feed the birds.

Marbled murrelets only lay one egg per year. When jays are around, eating those eggs, it makes it hard for the marbled murrelet population to grow.

That sounds like a very nice idea — birds have to eat, after all! — but there's a downside. The jay population thrives and are attracted to this new abundance of edibles, and while they're in the neighborhood, they find something else to snack on: eggs.

That includes chicken eggs, if there happen to be some laying around, but it also includes marbled murrelet eggs.

To make matters worse, marbled murrelets only lay one egg per year. When jays are around, eating those eggs, it makes it hard for the marbled murrelet population to grow.

The good news is that jays are “really, really smart," as Elena West, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told NPR.

And also per NPR, Portia Halbert, a park scientist at Butano State Park just outside of San Francisco, has used the jays' intelligence against them. How? With a little bit of poison.

Halbert and team take chicken eggs and paint them to look like marbled murrelet eggs. Then they inject these decoy eggs with a little bit of something called Carbocal into the eggs, which, if you're a bird, is a bad thing to eat — it'll likely make you throw up.

The jays learn that the eggs aren't good for them and, over time, learn not to eat them.

The jays learn that the eggs aren't good for them and, over time, learn not to eat them. And as smart as the jays are, they aren't quite smart enough to differentiate between chicken eggs and marbled murrelet eggs.

So eventually, the jays learn to let the marbled murrelet eggs go uneaten.

Hopefully, this will help keep the marbled murrelet population growing.

Although there's one other reason to be concerned. Halbert and her team (and similar teams in other forests) can only place tainted decoys on the ground — the nests of marbled murrelets are simply too high up for humans to reach.

Some researchers are concerned that the jays will realize that the eggs on the ground aren't safe to eat but that the ones up in the nests — and therefore, the ones most likely to hatch — make for perfectly fine snacks.

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know ("Learn Something New Every Day, By Email"). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

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The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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