- Big Ideas
- Essential Questions
- Content Outcomes Addressed
- Standards Addressed
- Pre- and Post-Assessment
- Focus Questions
- Investigation 1: Observing Wild Birds
- Investigation 2: Fill the Bill
- Investigation 3: A Bird’s Meal
- Living things can be sorted into groups in many ways.
- For any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
- Different plants and animals have external features that help them survive in different kinds of places.
- How are birds alike and different?
- How do birds meet their needs for survival?
Content Outcomes Addressed
- Students will develop an understanding of birds and how their body structures help them survive.
- Students will understand how adaptations help different species of birds survive in their environment.
- Disciplinary Core Ideas: ESS3.A (K-2), LS1.A (3-5), LS1.C (K-2) (3-5), LS1.D (K-2) (3-5), LS2.A (3-5), LS2.C (3-5), LS2.D (3-5), LS3.A (3-5), LS3.B (3) LS4.B (3-5), LS4.C (3-5), LS4.D (K-2) (3-5)
- Science and Engineering Practices: 1-8
- Crosscutting Concepts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7
- Reading: RI.3.1, RI.3.2, RI.3.7, RI.4.7, RI.5.7
- Writing: W.3.7, W.3.8, W.4.7, W.4.8, W.5.7, W.5.8
- Speaking and Listening: SL.3.4
- Mathematical Practice: MP.2
- Measurement & Data: 3.MD.B.3
- Number & Operations in Base Ten: 3.NBT
National Geography Standards: 2
Different organisms satisfy their needs in the environments in which they are typically found. The conditions in particular habitats can limit what kinds of living things can survive there. Studies of interactions among organisms within an environment should start with relationships that students can directly observe. Students should look for ways in which organisms in one habitat differ from those in another and consider how some of those differences are helpful to survival. The focus should be on how the different features of organisms impact the organism’s chances for survival and reproduction. Adaptation—the modification of an organism or its parts—is a basic principle of evolution. An adaptation is an inherited characteristic that helps an organism survive and reproduce in its environment.
Birds show the same diversity of lifestyles as mammals, but they also show some unique adaptations. Most can fly, while few mammals (only bats) can. Many of the bones in a bird’s body are hollow. This characteristic makes the bird lighter so it can more easily fly. Some use cryptic coloration to camouflage themselves in order to blend in with their surroundings and hide from predators, while others use showy coloration to attract mates. Because birds have beaks of different shapes, they can eat different kinds of foods. They build different kinds of nests in different kinds of places with different kinds of materials because of the varying natural resources available to them in their habitats.
- adaptation: the modification of an organism or its parts
- camouflage: the hiding or disguising of something by covering it up or changing the way it looks
Pre- and Post-Assessment
Assess prior knowledge by asking students to respond in writing and with pictures to the question, “How do we know if an animal is a bird?” Draw an example and label the body parts. Have students repeat this after the unit of study.
- Students may believe that any animal that flies is a bird.
- Students may believe that all birds fly.
- How are birds alike?
- How do various birds meet their needs for survival?
- How are the different structures of a bird’s body adapted to the environment where it lives?
Investigation 1: Observing Wild Birds
- bird feeder and seed, suet, etc.
- bird identification guides (the following is an excellent online resource for bird ID: http://www.enature.com/home — all you need to know is your zip code.)
- Worksheet 1: Wild Bird Observations
- bird nests
- Assess the grounds outside a classroom window to determine a suitable spot for hanging a bird feeder. Set up a feeder or feeding station and have students make daily observations of which birds are visiting the feeder. A recording sheet can be kept on a clipboard by the window for students to jot down their observations: What birds come, and what they are doing?
- Discussion: Have students name the birds they have seen. Where were they seen (field, woods, backyard, seashore, etc.)? What do birds eat (seeds, berries, fish, dead animals)? Where do you think they found their food?
- If possible, take students on a nature walk with their notebooks and pencils. (Try to have them walk quietly!) Have them record the birds they see, watch and listen to the birds, and note what they’re doing. Have them note characteristics of each bird, then try to identify them after returning to the classroom.
- Create wild bird cards. Add cards for the class collection. Include birds seen at the feeding station as well as others seen in the local habitat. (See Lessons 1 and 2 in Unit 1).
Investigation 2: Fill the Bill
- Worksheet 2: Bird Beak Data; Worksheet 3: Thumbs are Handy (for the Extension activity)
- trays for holding sets of the following objects (Look for others as you go through your kitchen drawers!)
For simulating types of beaks:
- pliers, straws, eyedroppers, toothpicks (to get fish from water, e.g. herons, kingfishers)
- chopsticks, tweezers (for catching flying insects, getting insects from a hollow tree, e.g. flycatchers, swallows)
- scissors, clothespins, tongs, nutcrackers (to remove seeds from hard shells,e.g. jays, sparrows )
- spoons, slotted spoons (to collect tiny plants and animals from water, e.g. ducks)
- popsicle sticks/tongue depressors, screwdrivers (for probing in the sand or soil, e.g. sandpipers)
For simulating types of food:
- balls, marbles, etc. (snails)
- toothpicks (insects)
- string (worms)
- beans (seeds)
- Styrofoam (peanuts)
- small cups of water with floating paper
- rubber bands
- Discuss the different kinds of foods birds eat: insects, seeds, nectar, other birds’ eggs, etc. Show some examples from the trays to model how different birds eat different foods based on the shape of their beak. Beak shape is an example of an adaptation, a characteristic that enhances the ability of an organism to survive in its environment.
- Which kinds of foods do you think would be the easiest to pick up with each of these beaks? Which will be the hardest to pick up? (Record the predictions on a board or chart.)
- Instruct students to select one of the tools to try to pick up objects from the tray. Rules: Only the “beak” can touch the food—no hands allowed! Collect only one piece of food per turn.
- Students will record the number of objects they were able to pick up with each tool. (See Worksheet 2: Bird Beak Data).
- Gather students to discuss the findings. It is important to allow time for reflection and sharing of ideas. Discuss how some tools are better for picking up certain objects (an example of adaptation).
- After the initial round and the subsequent discussion, have students select several different tools to test. Record results for Round 2 on Worksheet 2, and continue as above with a final Round 3.
- Help students discuss how different tools work in different ways to pick up objects, and relate this to the adaptations of birds’ beaks. For example, sunbirds have long beaks that they use to reach down into flowers to get nectar (like an eyedropper). Spoonbills and pelicans have long, flattened beaks or beaks with pouches that they can use to scoop up fish (like a slotted spoon). Hornbills have long beaks that they use to pick up fruit, insects, and small animals (like chopsticks). The following interactive website provides more information on birds’ beaks: http://www.vtaide.com/png/bird-adaptations3.htm
- Older students can record and graph and/or average the number of objects picked up by each tool for a more in-depth discussion.
Possible questions for discussion:
- Which birds can survive on a wide variety of foods and which can survive on only a few kinds? (Beaks with similar totals for many foods represent birds that can survive on a wide variety of foods. Beaks with high totals for only one or two kinds of food represent birds that can survive on only a few foods.)
- If a certain food became unavailable, how might that affect the different birds? (Birds that depend on a food that becomes unavailable would go hungry. Birds that eat many different kinds of food could still feed.)
- Develop a similar activity focusing on birds’ feet, and what they can tell about a bird’s home or habits (i.e. grasping, wading, swimming, catching prey. See http://www.vtaide.com/png/bird-adaptations2.htm for additonal information).
- Try the Thumbs Are Handy Digits activity described in Worksheet 3.
Investigation 3: A Bird’s Meal
- Different colored yarn cut in 2-inch (5-cm) pieces, 10 of each color to simulate worms
- Select an area, preferably outdoors in the grass. Spread the small pieces of yarn over the given area ahead of time. Ask students to pick up the pieces of yarn.
- After five seconds, stop them, and count the number of each color of yarn picked up.
- Allow students another five seconds for collecting, then count the number of each color picked up this time.
- Record each round on a clipboard. At the end, discuss why different colors were picked up more or less frequently than other colors. Explain how camouflage works, and discuss it as an adaptation for survival.
Suggestion: Older students can play variations on the game, altering the amounts of different colored yarn used. For example, if, in the first game, the students tend to pick up the red yarn first, decrease the amount of red yarn distributed and see what happens. Discuss the real-life application of this activity in terms of how predation changes what foods are available for birds to feed on in the future.