- Students will develop an understanding of birds.
- Students will understand how adaptations help different species of birds cope with their environment.
Birds show the same diversity of lifestyles as do mammals, but they also show some unique adaptations. Most can fly, while few mammals can (only bats). 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 different shaped beaks, they can eat different kinds of foods. And birds build different kinds of nests in different kinds of places with different kinds of materials.
- Bird feathers
- Bird nests
- Chicken eggs, bird eggshells
- Chicken bones
- Bird books, pictures of birds
- Blank cards
- Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania
- My First Book of Birds, My Second Book of Birds (both available in Kenya)
- Adaptation: a genetically determined characteristic that enhances the ability of an organism to cope with its environment, such as the shape of a bird’s beak
- Camouflage: protective coloring that helps an animal blend in with its surroundings
Collect some bird eggs and feathers to bring into the classroom.
1. Ask students to name some birds. Put the list on the board. Add some they did not think of.
2. Ask them to name as many characteristics of birds as they can think of. Put the list on the board. Add any others from the list above they didn’t think of. Discuss.
3. Collect bird eggs and pass them around so children can understand the concept of “hard” shell.
4. Pass around feathers so children can feel them and see the different colors and patterns. Discuss the function of feathers:
- To keep the bird warm
- To help them fly
- To provide cryptic coloration (to help them hide from predators)
- To provide showy coloration (for mating purposes)
In many species of birds, the males are more brightly colored than the females. In some species, like the long-tailed widowbird, the male’s tail feathers are much longer than the female’s. The males use these bright colors and long feathers to attract females in their courtship displays.
5. Discuss the different kinds of foods birds eat: insects, seeds, nectar, other birds’ eggs, etc. Use chopsticks, small porcupine quills, and other tools to show how different birds eat different food 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 cope with its environment. (See also #2: Fill the Bill in Extended Activities, below.)
6. Pass around some chicken bones. Break open some and scrape out the marrow to show what “hollow” means. (You can also use a Bic pen and remove the ink cartridge to show what hollow means.) Because they are hollow, the bones are light, which allows birds to fly. Compare these bones with some mammal bones.
7. Take students outside with their notebooks and pencils. Break the group into smaller groups, if possible. Have them
- name birds they see; count how many of each species.
- watch the birds and note what they’re doing.
- collect feathers, eggshells, nests on the ground, different kinds of grasses that the students see birds using, etc. Add these items to your museum collection.
8. Go back into the classroom, and talk about what the students found and saw.
- Make a list of birds seen.
- Talk about what the birds were doing.
- See if they can identify what birds the feathers they found came from.
- Look at any nests seen or found. Discuss shapes, materials used to build them, etc. See if they know what kinds of birds built them. There is a page of drawings of various weaver nests in Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania.
9. Have students draw pictures of any species not drawn in previous lessons. Add these to the collection.
10. Using My First Book of Birds and My Second Book of Birds, read descriptions of some of the birds students know. See if they can name the bird, then show the picture.
1. Bird Feeding Table
Make a bird feeding table. Watch to see what birds come, and learn about their behavior.
2. Fill the Bill
Let students use chopsticks, small porcupine quills, eye droppers, slotted spoons, tongs, etc., to try to pick up a variety of objects, such as twigs, string, water in a container, etc. Students will record the number of objects they were able to pick up with each tool. Teachers will help students discuss how different tools work differently 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 for 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).
- Older students can record and graph and/or average the number of objects picked up by each tool for a more in-depth discussion.
- Give all students one type of tool to use. See what kinds of objects they are able to pick up with this tool. Increase the types of tools used, and see if they can pick up more kinds of objects. Discuss how some tools are better for picking up some objects (adaptations).
3. Objects of Appetite
One of the most important jobs an animal has to do is eat. This game will look at the food niches and feeding styles of birds. Fill a container with five different types of objects with approximately three of each type per student playing the game. Have students pick a random card that is labeled to tell them what type of bird it is and what object it “eats”. Make sure most students are specialists (eating one type of object) and some are generalists (eating two to four different objects), using real-world examples. Give students tools to use that work the way their bird’s beak works, when possible. Include chopsticks, small porcupine quills, eyedroppers, slotted spoons, tongs, etc. (See #2: Fill the Bill in Extensions, above).
Have students sit in a circle, pass the container around, and pull out their object to “eat”. If students cannot find an object to “eat”, have them move out of the circle. Discuss the difference between specialists and generalists with application to real animals.
Suggestions: For older students, change the amounts of the different objects to reflect environmental variations (drought, overabundance, etc.) on the food supply, and discuss how these variations affect the animals in different niches.
4. House Hunting
Divide students into smaller subgroups and give each group (or let them choose) the name of a common bird. Try to use birds whose nests you’ve observed. Send each group outside to find the best spot to build that bird’s nest. Remind students that most birds build their nests near a food source and try to shelter the nest from rain and hot sun. Many birds also try to hide their nests from predators. Afterwards, bring the group back together and have each group show the others their nest site and explain why they chose it.
5. Bird Calls
Let children try to imitate the calls of common birds. Explain that birds use songs and calls to attract mates, defend their territory, and give warnings. Watch birds singing and calling, and see how well the students can imitate them. See how many they can remember.
6. A Bird’s Meal
Using 10 pieces of 5-centimeter (2-in) yarn of different colors or scraps of fabric, spread the small pieces of yarn over a 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, and again count the number of each color picked up. Record each round on a chalkboard. At the end, discuss how different colors were picked up differently and why. 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, a student’s tendency is 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.
7. Bird Drawings
Have students draw pictures of birds and decorate them with real feathers.