To explore the relationship between a bird's beak and its ability to find food and survive in a given environment.
This lesson focuses on bird beaks, exploring the relationship between a bird's beak and its ability to find food and survive in a given environment.
Students should be encouraged to explore how various organisms satisfy their needs in the environments in which they are typically found. They can examine the survival needs of different organisms and consider how the conditions in particular habitats can limit what kinds of living things can survive. 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 different features of organisms and how these features impact the organism's chances for survival and reproduction.
Gather several online and print photographs of birds for student exploration. Online resources containing photos of birds include:
Note: You may want to print out and make copies of the Build a Bird Kit ahead of time so that you can provide copies to students.
Have students discuss birds with which they are familiar, and then focus the discussion on beaks. What do birds use their beaks for? Are all beaks the same? What beak shapes have students seen?
Next, students should use the Bird Beaks student esheet to view the page called
Next, students should use the Bird Beaks student esheet to view page 6 of Unique Beak Physique from Duquesne University. Have students read the text and look at bird beaks on this page. Then ask students to discuss why each beak type is compared to a specific tool. What are some uses of the tools? Of the beaks?
Use the resource Bird Beaks on the Fernbank Science Center's Ornithology Web, to further discuss the purpose of a bird's beak shape.
Allow students to continue exploring birds and their beaks by observing real birds in the schoolyard as well as photographs (print or online). There are several websites that contain bird photos, including:
After students have looked at a variety of birds, refer them to the images of Bird Adaptations: Feet and Bird Adaptations: Beaks. Discuss what features of the beaks and feet might make them suitable for the activities listed. Then tell students that they will try to test out different models of bird beaks to see which are most effective in picking up different types of food sources. In this activity, students pretend to be birds by using the "beaks" (spoons, chopsticks, or tweezers) to eat the "food" (glass marbles, pennies, or toothpicks).
Distribute the Choosing Your Food Wisely student sheets. Students should use the materials and follow the instructions provided. Tell students that in this activity they are to pretend that they are birds. Students will each have one beak type (which they must keep throughout the activity) and a cup (to represent the bird's stomach) and will attempt to pick up various types of food at timed intervals. Emphasize that they can use only that beak for eating. They should hold the beak in one hand and the stomach (plastic cup) in the other hand. When done, they will make a graph that will show how much of each kind of food each beak type can pick up.
Place the first food item (glass marbles) in the middle of a feeding area you have set up (i.e., the middle of a circle created by students). Tell students that when you say "Go," they should feed for 1-2 minutes or until all the food is gone. Students should then empty their cups and count the contents. They should then record the amount on their Bird Beaks Record Sheet. Repeat this activity for the other types of food (pennies and toothpicks).
After students have recorded the results, ask each student to provide you with the total amount of food collected by each beak, which you can record on a grid on the blackboard or using the grid provided on the Bird Beaks Record Sheet teacher sheet. (Note that students have a copy of this grid on their student sheets.) Add up all the student totals for each beak type and then ask students to make a bar graph using these totals. There should be a different color bar for each type of food. The three different bird beaks should be displayed on the X axis, with the amount of food on the Y axis (see the sample bar chart on the student sheet). Discuss the results by asking these questions:
- Which beak collected the most of which food item?
- What do you think would happen to your bird if only one food item was available?
- Which of the beak types feed most successfully on which food item?
- Was one beak type successful with more than one food item?
- Did your earlier observations about beak types help you to understand how birds feed side by side but utilize different food items?
You could have students predict some places (or habitats) in which birds with particular beak types could survive. Then they could research actual birds with beaks that resemble those modeled in the activity, and check to see if their predictions were consistent with the research.
To assess student understanding, have each student do an activity in which they build a bird. Pass out the Build a Bird Kit that you printed out before class. The object of this activity is to design a real or imaginary bird that is adapted by its feet and beak for a particular way of survival. Students should use the different bird parts on the page to build their bird. After students have constructed their bird, they should select and describe a habitat in which they think that bird would thrive.
The Science NetLinks lesson, Animal Adaptations can help extend the ideas in this lesson by expanding students’ knowledge of animal features and behaviors that can help or hinder their survival in a particular habitat.
All About Birds is the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology site that provides a wealth of information about birds.