After communing with the trees in the last lesson, why not look at some of the animals that inhabit them? Birds are fascinating creatures to most people, and offer an easily understood lesson in adaptations. If you have access to an outdoor area frequented by birds, try to spend some time observing them with your students. After spending a few minutes observing, ask your students to talk about the differences they noticed in the beaks of the birds. Ask them to talk about what those differences mean. How do the birds’ beaks determine what types of things they might eat? And how might that affect where they live?
As always, I suggest starting with some books for the lesson. Some that I particularly like are the following:
Little Skink’s Tail, by Janet Halfmann
What If You Had Animal Teeth? By Sandra Markle
Beaks! By Sneed B. Collard III
While two of these titles are obviously not specifically about birds, they do discuss adaptations. Discussion with the first two titles helps to introduce the concept of adaptation. The book Beaks! addresses the focus of the lesson in a very direct, understandable manner. After reading and discussing the book, discuss the “quiz” at the back of the book with your students. See if they can correctly identify the different foods/beaks for each of the included birds. You may also wish to discuss different hand tools with your students. Would a pair of pliers work instead of a screwdriver? Would scissors work instead of a sieve? Can you use chopsticks in place of a straw? Spend some time discussing how each of these tools is designed for a specific purpose, the way birds’ beaks are.
The lesson called Bird Beak Buffet, from Project Wild (http://projectwild.org/), addresses how birds’ beaks have adapted to eating particular foods. A pdf of the lesson can be found here:
There is a similar lesson in Project Flying Wild (http://www.flyingwild.org/)which is called Fill the Bill. Both activities address the differences in birds’ beaks and the relationships between the beaks and their foods.
While this activity requires numerous materials and a lot of set up, most of the items should be tools you have on hand- at home if not in the workplace. Simple things like turkey basters, tongs, slotted spoons, and nutcrackers are required. Children and adults both will enjoy this activity, and find it both informative and fun. When I did this with a group of children ages 5-12 and their parents, the adults were equally as interested in the activity as the kids. Many of them talked about how they were planning to continue the experiments at home.
If you wish to incorporate some art into this program, you can have the students draw birds with the correct kinds of beaks for eating specific foods.
Extend the learning by imitating the birds… if there is time for a snack, provide some simple snack foods and various utensils for eating them. Ask the kids to compare how easy (or not!) it is to eat the various foods with the different utensils. For example, try to pick up individual pieces of cheese crackers, gummies, pieces of cookies, (and drinks!) with chopsticks, toothpicks, spoons, forks, or straws. Ask the kids to compare what they are eating with bird foods. Be prepared for more mess and more fun!