What makes a bird a bird?
Beaks - all birds have beaks, but so do octopus and squid. Birds have no teeth so their gizzard grinds up food into pulp with the help of stones the bird has swallowed. What do birds use their beaks for? Do all birds use their beaks the same way?
Wings - all birds have wings, but so do insects and bats. Wings are good for flying, but they can also have other uses. Brainstorm some other uses for wings. Look at some of the examples of wings. Examine their shapes and the arrangement of the feathers. Can you draw some conclusions about your observations and how they relate to habitat, adaptation, and niche?
Flight - not all birds fly, other animals do fly. Most of a bird's energy is used in take-off. Flight takes a lot of energy and birds have a high metabolic rate, so they need to eat a lot to keep the energy flowing. The phrase "eat like a bird" implies not eating much, but birds eat great quantities every day. Think of some birds that don’t fly. Think of some non-bird animals that fly.
Warm blooded - all birds are warm blooded, but so are mammals. Birds must keep their internal body temperature consistent. Birds are covered with an insulating layer of feathers, and they also eat frequently. Cold blooded animals do not neat to eat as frequently, and they do not have insulation. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Hollow Bones - not all birds have hollow bones, but no other animals have hollow bones. Why do some birds have hollow bones? Why do some birds not have hollow bones? Do you think hollow bones would be easier to break? Is it worth it?
Eggs - birds lay hard-shelled eggs. Other animals have soft shelled or leathery eggs. Why would a bird need a hard shell on her eggs? Why wouldn’t a leathery or jelly-like egg work? Why do those types of eggs work for other animals? Do you think hard-shelled eggs are harder to make and care for? Why or why not?
Feathers - all birds have feathers. No other animal has feathers. Unlike fur that can be ruffled and not damaged, feathers can be permanently damaged. Wing feathers are used for flight power and steering, body feathers are for camouflage or display, down feathers are next to the skin and trap air for insulation (like underfur), tail feathers are used for steering, balance, and display.
Choose a bird from one of the posters. What could it use its beak for? What could the feet be used for? Is this bird more likely a predator or prey? Use the beak, feet, wing, and vision charts to determine your bird's niche more specifically.
Sit so you can see out of the cabin. Look at the area directly around the cabin. What types of birds might live in this habitat? What about farther away near the river? Can you see any birds or find evidence of birds? Are the birds on the ground? In the air? In the trees? Close or far away? Use the binoculars. If you see or hear a bird, try to identify it using the field guides.
Fun bird facts:
- Chickadees and some blue jays like to "dive-bomb" wasp nests to get to the wasp larvae - they will dart in, poke at the nest and fly off before the wasps can come after them. Eventually, the entire nest falls to the ground.
- Albatrosses, with a 12 foot wingspan, can go 6 days without even beating their wings!
- A mother roadrunner will eat any weak chicks so that she has more food for the stronger ones.
- The Ox-Pecker, a type of bird that lives on rhinos, will warn rhinos when people approach, but not when any other animal comes near.
- Spur-Winged plovers get their food by cleaning crocodile gums of leeches. Crocodiles open their mouths wide for these birds and let them wander around happily.
Tips for teaching this station:
As you enter the station, use the wingspan poster to get your students invested in looking at birds. Unfortunately, many 6th graders have the wingspan of a Blue Footed Booby... Direct their attention toward the pictures of blue footed boobies and talk about how cool the blue feet are. Refer to the diversity of bird wingspans as you talk about other aspects of diversity in the birds station.
Check out the nest sizes poster on the ceiling. You can get your entire group standing in the space of half of a Bald Eagle's nest. See if you can stand in half of any other bird's nest.
This station has a crate table in the center, and foam pads to sit on. Encourage your students to sit or kneel on a foam pad in a circle close to the table.
Pass around some of the bird parts. Talk about adaptations with each of the parts. Have your students find similar bird parts on the posters. Do the same with some of the whole birds.
Have your students sit facing out of the station. They can dangle their feet over the edge if they want. Use the binoculars to find birds or evidence of birds in the forest between the birds station and the river. Ask them if they remember from Water field study what this region is called (riparian zone).
"The dog is a lion in his own nest."
- Persian Proverb
"Where thou art - that - is your nest."
- Emily Dickinson
"Be happy as ever in my nest, if so, as I wish, it be."
- Robert Bridges
"Let a bird behave in his own nest as a guest."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of your nest."
- Charles Dickens
"The ornament of a nest is the birds who frequent it."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Be it ever so humble, there's no place like your nest for wearing what you like."
- George Ade
"Your nest is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
- Robert Frost
"Hence! To your nest, you idle creatures, get you to your nest: Is this a holiday?"
- William Shakespeare
"The ache for your nest lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."
- Maya Angelou
"Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on; they night is dark, and I am far from my nest, lead thou me on."
- Cardinal Newman
"Half to forget the wandering and the pain, half to remember days that have gone by, and dream and dream that I am in my nest again!"
- James Elroy Flecker
"What's the good of a nest if you are never in it?"
- Walter Weedon Grossmith