The Birds and the Beaks
Lesson Activities


1. Ask your students to look around the room at the posted vocabulary terms. They should already be familiar with most or all of the terms. Ask students for brief working definitions of each term. As they develop the definitions, write them on the flip chart pages. (Approximate definitions: Variation – differences between individuals; Natural Selection – differential survival and reproduction of organisms; Adaptation – a structure or behavior that helps an organism survive and reproduce in its environment; Competition – process by which organisms contend for limited resources; Environment -external conditions affecting the life and survival of an organism).

2. Give a “Vocabulary Student Organizer” (PDF)(RTF) to each student. Tell students they will now be watching a video clip about hummingbirds, which contains examples of these terms. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to write down any examples they see of the concepts presented in the vocabulary terms on the Vocabulary organizer. PLAY Clip 1, “A Variety of Hummingbirds.” (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.) When the clip is finished, give students a few minutes to finish writing their responses on the organizer. If students are having a difficult time finding the examples, play the clip again.

3. Divide the class into groups for the Gallery Walk activity (about 4 students to a group, more if the class is larger). Assign one group to each of the five vocabulary words. Give the class 3-4 minutes to work in their groups, and discuss the examples they have found for their word. One member of each group should write one or two of the examples on their flip chart page. When the time is up, rotate the groups so that each group is now standing in front of a different word, and repeat the process. Rotate groups every 3-4 minutes until each group has had a chance to discuss and write examples for each vocabulary word. The activity should take approximately 20-25 minutes.

4. When the class has completed the activity, review the definitions and examples for each term with the whole class. Post all of the flip chart pages in one area of the classroom for students to reference throughout the lesson.


1. Add a flip chart page with the word “migration” to the collection of vocabulary terms. Ask students for a brief working definition of “migration,” and write it on the flip chart page (migration is the periodic movement of organisms from one region to another). If desired, take five minutes to review all of the terms before moving on.

2. Explain that migration is another survival technique used by birds and other organisms. Ask students for some reasons why birds might migrate. (Possible responses: they are looking for warmer weather; searching for mates or resources; their environment has been altered or destroyed.)

3. Tell your students that they are going to see a video clip about the migration habits of one specific bird, the Rufous Hummingbird. Give each student the “Rufous Hummingbird Student Organizer” (PDF)(RTF), and briefly review the questions it asks. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to find the information on the organizer as they watch the video clip. PLAY Clip 2, “Little Brains, Big Journey.” (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.) Give the students a few minutes to record their findings on the student organizers, and REPLAY clip if needed to help students determine information they may have missed.

4. Ask students to share their answers with the class. Revisit the original question “Why do birds usually migrate?” and see if students have any additional or different answers. (Answers may include: To find new or different food sources; unknown genetic reasons. Answers can also be found on the Teacher Answer Key (PDF)(RTF).)


1. Tell students that they will now be exploring birds’ adaptations in greater detail. Review the concept of adaptation with students. Ask the class why adaptation might be necessary and to name some factors to which organisms might need to adapt. (Answers may include a change in weather or seasons, a change in the environment, the introduction of new species, a need for food or new food sources)

2. Show the Bird Adaptations – Beaks interactive on a projection screen for the whole class to view. Distribute the “Beak Characteristics Student Organizer” (PDF)(RTF) to each student. Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking students to look at the pictures on the Web site, and to write in the first column of the organizer their first thoughts or guesses as to what each kind of beak is used for. If they have any questions about the beaks, they should write them in the second column.

3. Take a few minutes to review what the students wrote in Column 1. If there were any questions in Column 2, have students read them aloud as you write the questions on the board or a piece of flip chart paper. Encourage students to consider these questions as the class moves on to the next part of the activity.

4. Use the mouse to roll over each individual picture pictures on the page. As you review the details of each bird’s beak, ask students to compare the birds’ adaptive traits and uses for their beaks to the guesses that they wrote on their organizers, and to try to find the answers to any questions they might have asked. Students should write their revised answers or any new information learned in the third column of the organizer. Review the revised answers as a class and address any remaining questions.


1. Explain to students that as humans and birds have grown to co-exist in the same environments, they have adapted to each other. Ask students to think of ways that humans “use” birds, and how the natural adaptations of birds may assist people. Call on students to share answers with the class. (Possible responses: food, using feathers for different purposes, as pets, catching pests and insects.)

2. Tell students they will be watching two video clips of different types of bird/human interactions. Provide them with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking the following questions (these can be written on the board or a flip chart page at the front of the class):

1. Have the humans had any effect on the birds’ behavior?

2. Have the birds had any effect on the humans’ behavior?

2. PLAY Clip 3, “The Pigeon Express”. (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.) Give students a few minutes to finish writing their answers, and ask a few students to share their answers with the class. (1. Humans have trained pigeons to learn specific routes, and have bred pigeons especially for homing. 2. Some humans have become specialists in breeding, keeping, and training homing pigeons. Scientists believe that homing pigeons possess a “solar compass” as well as geomagnetic sensors. They also rely heavily on scent. This enables them to deliver packages quickly and effectively.)

3. PLAY Clip 4, “Birds of Kundha Kulam”. (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.) Give students a few minutes to finish writing their answers, and ask a few students to share their answers with the class. (1. None noted. 2. The birds’ migratory patterns have adjusted to correspond to the seasonal rainfall patterns. People in the community perceive that the birds are responsible for bringing the rain, and they schedule their farming and harvesting around the birds’ arrival.)

3. Engage class in a compare/contrast discussion of the interactions in the two clips. Ask students if they can think of any natural adaptations or human interferences that might help or hinder these interactions in the future. (Possible answers: change in climate may affect birds’ migration in Kundha Kulam; pigeons could be selectively bred to be better at homing.


1. Tell students that they will now be creating a Concept Map to represent what they have observed and to draw connections between birds’ beaks and other adaptive qualities. If your students have not created concept maps before, review the process with them prior to starting the activity. Instructions for creating a Concept Map can be found here. Divide the class into pairs or groups of 3-4. Distribute a pad of sticky notes and a marker to each group.

2. Ask the pairs or groups to brainstorm all of the different concepts and terms introduced in the lesson: beak adaptations, beak types, vocabulary terms, adaptive traits, environmental factors, etc. Each one of these words, phrases, or concepts will go on a sticky note. Students may also draw pictures to represent concepts.

3. Students should begin organizing their concepts on a flip chart page or other large sheet of paper. The sticky notes will allow them to move and rearrange as desired. Students should use a pencil to draw connecting lines between each sticky note. Encourage students to discuss their answers and decisions, and to make as many connections as they can.

4. When students have arranged all of their sticky notes and connecting lines to their satisfaction, they should take a marker and permanently write down the terms and their linear connections on the flip chart page.

5. Each group should share their map with the class. Point out some of the differences and similarities between the maps (see Sample Concept Map as an example).


1. Make sure the six flip chart pages with the vocabulary terms and definitions are still posted in the room. If necessary, spread them out so that each page is posted in a different area of the room. Students should be comfortable with the concepts represented by the vocabulary terms by this point. Tell the students that just as the characteristics of birds are affected by these factors, so are the characteristics of most, if not all, living things.

2. Group the students into pairs or small groups. Take out the bag or hat containing all of the “Scenarios for Vocab Terms” (PDF)(RTF) – 2 copies of each. Have each student group draw one scenario. Tell the students to look at the scenarios they drew, and to decide to which vocabulary term it best applies.

3. Once the students have decided to which vocabulary terms their scenarios best apply, they should arrange themselves near the appropriate flip chart page. Give students two or three minutes to arrange themselves by a vocabulary term that applies to their scenario. Some of the scenarios are intentionally ambiguous, with more than one possible answer.

4. Ask the students to read their scenarios and to discuss their reasoning for choosing the vocabulary term they did. Ask students who were undecided why they were having difficulty with their scenario, and how it could apply to more than one of the vocabulary terms. Encourage students to debate and discuss how different concepts could apply to different scenarios. Repeat steps 2-4 until all the scenario slips have been chosen and discussed.

5. For a homework assignment, ask students to research the phenomenon represented in one of the scenarios, and to write a one-page paper explaining how or why it occurs.

6. Distribute the Living Environment Regents Questions (PDF)(RTF) to students to assess learning related to this topic. Discuss the students’ answers, referring to the Regents Questions Answer Key (PDF)(RTF) for suggested responses.


Language Arts: Ask students to write a short story or a poem in the voice of a resident of Kundha Kulam. They should express their views or feelings about the yearly appearance of the birds. Why does it happen? How can the birds “bring rain”?

Social Studies: Ask students to research the history of homing pigeons in the military.

Art: Ask students to create drawings of different bird beaks that might suit particular environments around the world.


Ask an avian specialist to come in and speak to the class about bird adaptations and bird/human interactions.

Students can research local organizations committed to the protection and preservation of birds, and volunteer in their initiatives.

Visit a local park or zoo and observe birds. Note features that are particularly helpful to the birds in their particular environments.

  • Barbara Nies

    This was a great activity for reviewing the evolution unit and beginning the ecology unit!

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