The Birds and the Beaks
Lesson Overview

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GRADE LEVEL: Grades 9-10

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two to three 45-minute class periods

OVERVIEW: The structure of an organism is related to its function and the role it plays in its environment. Many structural differences can be found within a species. These structural differences are often adaptations that allow organisms to better survive in their particular environment. These evolutionary adaptations develop through the process of natural selection.

This lesson explores different adaptations and variations in birds, using the NATURE episode “Extraordinary Birds.” It focuses on bird beaks, migratory patterns, and birds’ ability to co-exist with humans. Students will define key concepts from the lesson, discuss and explore different adaptations of birds, and analyze relationships between the concepts learned. This lesson can be taught independently, or it can be used as a precursor to the New York State Core Curriculum “Beaks of Finches” lab. Students must have a basic knowledge of evolution and natural selection in order to successfully complete this lesson.

SUBJECT MATTER: Biology/ Living Environment


Students will be able to:

  • Discuss and define key concepts from the lesson, including adaptation, migration, and interaction between humans and birds;
  • Describe how particular characteristics of bird beaks reflect birds’ adaptations to their particular environments;
  • Explain how different environmental factors can affect the migration cycle of the Rufous Hummingbird;
  • Demonstrate understanding of how adaptations in different species of birds assist their interactions with humans;
  • Create a concept map using different adaptive traits of birds.


National Science Education Standards:

As a result of activities in grades 9-12 students should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and understand about scientific inquiry. To develop scientific inquiry skills students must actively participate in scientific investigations and they must actually use the cognitive and manipulative skills associated with the formulation of scientific explanations.

As a result of activities in grades 9-12 students should develop understandings of:

  • Biological Evolution
  • Interdependence of organisms
  • Behavior of Organisms

Students’ understanding of biology will expand by incorporating more abstract knowledge, such as the theories of evolution.


Living Environment Core Curriculum:

STANDARD 1: Students will use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering designs, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers, and develop solutions.

Key Idea 1: The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena in a continuing and creative process.

Performance Indicator 1.2: Hone ideas through reasoning, library research, and discussion with others, including experts.

1.2a. Inquiry involves asking questions and locating, interpreting, and processing information from a variety of sources.

Key Idea 3: The observations made while testing proposed explanations, when analyzed using conventional and invented methods, provide new insights into natural phenomena.

Performance Indicator 3.1: Use various methods of representing and organizing observations (e.g., diagrams, tables, charts, graphs, equations, matrices) and insightfully interpret the organized data.

3.1a Interpretation of data leads to development of additional hypotheses, the formulation of generalizations, or explanations of natural phenomena.

STANDARD 4: Students will understand and apply scientific principles and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

Key Idea 1: Living things are both similar to and different from each other and from nonliving things.

Key Idea 2: Organisms inherit genetic information in a variety of ways that result in continuity of structure and function between parents and offspring.

Key Idea 3: Individual organisms and species change over time.

Performance Indicator 3.1: Explain the mechanisms and patterns of evolution.

3.1g: Some characteristics give individuals an advantage over others in surviving and reproducing, and the advantaged offspring, in turn, are more likely than others to survive and reproduce. The proportion of individuals that have advantageous characteristics will increase.

3.1h: The variation of organisms within a species increases the likelihood that at least some members of the species will survive under changed environmental conditions.

3.1i: Behaviors have evolved through natural selection. The broad patterns of behavior exhibited by organisms are those that have resulted in greater reproductive success.

Key Idea 6: Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment

Performance Indicator 6.1: Explain factors that limit the growth of individual populations

6.1g: Relationships between organisms may be negative, neutral, or positive. Some organisms may interact with one another in several ways. They may be in a producer/consumer, predator/prey, or parasite/host relationship or one organism may cause disease in, scavenge, or decompose another.



NATURE, Extraordinary Birds, selected segments:

Clip 1, “A Variety of Hummingbirds.”

Describes different traits and adaptations in various species of hummingbirds.

Clip 2, “Little Brain, Big Journey.”

Shows the migratory patterns and habits of the Rufous hummingbird.

Clip 3, “The Pigeon Express.”

Profiles a small business in which homing pigeons play a central role.

Clip 4, “Birds of Kundha Kulam.”

Demonstrates birds’ extraordinary impact on the agriculture of a small Indian community.

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Web sites

Bird Adaptations – Beaks
An interactive Web site featuring the beaks of nine different species of birds, with descriptions of their characteristics and what they are best adapted for. It also includes a similar page for adaptations of birds’ feet, and worksheets to assess student comprehension.


For each student:

  • Rufous Hummingbird Student Organizer (PDF) (RTF)
  • Beak Characteristics Student Organizer (PDF) (RTF)
  • Vocabulary Student Organizer (PDF) (RTF)
  • Practice Regents Questions (PDF) (RTF)

For each pair or group of students:

  • For the Gallery Walk Activity: one pen or marker (a different color for each group)
  • For the Concept Map Activity: two flip chart pages or large sheets of paper, one pad of sticky notes, one pen or marker
  • Computer with internet access

For the class:

  • Computer with internet access, projector and screen
  • For the Gallery Walk Activity: flip chart pages with the following vocabulary terms written at the top of the page (one word per page): variation, natural selection, adaptation, competition, environment
  • Teacher Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
  • Sample Concept Map (PDF)
  • Scenarios for Vocabulary Terms – 2 copies (PDF) (RTF)
  • Hat or bag (to hold Vocabulary Term scenarios)
  • Regents Questions Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video clips and Web sites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Prepare all classroom materials. Print out and make copies of the student organizers and answer keys. Prepare for the Gallery Walk activity by writing the following vocabulary terms at the top of flip chart pages or large pieces of paper (one term per page): Variation, Natural Selection, Adaptation, Competition, and Environment. Post the flip chart pages around the room. If you are not familiar with conducting a “Gallery Walk” in your classroom, review the procedure at the “How to Use Gallery Walk?” Web page.

For the Culminating Activity: Print two copies of the Scenarios for Vocabulary Terms sheet. Keep one sheet for teacher reference, and cut up the other sheet so that each scenario is on a separate slip of paper. Do not include the right-hand column (Vocab Key Code) on the cut-up slips. Put all the slips of paper into a hat or bag and mix well.

Next: Proceed to Activities

  • catherine

    this was really good but does that it does not give effect info. and it’s not good..

  • deandre

    this is awsome

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