Brilliant Bird Beaks: An Experiment to Understand Animal Adaptation
Grade Level: 1st - 5th; Type: Biology/Physiology
The objective of this project is to identify and understand adaptations in birds. Through experimentation with models of bird beak shapes and different types of bird “food” the student will grasp the importance of physical adaptations to an organism’s survival.
- How might the shape and structure of a bird’s beak affect how and what it eats?
- What structural and behavioral adaptations do the animals that are native to your hometown have?
- Which birds are native to your area? What are the shapes of their beaks?
- What is a trait? How are these traits passed down from generation to generation?
- What are some human adaptations?
- How can I make a data table?
- What is a bar graph?
Adaptations are how a plant or animal is built or how it behaves that allow it to survive in its environment. There are two main types of adaptations: structural (or physical) and behavioral. A structural adaptation is part of the organism’s body (i.e. birds-wings, humans-opposable thumbs). Behavioral adaptations are, as the name infers, the way the organism behaves that allows it to survive (i.e. birds-migration, opossum-plays dead). Understanding that plants and animals are specially adapted to specific habitats is not only fascinating, but is also related to real world issues such as habitat loss and environmental conservation. Understanding animal adaptations leads to an understanding of human invention and engineering. We’ve borrowed many ideas from animals to help construct items that let us adapt ourselves to different activities (i.e. snorkels for breathing under water, the bird-like shape of airplanes, camouflage material, etc.)
All materials can be found around the home or readily purchased at the grocery store or hardware store.
- Butter Knife
- 6 plastic cups
- Narrow necked vase
- Needle and thread
- Sunflower seeds
- Yarn or string
- Potting soil
- Swedish fish candies
- 4 Bowls
- Bird Field Guide
- Find someone who will time your experiments for you with the stopwatch. They can also help you set up the experiments.
- Find pictures of the following birds in your bird field guide: Broad Winged Hawk, Hummingbird, Grosbeak, Robin, Mallard Duck, Great Blue Heron. Look at each of the birds beaks. Make a prediction about how each bird uses its beak to eat. (For example: Does it use it like a spear? Like a straw?) Write your predictions in your science notebook.
- Collect together the straw, pliers, tweezers, toothpick (or chopstick) and strainer. These tools are going to represent your bird beaks. You will also need the 6 cups. The cups represent your bird stomach.
- Set up the first experiment. Fill the vase with water. The object of this first experiment is to find out which “beak” will work best at moving the water from the vase into your “stomach” (cup).
- When you are ready have your assistant time you for 30 seconds using each tool or “beak”. After you have used each tool write down how much water you were able to move from the vase into your “stomach”. Make a table like the one below to keep track of your data. (Table 1)
- Set up your second experiment. Thread a needle with a long piece of thread. Push the needle through a marshmallow until you have several on the thread. The object of this experiment is to see how many marshmallows you can remove from the string and put in your “stomach” in the 30 seconds.
- When you are ready have your assistant time you for 30 seconds using each tool or “beak”. After you have used each tool write down in your data table how many marshmallows you pulled off of the thread and whether it was easy or difficult.
- For your third experiment fill a bowl with sunflower seeds. The object of this experiment is to see how many seeds you can crack open in 30 seconds.
- When you are ready have your assistant time you for 30 seconds using each tool or “beak”. After you have used each tool write down in your data table how many seeds you were able to crack and put in your “stomach”.
- To set up your fourth experiment fill one of the bowls with potting soil. Cut pieces of string into lengths of 2 inches. Bury many pieces of string in the soil. The object of this experiment is to see how many pieces of string you can dig up and place in your stomach.
- .When you are ready have your assistant time you for 30 seconds using each tool or “beak”. After you have used each tool write down in your data table how many pieces of string you were able to pull out and put in your “stomach”.
- Fill a bowl up with water for your sixth experiment. Float Swedish fish in the water. The object of this experiment is to see how many Swedish fish you can pick up and put in your stomach.
- When you are ready have your assistant time you for 30 seconds using each tool or “beak”. After you have used each tool write down in your data table how many Swedish fish you were able to pick up and put in your “stomach”.
- For your final experiment fill the last bowl with water. Sprinkle confetti in the water. The object of this experiment is to see how much confetti you can pick up and put in your “stomach”.
- When you are ready have your assistant time you for 30 seconds using each tool or “beak”. After you have used each tool write down in your data table how much confetti you were able to pick up and put in your “stomach”.
- Now you have tested all of your tools or “beaks”. Look back at your bird field guide pictures and the predictions you made. Which birds have beaks that were like your tools? What do these birds eat? Does the data you collected by modeling bird’s beaks and different types of food make sense with the bird facts you have read?
- To show what you’ve learned, construct a bar graph of the amount of food you “ate” with each tool. See the example below. (Figure 1)
- (Optional) Find a spot outdoors where you can observe wildlife. This might be in your yard, at school, or in a park. Be sure you have an adult’s permission to go to your spot. Sit quietly with a notebook. Write down your observations of how different animals like squirrels, chipmunks, insects and birds collect and eat their food.
|Vase with Water||Marshmallow||Sunflower Seeds||String in Soil||Swedish Fish||Confetti|
|Knife and Fork|
Terms/Concepts: Adaptation; Habitat; Structural Adaptation; Behavioral Adaptation; Survival; Gene; Trait; Observation; Prediction; Data table; Bar graph
- Nolting, Karen S. Backyard Birds: Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists. Sandpiper, Boston,1999.
- Bird Beaks http://www.backyardnature.net/birdbeak.htm
- NatureWorks: Structural and Behavioral Adaptations http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/nwep1.htm
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.