The Winged Ones: How birds are like us and how they differ from us in their daily lives
This lesson was developed by Dr. Raymond Pierotti, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Kansas.
to accompany this lesson plan have been provided by Dr. Pierotti and
include descriptions of the most common species of birds found on the
Students will look at birds, either around
the school, or along the Kaw on a field trip. From what they see they
will discuss a series of questions.
: 5-7 and 8-12
Get students to think about what birds are
and the ways they are similar to and the ways that they differ from
human beings and other mammals.
Appropriate topics for discussion or questions to ask the students include:
1) Birds are exemplars of animal families, with males and females
pairing together to raise offspring in more than 90% of known species
In contrast, more than 90% of mammals do not have male parental care,
whereas more than 90% of birds do have male parental care or biparental
care. For further discussion, there are no mammals with male only care,
but there are several species of birds that show this behavior. Discuss
2) How do young birds interact with their parents? What do they
depend on their parents to do for them? Are there differences between
young birds that stay in their nests until they can fly (robins,
bluejays, eagles, hawks, herons) compared with birds that leave the
nest right after hatching (turkeys, quail, ducks, geese, shorebirds).
3) Look at the different types of bills (beaks) that birds have. Can
you tell what type of food the bird eats from looking at its bill? How
do birds differ from mammals in their feeding (Birds have no teeth)?
Why do you think that no species of bird alive today have teeth? Why
does this make their bill structure so important?
Materials: Eyes (binoculars if available), Field
guide, book (or page) of bird identifications, notebook and pencil
(writing instrument should be something that will not run if the page
gets damp). A field guide can be created by going to the links provided
in the species descriptions given the in Lecture Materials and downloading photographs to print out.
Methods: Walk along the river, go outside the school
onto the playground or go to a local park looking for birds. Try to
figure out which species of bird you see using the guide—if you are
inexperienced at identifying birds in the field you can make this
exercise into a “treasure hunt” and give the students a list of birds
you want them to try to find, focusing on species that are easy to
observe and identify. You can also focus attention on watching behavior
and discussing what ecological role the birds play, rather than on bird
taxonomy. Make sure that students can observe a fresh area not
disturbed by other classmates (it may help to assign them to different
areas in small groups). Please make sure that students understand
safety precautions and can identify hazards they may encounter such as
poison ivy. Instructors can find information about birds by going to
the Species List and Critter Corner sections.
Instructor will: Give the students a couple of example
scenarios. Show students examples of different types of birds. Explain
how to tell different types of birds apart.
Students will: Observe birds and write down their account of what they see and how the birds behave.
Evaluation: Examination of notes made by students in the field and a “show and tell” will be used to evaluate student knowledge.
Students will demonstrate: Knowledge of nature and
basic animal behavior and ecology. This also compliments lessons on
evolution by illustrating differences between major groups of
Resources: Lists of common species of birds. A list of major species along the Kaw is provided in the Lecture Materials including links to photographs and audiofiles.
Classroom supplement: If you are unable to take
students outside you can use the discussion topics in the Objectives
section to explore different aspects of bird ecology and behavior.
Field guides with pictures of the various birds can be used for a
“treasure hunt” by asking students to work in small groups and create a
list of birds that have certain characteristics such as sharp talons
for catching prey or long beaks for catching fish.
The Cornell Ornithology Lab provides excellent species accounts written for non-scientists that are available at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search
Using these species accounts, which contain photos and songs, is a good
way to develop your own identification guide free of cost. Their
website has many good resources including “birding basics”, which gives
pointers for novice birders and photographers. The Cornell Ornithology
Lab also provides classroom resources and a Kids Corner at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/birdsleuth/
Information on all these birds (and others) can be found on a
county-by-county basis on the Kansas Ornithological Society website at http://ksbirds.org
We provide information on the most common and easily observed birds of the Kansas River in the Birds of the Kaw lecture notes
and other materials available on our Teacher’s Resources page.