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Bird Behaviour at Bird Feeders: Lesson Plan for Elementary Students

Rationale for Studying Bird Behaviour at Bird Feeders

Bird watching is an activity enjoyed by the old and young. Providing opportunities for kids to become involved in birding is a wonderful educational experience. Bird feeders can be bought or assembled and can range from simple tray feeders to the more complex or ornamental. Many different species of birds are attracted to bird feeders depending on where you live, time of day, time of year and other factors. Whether the observation of the natural world, like birding activities, is for a home study, a science fair project or summer camp activity, it is an excellent way to foster a love of science and the powers of observation in a child. The following ‘experiment could be followed by a teacher for an elementary class as an in-class science lesson or a home study project. It could also be used as the basis of an experiment for a science fair project. Regardless of the application, this field study allows students to apply the scientific method in a fun way. It promotes learning through observation of the natural world and if the child takes the time to create home-made bird feeders, the project takes on an additional level of skill acquisition.

To Make Your Own Bird Feeders Try Out These!

Lesson Plan for Bird Behaviour at Bird Feeders

Title: Bird Behaviour at Bird Feeders

Overview: Students will be introduced to the joy of bird watching while learning the basic biology of the group Aves. They will complete a reading activity to introduce them to the basic biology of birds followed by a scientific inquiry involving a field study on the behaviour of birds at bird feeders. The inquiry can be set up as an ‘in-class’ study if a suitable location for bird feeders and observation is available or it could be assigned as an ‘at-home’ project allowing time for data analysis and compilation of project in the classroom. This inquiry would make an excellent science fair project whereby the children could display projects in the classroom or gym, allowing for the visitation by other teachers and classes.

Subjects: Science, Language

Grade Level: Grades 6 to 8

Suggested Time:

  • One 40 minute block for video and brainstorming.
  • One 40 minute block for outlining the Scientific Method and the Scientific Inquiry.
  • One 40 minute block for Reading Comprehension Activity and Worksheet.
  • Daily monitoring of the Bird Feeders for one or two weeks.
  • Allow for daily de-briefing regarding bird feeder activity and problems encountered, especially if inquiry is done at home.
  • If time is allowed at home to compile project, allow 2 or 3 40 minute work periods in-class or more if project must be compiled at school.
  • For graphing the data, use a graphing program such as Microsoft Excel which can be accessed through Microsoft Word. It is easy to use and a practice session could be provided as an extra activity during a computer lab. Or, students can use the old fashioned method of graph paper and pencil and pencil crayons to construct their graph. A sample is provided.


  1. At least two bird feeders would be preferable but one will do. Bird feeders may already be present at home or at school. If not, they can be designed from recyclable materials (2L plastic pop bottles; well cleaned detergent bottles; milk cartons) as a class art project.
  2. Brainstorming Chart
  3. Scientific Method Information Sheet.
  4. Project Outline Sheet.
  5. Observation Sheet
  6. Reading Comprehension Sheet
  7. Comprehension Worksheet


  1. Students will learn the classification of birds.
  2. Students will learn the basic biology of the group Aves.
  3. Students will learn the fundamentals of the scientific method and how to apply it to their own field study.
  4. Students will learn to organize and present a science fair project.
  5. Students will have an opportunity to answer questions regarding their completed project.

On-Line Resources:

For research into bird behaviour:

  1. Mayntz, Melissa, Guide. "When to Go Birding: When Is the Best Time to Go Birding?"
  2. Digipics Studio. Irish wild birds feeding.
  3. National Geographic. Ground Birds: Wild Turkey

Order of Activities;

  1. Day 1: Have students watch the short video, "Irish wild birds feeding" to introduce the nature of their field study. The link is provided above. (5 minutes or less)
  2. Have the students brainstorm what they know about birds and questions they have using the brainstorming worksheet. (15 minutes)
  3. Discuss the Scientific Method using the Information sheet provided followed by a discussion of the field study they will be working on. At this point, you will have decided whether the data collection will be at home or at school, whether they will be working in partners or alone and if a science fair presentation will be part of their final product. (20 minutes +)
  4. Day 2: The students will independently read the Reading Comprehension Sheet and complete the accompanying chart. (30 min)
  5. Have the students watch the very short, "Ground Birds: Wild Turkey" and have them identify one use of feathers featured. (10min)
  6. Day 3: Allow the students 40 minutes to complete the background research for their study.
  7. Daily, for the rest of the week, allow the students 10 minutes or so per class to discuss their observations to date and raise any concerns regarding their field study.
  8. At the end of the study period, allow the students 2 or 3 work periods to analyse their observations and compile their report or science project.

Brainstorming Chart for Bird Behaviour Lesson Plan

What I know about Birds and their Feeding BehaviourQuestions I have about Birds and their Feeding Behavour







The Scientific Method applied to watching bird behavior at the bird feeder

The Scientific Method is a process for experimentation used to understand observations and attempt to answer questions. This method is used to seek a probable cause for a particular problem. A question is asked and an experiment is designed so that one change can be examined at a time and the results can be observed. The scientific method, just as it does for scientists, allows students to design an appropriate science fair or study question, create a hypothesis, design, carry out and finally evaluate their experiment.

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Steps of the Scientific Method

  1. Problem: The process begins when you ask a question about something observed: How, What, When, Who, Which, Why, or Where? Your question needs to be about something that can be measured, preferably with a number.
  2. Background Research: Do some research about your question to see what others have already discovered. It will help you figure out the best way to design your experiment and fine tune your question.
  3. Hypothesis: This is your educated guess regarding your problem. “If ______________(I do this)______________, then__________________ (this)________________ will happen.”
  4. Test with an Experiment: Your experiment determines whether your hypotheses are true or false. This is done by designing a fair experiment where only one factor is changed at a time while keeping all other conditions the same.
  5. Analyse Your Data: Data is collected and organized in charts and graphs. Those observations are analyzed to determine if your hypothesis is supported or rejected.
  6. Draw a Conclusion: From your observations and analysis, decide on the support or lack of support for your hypothesis.
  7. Communicate your Results: In a science fair project, your results are communicated in a final report or on a display board. All aspects of the steps you followed are included in your communication.

Outline for Bird Behaviour Field Study

Various questions can be asked that can be examined by scientific inquiry through a field study. Here is an example of a simple problem about behaviour of birds at bird feeders that can be posed and investigated by elementary students.

Problem: Does time of day affect the number of birds feeding at bird feeders?

  • Another question might be: Do weather conditions affect the number of birds at bird feeders?

Background Research: Students, using the web links provided, research the typical foraging (eating) behaviour of wild birds (on-line resources 1 & 2). This information will be used to write their hypothesis.

Hypothesis: If I observe birds in the morning, early afternoon and late afternoon, then there will be a greater number of birds feeding in the ______________________ (morning, afternoon or evening).


  • Bird feeders (do not add or remove feeders)
  • Bird seed (must stay consistent for the length of the study)
  • Observation chart
  • Camera (if possible to record activity at various times)


  1. Set up your bird feeders in a location that is visible from a window in the school or in the home if this is a home study. Feeder location should have some close cover for birds to evade predators such as a bush or tree.
  2. Choose a bird seed appropriate to your feeder type and use the same brand for the length of the study to rule out seed change as a factor in your results.
  3. Choose three times of the day to view the bird activity at the feeder: a morning, afternoon, and late afternoon or evening time again depending on the location of the study. Again, your data needs to be collected at those times consistently to obtain reliable results.
  4. Count the number of birds present at the feeder(s) during each time period. Watch for 5 minutes at each time period and record your findings on the observation chart.
  5. Record data in this manner for a period of 2 to 3 weeks. The longer your data collection period, the more reliable your results will be.


  1. Was your hypothesis supported or rejected by the data you collected? Check your bar graph. Why or why not?
  2. Did any of your data collected seem out of place from the rest. Weather conditions collected as part of the field study may provide explanations for data which seemed out of place.


  1. Do the birds favour one time of day for feeding over another? Two times of the day over the other? Why do you think this is so? If there was no relationship to bird feeder activity and time of day why do you think this is true?
  2. Do some research to investigate bird feeding behaviour? Do your results match up to what is expected in wild bird behaviour.
  3. Why is it important to keep your bird feeder full during the winter months?
  4. What is the natural foraging behaviour of birds?
  5. What is the advantage of keeping a birdfeeder over the winter and spring months?

You may provide some or all of this information to the students. You may wish them to compile their own list of materials used and their method for the study or you may provide that information and allow them to incorporate any changes they make to the study. At this time, also inform them if they are producing a field lab report or if it will be presented as a science fair project. If they are to include pictures of their field study and include them in their report give them a means of proper reference. Pictures and graphs are usually labelled consecutively as Figures and include a title. Example - Figure 1: Day 1 Picture of Bird Feeder Activity.

Observation Chart: Number of Birds Present at Bird Feeders Throughout Three Time Periods in a Day

DATE9am1pm3:15pmWeather Conditions










Figure 1: Frequency of Birds by Time of Day Visiting Bird Feeders

Graph of sample data for birds observed at bird feeders created using Microsoft Excel.

Graph of sample data for birds observed at bird feeders created using Microsoft Excel.

Did you know?

  • Once you start feeding wild birds, you should not stop feeding them in the winter, as they have learned to depend on that food for survival.
  • Planting seed-producing shrubs and flowers is a fun way to attract birds too.
  • An easy bird feeder and one easy to keep clean can be made by turning over a garbage can or large container and placing a piece of plywood on top. Seed is then scattered regularly onto the plywood.
  • To attract orioles or red-bellied woodpeckers, you can use a large nail to attach a large orange half to a tree. The large nail provides a roosting spot and the orange provides a delicious food source.

Reading Comprehension Activity: Basic Bird Biology

Ornithology is the study of birds. Scientists who study birds are called ornithologists. Birds belong to the Animal kingdom, the Vertebrate Phylum, and Class Aves. Birds are warm-blooded, vertebrate animals. In other words their body temperature is maintained from within and they have a backbone. All birds have feathers, a beak and wings. Birds do not have teeth unlike their ancestors. Most birds can fly; therefore, they require a lot of energy. They keep up their energy reserves by foraging often throughout the day. They also have a four-chambered heart like humans which provides maximum oxygen for cells by preventing oxygen-rich blood from mixing with oxygen-poor blood within the heart. More oxygen to the cells means that more energy can be released from burning sugar during respiration.

There are about 9000 species of birds which are divided into 24 orders and 146 families.¹ Most birds species use flying as their means of locomotion (moving from place to place). Some can run very fast and others are excellent swimmers. Many birds are excellent at all three modes of locomotion.

All birds have feathers which are modified scales from their reptile ancestors. A bird has three feather types each of which is used for a different purpose:

  • Flight
  • Insulation (to keep warm or cool)
  • Courtship or mating

Birds fall into one of four feeding types:

  • Carnivores (meat eaters)
  • Herbivores (plant eaters)
  • Omnivores (eat both plants and meat)
  • Insectivores (insect eaters)

Obviously, herbivores are the group of birds which would be most attracted to a home bird feeder. The extra energy birds require for nesting and courtship is provided during the spring. Summer bird feeders provide a source of food during hot, dry periods when other food might be scarce and in the fall and winter as food supplies dwindle, over-wintering birds are provided a constant source of nourishment from well stocked bird feeders.

Did you know?

  • The largest bird and the fastest runner is the Ostrich.
  • The smallest bird is the Bee hummingbird.
  • The fastest swimmers are Gentoo Penguins.
  • Birds with wing claws are the Hoatzin, African Touraco and the Ostrich.
  • Poisonous birds include the Hooded Pitohui and Ifrita.

Worksheet for Basic Bird Biology Reading Comprehension Activity

What are scientists who study birds called?


What is the meaning of warm-blooded


What animal group is thought to be the direct ancestor of birds?


Classification of birds.


Why do birds have a four-chambered heart?


How do birds keep up their energy reserves for flying?


What are the three functions of feathers?


What feeding groups can birds be divided into?

Have your students present this field study as a science fair project. Have a mini science fair in the class or gym and invite students and teachers from other classes to visit and ask questions. Your students will gain confidence and pride from presenting their hard work and successfully fielding questions from other teachers and class mates. What a wonderful opportunity to foster a love of science throughout your school community.

How Much have you learned about Basic Bird Biology?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What do you call scientists who study birds?
    • Zoologist
    • Herpetologist
    • Ornithologist
  2. Feathers are modified versions of this reptile part?
    • Scales
    • Skin
    • Hair
  3. Birds are from the following Class?
    • Mammals
    • Birds
    • Reptiles
  4. The closest ancestors to birds are thought to be?
    • Mammals
    • Amphibians
    • Reptiles
  5. Birds are from the following kingdom?
    • Plants
    • Animals
    • Fungus
  6. A bird heart has the following number of chambers?
    • Two
    • Three
    • Four
  7. Are birds warm-blooded or cold-blooded?
    • Warm-blooded
    • Cold-blooded
  8. Birds are which of the following feeding type?
    • Herbivore
    • Carnivore
    • Omnivore
    • Insectivore
    • They can be any of the above

Answer Key

  1. Ornithologist
  2. Scales
  3. Birds
  4. Reptiles
  5. Animals
  6. Four
  7. Warm-blooded
  8. Herbivore


Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 25, 2012:

The Frog Life cycle hub will keep inspiring more lesson plan hubs. I love teaching the wonder of science and incorporating field study into classroom work has always been part of my teaching style as an environmental science graduate!

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on April 25, 2012:

I wish I taught 6th grade! This is such an amazing lesson! I have a bunch of bird feeders in our yard and love watching them. If I were teaching, I would definitely use this lesson. Fantastic information!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 23, 2012:

Cara, thanks so much for the positive feedback. I appreciate the share with your colleagues. The birds were cold around our place today. We got snow!!!!

cardelean from Michigan on April 23, 2012:

This was a very comprehensive lesson plan. If we taught about birds in fourth grade, I'd definitely be using this. Sharing with my teacher friends!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 22, 2012:

I agree JKenny, kids have less and less time out of the classroom. There is so much emphasis on standardized testing and other non-academic 'stuff' that the kids no longer have time to just 'smell the roses' and examine the world to learn by doing!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 22, 2012:

Thank-you so much for sharing. Glad you enjoyed the hub. I have always loved watching birds and this was a great way to share that.

James Kenny from Birmingham, England on April 22, 2012:

Great lesson plan, Teresa. I really wish that schools put more emphasis on teaching children about the natural world. The kids will love this, hopefully some will gain the same sort of passion that I did, when I started learning about birds. Voted up and shared.

Sarah Johnson from Charleston, South Carolina on April 22, 2012:

Incredible! This is an awesome lesson plan, and should really engage the students. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared.

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