I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.
This is part 4 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Create an egg model, make edible nests, test out various types of beaks, compare bird bones with mammal bones, examine various feathers, dissect a gizzard, sing a song about bird traits, and more! My lessons are geared toward 3rd-4th grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 11 children between the ages of 0-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, or co-op!
Introduction, Review, and General Bird Traits
1. Stretch by pretending to fly: arms are straight out and go up, then slightly forward, and then down again. Arms should not ever go behind your body. Mention that some hummingbirds flap their wings up to 90 times in 1 second. See how many they can flap their arms in 1 second.
2. Pray. Discuss orderliness. Review songs.
3. Ask children if they can remember any verses or stories in the Bible that mention birds. In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"
- Do birds seem to worry quite a bit? (No) Why not? (God takes care of them & provides for them.) Who provides for them? (God) Does God also provide for you? (Yes)
- When you notice birds, take the time to thank God for providing for you and also remember that He does care for you and is taking care of you.
4. Read a book about birds: "Birds: Winged and Feathered Animals" by Suzanne Slade. While reading, pass around a ping pong type ball to compare with the weight of the lightest bird & a small jellybean to compare with a hummingbird egg, the smallest egg.
YOU WILL NEED:
- "Birds: Winged and Feathered Animals" by Suzanne Slade or other book giving an overview of birds
- a ping pong type ball
- a jellybean
5. Discuss the sense of sight for birds. Options to mention:
- They have the best eyesight of all of God’s creations. Eagles can see a crouching hare a mile away. Some owls can see in dim moonlight as well as you can in the day.
- Their eyes are huge compared to their heads. God designed their brains to be positioned further back in in their skull & tilted to make more room for their eyes.
- Have you noticed that birds have to turn their heads to look at an object? That is because their eyes aren’t able to move very much. Keep your head still but move your eyes around in a circle. Birds can't do that. They have limited mobility of their eyes, so God gave them very flexible necks. Owls can move their heads 180 degrees without moving their bodies.
- Monocular vision: Some birds have eyes on the sides of their heads to detect danger. Do all birds have monocular vision. (No)
- Which birds have binocular vision, meaning both eyes are in the front? (Birds of prey & other birds that are predatory) They have a narrower field of vision but keener at long range & improved depth perception
- Have the students stand up at their seats, close their right eye, and try to toss around 1-3 tennis balls. How did only using 1 eye affect your ability to catch the ball? (It affects your depth perception.) Why do you think God gave predatory birds binocular vision?
- Birds do have amazing eyesight. They can see a greater range of the color spectrum than we can and some can focus on two different objects out of each eye. Each of their eyes has 2 foveae (the part of the retina which “sees” most clearly).
YOU WILL NEED:
- at least 1 tennis ball
6. Compare hands and arms to types of feathers by using the illustration from "Birds: Nature's Magnificent Flying Machines" by Caroline Arnold.
YOU WILL NEED:
- "Birds: Nature's Magnificent Flying Machines" by Caroline Arnold or other book on feathers
7. Examine & compare feathers.
- What is unique only to birds? (feathers)
- How do feathers help birds? (allow to fly, insulate, protect, form shape [smooth & streamlined]
- How many feathers do you think birds have? (up to 3000 feathers)
- Pass out various feathers. What do you notice about them?
- Compare contour and down feathers. Point out the rachis, shaft/quill, vane, barb, & barbules. If possible, compare the feathers of a hen and rooster.
- The contour feathers are strong and found all over the bird. They point toward the tail to aid in streamlining. Some contour feathers are flight feathers which provide the wing shape for flight.
- Down feathers provide insulation. How do they feel? (soft & fluffy) Are they heavy? (No, they provide insulation without significant weight). Do you know what temperature our bodies maintain? (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.) The insulation feathers help maintain a body temperature for birds of 110 degrees Fahrenheit -- even when they are in really cold temperatures.
- The shaft is like the backbone with thousands of bards zipped by tiny hooks called barbules.
- Look at the feathers with magnifying glasses. What do you notice?
- Open an umbrella. If you carry an umbrella on a windy day, which catches more wind: the under or top side? Why is this? Does the curved surface of the wing act the same way? Look at a wing feather. Are the barbs as long on one side of the quill as on the other? Do they lie at the same angle from the quill on both sides? If not, why?
- Which side of the quill lies on the outer side and which is on the inner side of the wing? Is the quill of the feather curved?
- Press a tip of the quill against your hand. Which way does it bend more easily, toward the convex or concave side? What has this to do with the flight of the bird? If the bird flies by pressing the wings against the air on the down stroke, why does it not push itself downward with its wings on the upstroke?
- What is the shape and arrangement of the feathers which prevents pushing the bird back to earth when it lifts it wings?
- Why do you have a rudder on a boat? Do you think a bird could sail through the air without something to steer with? What is the bird's rudder?
- Does a hen when she flies keep her tail closed or open like a fan?
- Compare a tail feather with a wing feather and describe the difference. (These questions are from "Handbook of Nature Study.")
YOU WILL NEED:
- a variety of feathers: contour feathers, down feathers, tail feathers, wing feathers, hen feathers, rooster feathers
- an umbrella
- magnifying glasses
8. Discuss preening.
- Ask who has seen birds clean themselves. Feathers protect birds' skin and keep them warm, so they have to take care of them. Birds clean their feathers by preening.
- Who knows how many neck bones we have. (7) To help preen, God gave most birds 13-25 neck vertebrae, more than any other animal.
- They run each feather through their beak which straightens the feathers kind of like when you have to straighten and clean the Velcro. The barbs and barbules fit together like Velcro. Run your fingers across the feather and try to separate the barbs and barbules. Now rub your finger over it and try to have them fit back together.
- Another thing they do when they preen is to coat their feathers with a light layer of oil from their oil or uropygial gland (at the base of their rump above their tail). This is especially helpful for water birds. The oil keeps the feathers dry and light. Sometimes you can see birds preening, similar to a cat or dog licking their fur.
- Pour a little bit of water on a paper towel. What happens? The paper towel gets soaked. What would happen if that happened to a bird when it was flying? (It wouldn't be able to fly.) What do you think will happen when we pour water on contour feathers? [Allow students to work in groups to pour a little water over the feather. Have paper towels under them.] What happened? (It just slid right off and doesn't even feel wet.)
- That's not all that the oil gland does. The oil also inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungus, contains a Vitamin D precursor that changes into Vitamin D, and preserves the protein (keratin) in the feathers.
YOU WILL NEED:
- Velcro (we used the Velcro straps on shoes or backpacks)
- contour feathers for each group of 3-5 students
- paper towels
9. Another way that God made birds light enough to fly is by His special design of their bones. Compare a chicken bone to a cow bone (like from a T-bone steak) or other mammal.
- Look at the bird skeleton picture in the book.
- How do you think bird bones compare to human or mammal bones?
- Bird bones are lightweight, usually hollow, & strengthened by cross bracing like steel girders. Why? Reduce weight + Increase strength = Fly
- Flightless birds, however, have solid bones.
- Pass around cleaned bones from a bird. If you have a steak bone, pass that around for comparison.
- What do you notice about them? (They're very light)
- Break them open. What do you notice? (They're almost completely hollow with a spongy-looking inside. They're also pretty strong for being so light.)
YOU WILL NEED:
- cleaned bird bones (such as ones from a Thanksgiving turkey or from a fried chicken meal)
- steak bone from a T-bone steak or soup bone (optional)
- magnifying glasses (optional)
Holding a bird
10. (Optional): If you have one, pass around a bird so children can feel how light it is. We had a dead sparrow that we passed around in a clear plastic bag. Another family brought a stuffed pheasant. If you have a friendly pet bird, you can let children hold it.
YOU WILL NEED:
- a real bird (in the past people have brought pet chickens, parakeets, & a pigeon)
Crops & Gizzards
11. Discuss the digestive system for birds:
- Flying requires lots of energy = lots of calories = Might eat body weight in food each day
- Digest rapidly. They don’t store much solid or liquid waste because would add weight. Who's seen bird poop? It's more liquid than solid, isn't it? That's because it's passing through quickly.
- 2 important parts we don't have: crop & gizzard
- CROP - storage sac in esophagus - moistens food & releases it in steam stream to digestive system
- Do birds have teeth? How do they grind up their food? God gave them a GIZZARD. It's in the stomach & grinds food to make it more easily absorbed in intestine. Yes, they only have 1 intestine (not 2 like us & mammals)
- Sometimes birds swallow gritty material like sand or gravel to help with grinding.
Cut open a chicken gizzard (or a few of them) and let the children feel how tough the inner lining is.
- Note: In the past I have allowed my children and students to dissect the gizzards themselves. A gizzard isn't too exciting as there is not much to see. The children usually enjoy dissecting them nonetheless. If you're not limited by time, you can pass ones out for every group to dissect themselves.
- If anyone is wondering, my students who have eaten chicken gizzards said they taste like liver (not at all like chicken) and are very tasty. I sent home the leftovers with a student to use for fishing as they make great bait.
- Everyone can wash their hands.
YOU WILL NEED:
- at least one children gizzard or one for each group of 4-5 children if you'd like for them to dissect them themselves (Turkey or chicken gizzards can be bought from the grocery story alone or in a package inside a whole cooking bird.)
- Disposable hard plastic plate(s)
- scissors and/or knife
- disposable gloves (optional)
12. Show pictures of eggs from "An Egg is Quiet" by Dianna Aston.
- Ask why they might be colored in the various ways. (Camouflage)
- Ask why some might be more pointy in shape. (So they won't roll off a cliff.)
- If you have them, pass around wild bird eggs.
- Show the picture of the development of a baby bird in the egg.
YOU WILL NEED:
- "An Egg is Quiet" by Dianna Aston or other book on eggs
- Wild bird eggs (such as robin egg halves) (optional)
13. Ask the children to name the parts of an egg. They will probably name the shell, white, and yolk. Crack open a hard-boiled egg. Point out the inner shell membrane and the air pocket.
YOU WILL NEED:
- a hard-boiled egg and a plate
14. Discuss parts of an egg: amnion, yolk sac, allantois, chorion, albumen, shell membranes, & shell. Make a model. As you make each part, discuss the function of it.
- Paint the inside of a plastic Easter egg with white paint. This is the outer shell membrane.
- Press a piece of tissue paper inside each piece of the shell. This is the inner shell membrane.
- Shape a tiny piece of play dough into a bird embryo. (Any shape is fine).
- Use 2 small different colored water balloons for the allantois and yolk sac.
- Stick the balloons into 1 side of the play dough embryo. The embryo now has allantoises and a yolk sac.
- Place the play dough embryo within the bag labeled "amnion" so that the bag covers the embryo and just the necks of the balloons.
- Lightly press the plastic against the clay so that it doesn't slip.
- Place the amnion, embryo, allantois, and yolk sac within the "Chorion" bag.
- Place everything into the bigger half of the shell and close.
- Use a Sharpie marker or crayon to draw dots (pores) on the outside of the shell.
(You can get the explanations and illustrations from NatureScope's "Birds, Birds, Birds.")
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD:
1 plastic Easter eggs, 2 pieces of white tissue paper that have been cut into small circles that would fit inside the plastic eggs, play dough or clay, 2 water balloons (need to be at least 2 different colors), 2 sandwich or snack bags, white paint, 1 paintbrush, 1 crayon, & 1 permanent marker (optional)
15. (Optional) Discuss various types of bird nests the students have seen. Pass around one. Have the children note what the bird used to make the nest.
YOU WILL NEED:
- a bird nest (Do note that birds sometimes return to the nest every year, so an abandoned nest doesn't mean that it will always be abandoned. The nest I had was one a wren built in our garage. After the birds and chicks left, we removed the nest.)
Edible Bird Nests
16. Make Edible Bird Nests.
- Make your "mud": Combine sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips in a large bowl and microwave for 1 1/2 minutes or until chocolate is melted. (Stir it first to check before microwaving it longer.)
- Have children each take a handful of chow mein noodles (twigs) and dump them into the mud. Mix it around until the chow main noodle "twigs" are covered in chocolate "mud".
- Pass out a sheet of wax paper to each child and spray their hands with non-stick cooking spray.
- Dump a large spoonful of the nest mixture onto each child's wax paper sheet and have them shape it into a bowl and then press down the middle to make a cup shape.
- Then let them place 5 jelly bean "eggs" into their next. Set these aside to dry.
YOU WILL NEED:
- 1 (14 ounce can) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12 ounce) bag chocolate chips
- 1 bag (10-12 ounces) chow mein noodles
- small sheets of wax paper
- non-stick cooking spray
- 5 jelly beans per child (If you're doing this around Easter, you can find Speckled Bird Egg jelly beans, which look like bird eggs. As of me writing this, they cost $1.22 at Walmart for a 10 ounce bag.)
- mixing spoon
Feet & Beaks
17. Quickly introduce different types of birds (birds of prey/raptors, songbirds, water birds, etc.). Show a picture of various bird's feet and ask children what type of bird would go with each type of foot.
18. Discuss various types of beaks:
- God didn't create hummingbirds to gobble up mice nor did He design hawks to slurp nectar from a flower. God gave each type of bird a special beak and tongue perfect for eating a certain type of food. A bird's beak is frequently a good indication of its diet.
- You're going to find out which beaks are best for scooping, cracking, and picking by going to different stations and trying to find out which tools go with which types of "food".
- Give each student a Fit the Bill worksheet.
- At the front set out a set of beak options (straw, chopsticks, nutcracker or pliers, large scoop or slotted spoon, envelope, tweezers, strainer, & tongs) and bird foods:
- Water in a tall, thin vase or bottle (hummingbird and nectar = straw)
- Bowl filled with dry oatmeal or chocolate pudding with gummy worms on the bottom to represent worms buried in the mud (curlews and snipes = chopsticks)
- Whole walnuts or other nuts with shells to represent seeds with hard coverings (sparrows, grosbeaks and other finch-like birds = nutcracker or pliers)
- Styrofoam chunks or soap floating in a bowl filled with water to represent fish and other aquatic animals (pelicans = large scoop or slotted spoon)
- Popcorn, tiny marshmallows, or cereal tossed in the air (done by another student), which must be caught in the air to represent flying insects (nighthawks and whippoorwills = envelope or small fishnet)
- Rice or puffed rice spread on a log to represent insects (warblers = tweezers)
- Puffed rice spread in a bowl of water to represent tiny aquatic plants and animals (flamingos and some ducks = strainer)
- Fruit or fruit flavored candies in a bag to represent fruit in a tree (toucan = tongs)
- Allow 7 volunteers to come up and each match up a "beak" with a food. (If desired, set up these stations for each group of students as they really enjoyed getting to do this.)
- Have the children mark the answers on their worksheets.
YOU WILL NEED:
- a Fill the Bill worksheet for each student
- 1 set of "beaks" for the class or 1 set per group of students: straw, chopsticks, nutcracker or pliers, large scoop or slotted spoon, envelope, tweezers, strainer, & tongs
- 1 set of "bird food" for the class or 1 set per group of students (listed above)
Bird Feeder & Review
19. Make a bird feeder. Do this outside for easy clean-up. (Also check for peanut allergies before doing this!)
- Have each child write their name on sheet of paper and then place the sheet of paper in a plastic grocery store bag with their name facing outward. This will be used so that they can tell which bird feeder is theirs.
- Have children tie a string to the top of a pine cone.
- Use a plastic knife to spread peanut butter over the pine cone.
- Use a cup full of birdseed to sprinkle over the pine cone. Do this over a bucket or large plastic container in order to catch the loose birdseed.
- Place the bird feeder on the sheet of paper. Have children place their bird feeder in the plastic bag and then allow children to wash their hands.
- Do not leave these outside if you live in an area that has ants.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD:
- sheet of paper,
- grocery store plastic bag,
- pine cone (the larger the better),
- plastic knife,
- piece of 2' string or yarn
- peanut butter
- bird seed
- For the group: markers & a large plastic container or bucket for collecting bird seed
20. Review what we learned today.
Optional Homework: Chicken
During the week, children can examine a bird up close by using a whole cooking chicken, which is basically only missing the feathers, head, and feet. Have the children try to figure out where the feet & head had been and which way would have been the back and which would have been the breast side of the chicken. If desired, you can also pull out the bag inside and sort through what is there. You can also discuss what the bump are on the skin. After examining the raw chicken, prepare it for dinner using your preferred method. (We used the crock-pot and a dry seasoning mix.) After the chicken has been cooked and cooled, allow the children to help remove the meat from the bones. Save the bones and see how much of the chicken skeleton they can reassemble. (Clean the bones using warm, soapy water or bleach first to make it a bit less messy.)
YOU WILL NEED: 1 cooking chicken
More of Our Favorite Bird Picture Books
There are so many great books on birds. Here were our absolute favorites enjoyed by ages 2-8!
Birds : winged and feathered animals by Slade, Suzanne
Look up! : bird-watching in your own backyard by Cate, Annette LeBlanc (Good but long – Helpful information)
Fine Feathered Friends by Tish Rabe
Counting Is for the Birds by Frank Mazzola Jr.
All the birds in the world by Opie, David (Good for PreK & K & has nice illustrations)
Birds : nature's magnificent flying machines by Arnold, Caroline (Longer)
Ducks Don't Get Wet by Goldin
Even an ostrich needs a nest : where birds begin by Kelly, Irene
An egg is quiet by Aston, Dianna Hutts (Short & simple but good)
Beaks! Sneed B. Collard III
- SPECIFIC BIRDS:
Laysan albatross by Molnar, Michael (Good)
The tragic tale of the great auk by Thornhill, Jan (Good - Skip the part on evolution)
Blue Sky Bluebird by Rick Chrustowski
My Baby Blue Jays by John Berendt
Two Blue Jays by Anne Rockwell (Great for PreK through 2nd grade)
Crows! by Laurence Pringle
Duck by Claire Llewellyn
The eagles are back by George, Jean Craighead
Eaglet's World by Evelyn Minshull
Beauty and the beak : how science, technology, and a 3D-printed beak rescued a bald eagle by Rose, Deborah Lee
Skydiver : saving the fastest bird in the world by Godkin, Celia
Mud City: A Flamingo Story by Brenda Guiberson
The Hungry Hummingbird by April Pulley Sayre
It's a hummingbird's life by Kelly, Irene
Seabird in the forest : the mystery of the marbled murrelet by Dunning, Joan
White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies
All About Owls by Jim Arnosky
Alex the parrot : no ordinary bird by Spinner, Stephanie (Great book!)
My Season with Penguins by Sophie Webb
The Emperor's Egg by Martin Jenkins
A Puffin's Year by Katherine Zecca
For the birds : the life of Roger Tory Peterson by Thomas, Peggy
The Goose Man: The Story of Konrad Lorenz
Audubon : painter of birds in the wild frontier by Armstrong, Jennifer is 40 pages, well illustrated and focuses on Audubon's adventures in the wilderness. The author stayed historically accurate.
The boy who drew birds : a story of John James Audubon by Davies, Jacqueline (Our favorite on Audubon. It has delightful text that taught us all some information about Audubon. It's beautifully illustrated with collage art and was able to even keep the attention of my 2 year old.)
Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream by Robert Burleigh has lyrical lines interspersed with parts of Audubon's journals.
She heard the birds : the story of Florence Merriam Bailey : pioneering nature activist by D'Aquino, Andrea
Our Favorite Bird-Related Biographies
Examine pond water and yeast cells under a microscope, test out various insect mouths, dissect a fish, create an egg model, perform a play about mammals, present on a specific animal phylum or genius, and more during this fun 5 part hands-on unit study on animal classification!
- Taxonomy, Animal Classification, and Invertebrates Lesson - This is part 1 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on zoology. Examine pond water and yeast cells under a microscope, dissect an oyster, sing “The Six Kingdom Song,” eat 5 of the kingdoms on a supreme pizza, and more!
- Insects and Spiders Lesson - This is part 2 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Test out various insect mouth types, examine insect parts under a microscope, make and eat edible ants, test out spider webs for vibration, and more!
- Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish (Cold-blooded Vertebrates) Lesson - This is part 3 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Zoology. Peel your “skin” like a reptile, dissect a fish, make origami jumping frogs, compare amphibian and reptile eggs by feeling tapioca and grapes, and more!
- Birds Lesson - This is part 4 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Create an egg model, make edible nests, test out various types of beaks, compare bird bones with mammal bones, examine various feathers, dissect a gizzard, sing a song about bird traits, and more!
- Mammals Lesson - This is part 5 of a 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. Perform a play about mammals, experience how blubber keeps marine mammals warm, sniff out your “baby,” examine animal skulls, dissect an owl pellet and piece together a rodent skeleton, and more!
- Zoology Presentations and Field Trip Ideas This describes the culminating activity for the 5 part hands-on unit on zoology. The children each presented on an assigned phylum, class, or order of animals. They also sang some of the animal classification songs and enjoyed an animal-themed meal. (Recipes are included.) Also included are the field trips we attended during this unit.
Great YouTube Clips on Birds
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use KONOS Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful Christian curriculum and was created by moms with active children! You can even watch free on-line videos as Jessica, one of the co-authors of KONOS, walks you through a unit. (Look for the Explanation Videos tab.)
© 2011 Shannon
What Is Your Favorite Bird and Why? - Or just let me know you dropped by! I love getting feedback from you!
Shannon (author) from Florida on May 10, 2013:
@anonymous: Here's a link for the worksheet: http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Be%20Out%20There/S...
anonymous on May 10, 2013:
Awesome lessons! I couldn't find a "Fit the Bill" page for the bird beak lesson, where the students could fill it in. Is there one? Thanks!
Shannon (author) from Florida on April 09, 2013:
@anonymous: Thank you!
anonymous on April 08, 2013:
Very good lesson on birds, wow! I love that idea of using pinecones for seed feeders. :)
Shannon (author) from Florida on July 21, 2012:
@wedpittsburgh lm: Thank you!
wedpittsburgh lm on July 20, 2012:
I do adore birds. This is a great lens!
Shannon (author) from Florida on July 20, 2012:
@esichrissa: Great! Thank you!
esichrissa on July 20, 2012:
Thanks. a very informative lens. you know lots of activities about birds. Nice. Btw, I just started to have interest on joining bird watching clubs and this lens heightened my interest! I selected this lens for Quest: It's Moon Day! Cheers!
KimGiancaterino on June 20, 2012:
We were walking through an elementary school recently and saw a whole string of pine cone bird feeders. What a great way to start a tradition of feeding birds.
Ramona from Arkansas on April 29, 2012:
Sorry, I had to come back since I forgot to tell you the Edible Birds Nest is Brilliant!
Ramona from Arkansas on April 29, 2012:
Very creative. I wish they would be so creative in Public schools. The children would probably learn more and actually enjoy learning. I give you thumbs up.
Angela F from Seattle, WA on April 28, 2012:
Great lesson plan unit lens - adding to my Desert Raptors lens.
BuckHawkcenter on February 29, 2012:
Happy Leap Day! This is one lens I will be returning to often. Great ideas and lots of the kind of information I want to share as activities with my granddaughters.
Teri Villars from Phoenix, Arizona on February 21, 2012:
Wow, you are amazing. Not only do you have 5 kids, you have the time and tenacity to make these great home school lenses for others to use. You should be commended! Squid Angel blessed!
sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on February 20, 2012:
beautifully presented lens on animal classification.
anonymous on June 22, 2011:
I like all the birds and this lens is a nice tool for unit study. Well done indeed. :)