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. Read Matthew 6:26.
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: a ping pong type ball and a jellybean
5. Talk about monocular vision and how many birds have 1 eye on each side of their head rather than both eyes looks forward like we have (binocular vision). Hold 2 tennis balls (each are about the size of an ostrich eyeball) on each side of your head to show where the ostriches' eyes would be. Have children stand in a circle, close their right eye, and try to toss around a ball. Why do you think God gave many birds monocular vision? (This activity and many of the other activities in this lesson came from "Birds, Birds, Birds" from Ranger Rick's NatureScope series.)
YOU WILL NEED: 2 tennis balls
6. Compare hands and arms to types of feathers by using the illustration from "Birds: Nature's Magnificent Flying Machines" by Caroline Arnold.
7. Compare contour and down feathers. Point out the shaft/quill, vane, barb, & barbules. Look at the feathers under a microscope or with magnifying glasses. If possible, compare the feathers of a hen and rooster. 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. (Questions are from "Handbook of Nature Study.")
YOU WILL NEED: contour feathers, down feathers, tail feathers, wing feathers, an umbrella, & a microscope or magnifying glasses
8. 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. They run each feather through their beak which straightens the feathers kind of like when you have to straighten and clean the Velcro in your shoes. The barbs and barbules fit together like Velcro. If desired, you can let children pull apart and put together Velcro on shoes. 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. Dip a small washcloth in water, wring it out and pass it around. It feels wet. Now dip a feather in the water, and pass it around twice. The first time around it might feel wet, but by the second time you've passed it around it will feel dry. Now pass around the washcloth again. It still feels wet because it absorbed the water. Why didn't the feather absorb water? Yes, because it's covered in a light layer of oil. If desired, pour a small amount of oil into the bowl of water so the children can see the oil and water not mixing. Why do you think God gave birds oil glands? What might happen to birds if their feathers didn't repel water? Yes, they would be too heavy to fly. What is the function of the oil gland? 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) (optional), a small feather, a washcloth, a small bowl of water, a small amount of cooking oil (optional)
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 or other mammal. Pass around the bones so the children can feel the difference in weight. If possible, before class/co-op, saw the bones in half (lengthwise if you can) to show its internal structure. Have the children describe the differences. If you have a strong light source, have the children hold the bones up to the light. Light can be seen through the bird bone, but not through the dense mammal bone.
YOU WILL NEED: chicken bone and cow bone or other mammal bone (can get from a butcher or save ones from meals) [at least 1 set, but please bring more if you can]
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 mom brought a stuffed pheasant. If you have a friendly pet bird, you can let children hold it.
YOU WILL NEED: a bird
11. Do birds have teeth? Show how a gizzard works by handing each child a snack-size baggie half-filled with sand. This will be like a gizzard. Have each child pinch up a small amount of sunflower seeds or other bird food seed with their fingers just like a bird's beak. Have them put the seeds in the bag. Seal closed the bags and then squeeze the sand in the "gizzard" and try to break apart the seeds. Show a gizzard. Cut it open and let children feel how tough the inner lining is. Why do you think God give birds gizzards?
YOU WILL NEED: a gizzard (turkey or chicken bought from grocery story alone or in a package inside a whole cooking bird) [at least one, but please bring more if you can], plate, scissors or knife, a snack-size bag half-filled with sand for each child, & a handful of sunflower seeds or other bird food
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.
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. If desired, label each with a marker. If desired, write "amnion" on a fold-over plastic sandwich bag. If desired, write "chorion" on a second fold-over plastic sandwich bag. 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 bag labeled "Chorion." Place everything into the bigger half of the shell and close. Use a 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) If you have a real bird's nest, let children examine it and then pull it apart to examine what it is made of. We have nests that have been vacant for 3+ years.
YOU WILL NEED: at least 1 bird's nest (Bring more if you can.)
Edible Bird Nests
16. 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.) This is your mud. 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, & 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. 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". Hummingbirds have long hollow beaks that are used to probe flowers for nectar. Snipes and curlews have very long beaks that they used to probe for worms and other small animals in the mud and water. Pelicans have long flattened beaks that they use to scoop up fish. Nighthawks, poorwills, and swallows have large gaping mouths that act like nets to trap insects. These birds catch insects while flying. Warblers have small, sharp, pointed beaks for picking insects from leaves or logs. Sparrows and grosbeaks have very short conical beaks. They are very strong beaks and can break open seeds.
-Set up 7 stations, each with a type of "food" that fits one of the beaks described. Copy the "Fit the Bill" page for each child. Have children pair up (1 younger and 1 older child). Explain that there will be three different tools at each station, each of which represents a different type of bird beak function. Each group will decide which tool would most efficiently get the food at each station. Once they pick the best tool, they should write the name of the tool on their "Fit the Bill" page at the "tool" blank.
The starred * tool indicates the best fit.
Food: Water in a tall, thin vase or bottle (hummingbird and nectar)
Tools: straw*, envelope or small fishnet, large scoop or slotted spoon
Food: Bowl filled with dry oatmeal or chocolate pudding with gummy worms on the bottom to represent worms buried in the mud. (curlews and snipes)
Tools: chopsticks*, nutcracker or pliers, eyedropper
Food: Whole walnuts or other nuts with shells to represent seeds with hard coverings. (sparrows, grosbeaks and other finchlike birds)
Tools: nutcracker or pliers*, large scoop or slotted spoon, tweezers
Food: Styrofoam chunks or soap floating in a bowl filled with water to represent fish and other aquatic animals. (pelicans)
Tools: large scoop or slotted spoon*, eyedropper or straw, chopsticks
Food: Popcorn or tiny marshmallows tossed in the air (done by Mom #2), which must be caught in the air to represent flying insects. (nighthawks and poorwills)
Tools: envelope or small fishnet*, tweezers, chopsticks
Food: Rice or puffed rice spread on a log to represent insects. (warblers)
Tools: tweezers*, envelope or fishnet, nutcracker or pliers
Food: Puffed rice spread in a bowl of water to represent tiny aquatic plants and animals. (flamingos and some ducks)
Tools: strainer*, forceps or tweezers, chopsticks
YOU WILL NEED: 4 of each: chopsticks & forceps or tweezers; 3 of each: eyedroppers or straw, nutcrackers or pliers, large scoops or slotted spoons, envelopes or small fishnets; 2 bowls; 1 thin vase or bottle; 1 strainer; Styrofoam chunks or soap; 10 copies of Fit the Bill Worksheets; 10 pencils; A small pile of: popcorn or tiny marshmallows, rice or puffed rice, fake worms (gummy worms or fishing worms), oatmeal or chocolate pudding, walnuts or other nuts with shells
Bird Feeder & Review Song
19. Make a bird feeder. Give each child a sheet of wax paper, a plastic knife, a string, a handful of birdseed, and a large blob of peanut butter. Have them cover the pine cones with peanut butter & then sprinkle with seeds. Tie yarn to the top.
YOU WILL NEED: 10 pinecones, 10 pieces of string, 10 plastic knives, wax paper, peanut butter, & bird seed
20. (Optional) Sing Bird Song (tune: "If You're Happy and You Know It") from Lyrical Life Science Volume 1.
YOU WILL NEED: Words to the above song printed out
Below are the lapbook pages you can print out and have your child complete to review the information we learned at co-op. Children will be able to show off their completed lapbooks at our co-op dinner. Feel free to add more or less that the below links.
Digestive System: http://files.homeschoolshare.com/docs54478/chicken/digestive system.pdf
Extra: Parts of an Egg Coloring Sheet: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/eggs/pdfs/eggparts.pdf
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! The below 5 books were thoroughly enjoyed by my 8 year old son, 5 year old son, and 2 year old daughter. "When Agnes Caws" by Candace Fleming is a great story about a girl who is wonderful at imitating bird calls. It does a good job of helping children realize the distinct calls of various birds. "Counting Is for the Birds" by Frank Mazzola Jr. is a simple, rhyming counting book that features 20 common birds. It also includes factual information about each bird and had realistic illustrations so you can easily identify each bird. We also really enjoyed "Ducks Don't Get Wet" by Goldin, "Booby Hatch" by Lewin, "Eaglet's World" by Evelyn Minshull, "The Hungry Hummingbird" by April Pulley Sayre, "Crows!" by Laurence Pringle, "Duck" by Claire Llewellyn, "The Boy Who Drew Birds" by Jacqueline Davies, "My Spring Robin" by Anne Rockwell, "Blue Sky Bluebird" by Rick Chrustowski, "Mud City: A Flamingo Story" by Brenda Guiberson, "A Nest Full of Eggs" by Priscilla Belz Jenkins, "Our Yard Is Full of Birds" by Anne Rockwell, "Penguin Chick" by Betty Tatham, "A Puffin's Year" by Katherine Zecca, "Bird Songs by Betsy Franco, "Bird Talk" by Ann Jonas, "Cardinal and Sunflower by Preller, "Mama Outside, Mama Inside" by Aston, "A Mother's Journey" by Markle, "Bald Eagle" by Gordon Morrison, "Eaglet's World" by Minshull, "Feathers for Lunch" by Lois Ehlert, "White Owl, Barn Owl" by Nicola Davies, & "Honk, Honk, Goose!" by April Pulley Sayre.
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.
Our Favorite Bird-Related Biographies
Our Favorite Books on John James Audubon
We didn't talk about John James Audubon during co-op/class, but my family did read books about him prior to co-op. These are our favorites. My two older boys (ages 8 and 5) loved "Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier" by Jennifer Armstrong. It's 40 pages, well illustrated and focuses on Audubon's adventures in the wilderness. The author stayed historically accurate. My 8 year old son also loved reading the chapter books "John James Audubon: Bird Artist" (A Discovery Book) and "The Story of John J. Audubon" (Signature Books Series). "Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream" by Robert Burleigh is another picture book biography that is short enough even for younger children. It has lyrical lines interspersed with parts of Audubon's journals.
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 curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
© 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. :)