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Bird's Beak, A (PCEC)

TopicOutdoor Skills - Identification
Outdoor Skills - Reading the Woods
Wildlife - Adaptations
Wildlife - Birds
Outdoor Skills - Watching Wildlife
Participants pretend to be birds, gather different kinds of “food” in their beaks and evaluate their success.

Grade Level2 - 8
Recommended SettingTables
LocationPotlatch Conservation Education Center at Cook’s Lake, Casscoe

Education Program Coordinator, 870-241-3373


Duration45 minutes
Suggested Number of Participants25 - 30
  • Identify common beaks and the types of food gathered they gather.
  • Simulate how different beaks are adapted to types of food. Graph and interpret the data.
  • Explain how adaptations increase an organism’s chances of survival.
Key Terms*







  • Implements of different sizes and shapes to pick up food (tongs, tweezers, skewer, scoop/spoon, slotted spoon, etc.)
  • Food examples (oatmeal, grapes, raisins, gummy worms, fish or other floaters/submergible, marshmallows, peanuts, etc.)
  • Containers to hold food
  • Sheets copied that list the implements and food at each station and which worked best. (The local instructor, depending on the food and implement examples, will develop this.)
BackgroundAll life forms develop adaptations that help them adjust to their environment. Birds have several adaptations that help maintain their species: feet, legs, wings and beaks. Birds have different beaks, depending on what they eat and where their food is located. In addition to feeding, birds use their beaks to build nests, defend their territory, groom and communicate. These factors determine the type of beak on a particular species. The following types will be considered:
  • Fish-eating beak – long and skinny
  • Insect-eating beak – short and stout but narrow for catching
  • Seed-eating beak – short, extremely strong for crushing
  • Fruit-eating beak – short, opens wide for picking up berries
  • Water- and mud-sifting beak – flat
  • Chisel beak – long and strong to drill holes in wood
  • Prey-eating beak – short, hooked and strong for sinking into prey
  • Probing beak – long and thin but not sharp for digging insects out of the mud
  • Nectar-sipping beak – long and extremely thin
  1. Introduce the topic and how it relates to the activity.
  2. Give instructions on whether participants will work in teams, what to do at each station, how much time per station, etc.
  3. Hand out sheets. Instruct participants to list each station’s food and what implement worked best.
  4. Rotate through the stations.
  5. When finished, discuss each station, the type of food, which implement worked best and what kind of real bird and food they represent.
  6. Emphasize the importance of diversity within any community of animals and the importance of filling a niche.
  • What is a niche in an ecosystem? Why doesn’t it work for all birds to eat insects, for example?
  • Birds were used in this example. What other living things diversify so they may harmoniously live in the same environment? How? (Hint: fish, insects, etc.)
  • What other adaptations do birds have, other than their beaks, to make getting their food of choice easier?

Beak – horny, projecting structure forming a bird’s mandible, used for eating, grooming, manipulating objects, killing, probing for food, courtship and feeding its young

Bird – any warm-blooded vertebrate of the class Aves, having a body covered with feathers, forelimbs modified into wings, scaly legs, a beak, and no teeth, and bearing young in a hard-shelled egg

Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs

Morphology – branch of biology dealing with the form and structure of organisms and systems

Niche – a position in an ecosystem that is well-suited to an organism; specific places an organism can live