Bird Brains (GMHDRNC)


Learn about the biology and adaptations of Arkansas birds in this program.

Grade Level:

K - 12

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:



Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, Pine Bluff


Education Program Coordinator, 870-534-0011


45 minutes - 1 hour

Suggested Number of Participants:

10 - 30


  • Learn the basic biology of birds.
  • Illustrate types of feathers and their functions.
  • Understand bird behaviors such as migration.




Key Terms*:

Contour feathers

Down feathers

Flight feathers


*See glossary for definations


Demonstration feathers

Educational animal (bird of prey)




Ornithology is the study of birds. Birds are warm-blooded egg layers. All birds have feathers, and most can fly, owing especially to their hollow bones. Most birds use calls and songs to communicate or gather, and many migrate seasonally for warmer weather. The sex organs of birds are entirely internal, and the female incubates eggs. Many birds exhibit sexual dimorphism; the female is often duller in color or pattern to better camouflage while nesting.


  1. Discuss the characteristics that classify an animal as a bird.
  2. Feathers, one of the key characteristics of birds, aid in flight, insulation, camouflage and communication. Show the three main types of feathers: contour, flight and down. 
    • Contour feathers give the bird its shape and coloration. They streamline the bird so that it is aerodynamic and provide the colorful plumage that attracts mates or provides camouflage. 
    • Flight feathers are designed to lift the bird, direct its flight and maintain altitude. They are usually found on the leading edge of the wing or in the tail of the bird.
    • Down feathers insulate the bird. 
    • Most birds also have oil glands located near the tail that help waterproof feathers. Preening covers their feathers with this oil.
  3. The same protein (keratin) that forms the feathers is in the beak, too. Beak shape can determine the diet of the bird. Illustrate common beak forms and their purposes. Long, skinny beaks such as those on herons indicate a diet of fish, while the short, hooked beaks of falcons tear apart small mammals. The long, extremely thin beaks of hummingbirds help them sip nectar from flowers, and the wide, flat beaks of many waterfowl sift insects and plant matter from muddy water.
  4. If time allows, discuss common behaviors of birds such as migration, communication (birdsong) and/or reproduction.
  5. Show the educational animal (a bird of prey) to the participants. This can also be done throughout the discussion as a visual aid.
  6. Answer any questions.


  • What is ornithology?
  • What is the purpose of down feathers?
  •  Why might a bird have a hooked beak?




Contour feathers – feathers that form the general covering of a bird


Down feathers – the soft under plumage of birds, different from contour feathers


Flight feathers – long, stiff, asymmetrically shaped but symmetrically paired feathers on a bird's wings or tail that generate thrust and lift, thereby enabling flight.

– to trim or dress (feathers, fur, etc.) with the beak or tongue, especially with birds