Beaks "N" Seeds (FBCEC)
This activity explores types of beaks and the food they’re best suited for. It can introduce or reinforce lessons about adaptation and/or natural selection.
5 - 8
Indoor or outdoor classroom
Fred Berry Conservation Education Center, Yellville, AR
Education Program Coordinator, 870-449-3484
45 minutes - 1 hour
Suggested Number of Participants:
Up to 24
Sufficient adult supervision. Weather permitting.
- Describe beak adaptations to peers.
- Identify common beak adaptations and the food they’re best suited for.
- Graph and interpret data collected in the activity. Understand that birds’ beaks are adapted to eat certain types of food and that adaptations increase an organism’s chance for survival.
*See glossary for definations
Copies of graphing sheet
Droppers with small containers
Food – gummy worms, assorted seeds, cups of colored water, macaroni, etc.
Pens or pencils
Stop watch or watch with a second hand
(Other items can be substituted for beaks and/or food)
Birds’ beaks are adapted to collect food and are important for the species’ success. Beaks can be like a pouch, long and thin, pointed, curved, short and stout or slender and long. Some are crossed while others are shaped like a spoon. They are as varied as the diets of birds themselves.
- Create four or five groups with up to six per group.
- Set up a work area for each group. At each area set out the beaks (one set of pliers, one pair of scissors, one dropper, one set of forceps, one toothpick, one die and one spoon). Place a “food” supply in the center of each group: gummy worms, macaroni, seeds, a small cup of colored water, etc.
- Without using the terms “beaks” and “food,” each participant should choose a beak. Tell them they will be given 20 seconds to pick up as many items as they can. They may only use the beak. They cannot use their hand to scoop or grasp anything. Tell when to start and time them. After the time is up, stop and count how many of each item they collected.
- Give each a graphing sheet and instructions to record how many of each food item they were able to pick up.
- Allow time to complete their graphs, then ask which food items were easiest to pick up with their tool. Explain that the tools they used represent beaks of different birds, and the other materials represented food the birds may eat.
- Ask them to describe the beaks represented and to name or describe actual birds that might have that sort of beak. The participants who got the die may wonder what type they have, since they were not able to pick up anything. Ask what might happen to a bird with that beak. Correlate the discussion to natural selection, i.e. nature would select against a bird if its beak were unable to get food, perhaps causing the extinction of that species.
- Which type of food was picked up most often, as shown in the results? Remove these items, explaining that habitat changes have eliminated this food source. Play the game again. Graph the new data and discuss any significant differences from the first round. Discuss how the habitat change might relate to populations of particular bird species. Also have participants suggest types of change due to human activity or nature, which could produce similar effects.
- Ask for examples of other adaptations that might help a bird survive. Leg length, foot shape, body shape, feather type, coloration and behaviors could be discussed. If there is time, the participants could choose a type of food and then invent a well-adapted beak. They could draw the beak or make a model from materials you supply. Encourage participants to be creative. For example, they could design a beak that would pick up a piece of pizza. Have them share their creations.
- How might the beaks differ between a bird that eats small seeds and one that eats insect larvae and worms from the ground?
- Describe a situation in which birds with longer beaks than other birds of the same species might have a survival advantage over the shorter-beaked birds. What would be the likely result within that population of birds? How might offspring be affected?
- Weiner, Jonathan (1994). The Beak of the Finch. Vintage Books–A Division of Random House, Inc., New York.
- Bird Beaks. Backyard Nature. http://www.backyardnature.net/birdbeak.htm
- Stokes, Donald and Lillian (1996). Field Guide to Birds, Little, Brown and Company.
Beaks "N" Seeds Chart
Adaptation – a natural alteration in the structure or function of an organism which helps it to survive and multiply in its environment
Beak – horny, projecting structure forming a bird’s mandible, used for eating, grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, probing for food, courtship and feeding its young
Natural selection – the process by which organisms better adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce than the less adapted of the same species
Population – all the members of one species in a particular area
Species – biological classification of plants and animals immediately below the genus level