Battle of the Beaks
Author: Judy Scotchmoor
Overview: In this lesson, students learn about
adaptive advantage, based on beak function, by simulating birds competing for various foods.
- Inherited structures provide adaptive advantage in a competitive
Grade Span: 68
Materials: (for 28 students)
- 7 scissors
- 7 plastic spoons
- 7 tweezers
- 7 large binder clips
- 4-5 boxes of large paper clips
- 200 large rubber bands
- 4-5 boxes of toothpicks
- 2 cups of macaroni
- 28 plastic cups (best if clear)
- 28 Recording Sheets
- Graph paper
- Grid for recording results (see below)
Gather materials and prepare the grid.
Copy Recording Sheets (HTML or pdf).
Time: Two hours
Grouping: Whole class
In any habitat, food is limited and the types of foods
available may vary. Animals that are better adapted to take advantage of available
foods will fare better than those who are less well adapted, and thus live to pass
on their genes to the next generation. While this concept seems rather obvious, it
is essential that each student fully grasp its significance. Understanding the idea
of adaptive advantage opens the door to understanding populations in ecosystems as
well as the process of evolution.
Explore this link for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson:
Vocabulary: population, selection, advantage
- Have students select either a spoon, tweezer,
binder clip or pair of scissors, and a plastic cup and then sit quietly
in a large circle.
- Explain to them that they are now birds. They
are very hungry birds. They can only eat with the implement they have
selected and they can only use that implement for eating. The cup
represents their stomach. It must remain upright at all times. They
must hold their beak in one hand and their stomach in the other. They
can only place food in their stomachs with their beaks.
- Explain to them that certain food items will
be placed in the feeding area (middle of the circle but spread out
evenly towards the students/birds). When you say go they
are to collect as much food and place it in their stomachs as possible
until you say stop.
- Take one of the food items (paper clip beetles)
and distribute the clips within the feeding area. Say go
and allow birds to feed for 12 minutes or until all of the food
is gone. [NOTE: Depending upon your students you may need to caution
about behavior. Even adults doing this activity become a bit more
aggressive as the activity proceeds, but obviously safety is foremost.
If some students are not responsible enough for this, have them be
observers and take notes on the birds behaviors.]
- Once you have said stop have students
empty their stomachs and count the contents. Hand each a Recording
Sheet to fill in. Have them return all food items.
- Repeat this activity using each of the other
food items (toothpick twigs, rubber band worms, macaroni munchies).
By the end of the activity, each of the students should have completed
his/her row for the beak type and filled in the total amount of food.
- Pause for a class discussion:
a) What did you notice about your feeding abilities?
b) Did everyone with your type of beak have the
same success rate with the same foods? Why or why not?
c) What did you notice about your behavior and the
behavior of others?
- Examine the data: Tally up the class totals
for each of the beak types in a grid on the board. Have the students
create bar graphs that represent the class total for each of the beak
and food types. This can be started in class and continued for homework.
- When all of the graphs have been completed,
have students pick up their beaks and stomachs once again and return
to their circle. Explain that obviously most habitats have more than
one kind of food available. Ask: What will your strategy be if all
of the food types are available?
- Spread out all of the materials into the feeding
circle. Allow about 4 minutes for feeding. Gather the data and have
students help to sort out the food items once again for clean up.
- Again continue with the class discussion. What
were your strategies? How was this different from the previous eating
- Assess student understanding by posing this
question: What would happen if all the bird types we have been working
with flew to an island where no birds had been before and the only
food type available was macaroni munchies. Which bird beak type would
be mot likely to be successful? Explain your answer.
Give a food value for each of the food types. Would this change your
feeding strategies? How much more of one type of food would you have to eat to equal only
one of something else, etc. What would happen if there was a change in the environmental
conditions (drought, etc) causing the loss of one of the food items. What would happen to
the bird populations?
Updated October 31, 2003
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