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title or topic of activity
Davidson, Elizabeth Simon
| This activity is geared towards
encouraging the conservation of marine communities through exposure
to marine birds, organisms who are integral to the ecological web
of marine life. Specifically, students will learn about several evolutionary
adaptations of marine birds and how these unique characteristics play
into basic survival. A portion of the lesson will also focus upon
specific birds and exactly how they function in the ocean. This will
be done through activities that will help the kids become more aware
of the need to do their part to protect these birds. Through listening,
inquiry, and hands-on activity, the kids will consider whether protecting
the habitat of aquatic birds is as important as saving a better-known
animal, such as the dolphin. Finally, the ecological importance of
marine birds will be discussed as well as protection and endangerment
issues. The station will provide information about how humans negatively
affect the lives of sea birds and what can be done to protect them.
| This activity is geared towards
3-5th grade children and can accommodate groups of 15 to 45 students.
Marine birds do not get wet when they enter the water. All birds
have what is called a preening gland. The preening gland secretes
waxes and fats that a bird spreads throughout its feathers in order
to make itself waterproof/insulated. Birds also have powder downs,
special feathers made of keratin that break into small dust-like
pieces. This dust is spread throughout the feathers, aids in waterproofing
the bird (because keratin is waterproof).
marine birds have what are called salt glands. Because ocean-bound
birds often have no choice but to drink salt water, they need a
special mechanism by which to evacuate extra salt from their systems.
Salt glands concentrate salt from blood in an area near the sinuses.
The bird then can rid itself of excess salt by "sneezing"
the salt out. Some non-marine birds have facultative salt glands.
When these transient, migrants drink salt water, their normally
atrophied salt glands increase in size allowing them to excrete
extraneous salt, as needed. The majority of the fresh water that
marine birds need comes from their prey.
Many predatory sea birds, such as penguins and cormorants have
bills with curved projections at the tips that help to direct fish
towards the esophagus. The different lengths and curvatures of shorebird
bills determine which prey they can reach by probing in the sand.
Differences in bill dimensions influence the rate at which food
can be eaten.
cormorants and frigate birds have a distensible pouch between the
branches of the lower mandible that they use to capture fish. Pelicans
dive and scoop fish up in their pouched bills and drain the water
before swallowing their catch. Cormorants pursue fish under water,
seizing their prey with their hooked bills. Anhingas spear their
fish. Frigate birds steal food from other fish-eating birds. Flamingos
have beak lamellae that filter small organisms out of the water.
They can eat small invertebrates and even blue green algae. Long
billed, long legged birds wade in shallow water or along the edge
of the water using their bills to probe in the mud or sand to pluck
prey items out. Black skimmers skim the surface of the water to
catch fish. Penguins dive to great depths to get their meals while
terns and gulls will drop from a vantage point in the sky to catch
a fish near the oceans surface.
There are several lengths of legs and types of feet found on
sea birds. Those birds that spend most of their time on the ocean
usually have short, stocky legs and palmate or totipalmate feet
(partially webbed or totally webbed). The short legs work well as
"oars" and the webbed feet work great as the paddle at
the end of the oar. Birds that do a lot of swimming have counter
current exchange in their feet and legs. Because ocean water can
be very cold and even damaging after extended exposure, marine birds
need to compensate for the fact that a lot of heat is lost through
their feet to the surrounding water. Birds use counter current exchange
to warm the cold blood returning from the feet back up. Counter
current exchange works by having the arteries pass close by the
veins. The warm blood that is in the arteries heats the cold blood
in the veins so that it is not exceedingly cold when it reaches
the core of the body.
Tube nosed birds have great noses for smelling foodpetrels,
and shear waters can smell food for up to 30 km!
Birds, in this case aquatic birds, play an essential, and often
overlooked role in the ecosystem. They help to keep the ecosystem
at a natural equilibrium state by helping to consume the large population
of fish in the oceans and lakes, are able to assist in the dispersal
of seeds to new environments, and most importantly keep us awe of
their beauty and grace. However, it is astounding how quickly their
presence can be taken away from us if we infringe too greatly upon
their environment. Five examples of humans disturbing their environment
include loss of habitat because of human invasion, unnecessary deaths
due to by-catch, oil spills, disturbed migration patterns because
of global warming, and loss of predatory instincts.
Ecologists worry that oil spills in the ocean will affect
fish and other organisms beneath the surface. Oil spills can also
have devastating effects upon organisms above the surface. One of
the most poignant examples of birds being hurts by oil spills, is
that of Exxon plant oil spill in New York Harbor on January 1, 1990.
"In all, over 600 wintering birds were killed outright
from the spill" (Birds). The birds feathers soak up the
oil to the point that the birds wings are so heavy that they
are unable to fly away or even move well. As the oil continues to
soak into their feathers, the birds lose the ability to fight off
the cold and eventually freeze to death on the water. In addition,
"Birds, who preen, and therefore ingest oil, will have membrane
damage and dehydration" (Birds).
Loss of habitat and predatory instincts due to human invasion
are essentially interrelated. When birds become too dependent on
humans, they will lose their ability to obtain food for themselves.
One poignant example of this is that the ducks on Lake Chatauqua
in Western New York State do not fly south for the winter. They
remain on the lake through the coldest depths of winter because
they know that the residents will continue to feed them bread every
day. If there were ever a period when the people stopped feeding
these ducks, the ducks would most likely not know how to fend for
themselves and die.
Another danger that seabirds face is death due to entanglement
in fishing nets--in other words, becoming by-catch. Death often
occurs because the birds see bait dangling from fishing lines and
lurch for it. "In fact, in the Southern Hemisphere, it is estimated
that more than 40,000 albatross are hooked and drowned every year
after grabbing at squid used as bait on longlines being set for
bluefin tuna" (The Worlds Imperiled Fish). Many sea birds
are also killed because they get tangled up in long drift nets,
which are pulled through the water and succeed in catching anything
in their path.
In recent years, an increase in global temperature, linked
to the increased emission of fossil fuels, has been blamed for a
decline in the population of sea birds. Global warming has caused
both a rise in the average temperature of the open ocean, as well
as a melting of the ice caps at the two poles. The warmer water
in the open ocean has caused a decrease in the plankton population,
which has significantly impaired the diet of seabirds. The melting
of the ice caps at the poles means that birds who have depended
of the ice environment (a source of algae) are needing to find new
ways to obtain food (Climate change harms ocean life).
for the activity
time to do the activity
|It is estimated that this activity
will take between 45 minutes and an hour to teach.
Make inferences as to the evolutionary advantage of different adaptations
found in sea birds.
Describe and discuss what makes marine birds different from
strictly terrestrial birds and how marine birds adapt to life at
Understand how an ecological system works by looking at sea
bird systems and why all participants are integral to the survival
of that system.
To identify the ecological importance of sea birds.
Describe the problems that can be caused for sea birds when a marine
habitat is altered for the worse, such as when an organism no longer
has access to an essential resource.
To illustrate how humans can negatively affect a sea birds
ability to live a healthy life.
Science Education Standards. (NSES)
content standards that this lesson plan covers:
Content Standard A:
Students should have the opportunity to learn on a level that is
appropriate for their skills. The material being discussed should
encourage them to make conclusions and back them up with well thought
out reasons. However, it should not be so complex that retention
and understanding cannot take place. In this lesson plan, the students
are asked to have a basic understanding of why sea birds have adapted
certain morphological characteristics. In doing this, they will
look to constraints and characteristics of the environment for a
probable cause of adaptation choices.
Content Standard B
The students should be encouraged to solidify their understanding,
of what might other wise be a complex topic, by putting it into
the context of their own experience. The students should think about
pictures they have seen in magazines or on television where sea
birds were hurt by human influence. Perhaps they have seen birds
caught in nets or trapped in oil spills. They are able to better
support their ideas because they have seen what is happening through
one form or another.
Content Standard C
Focus and support the questions while continually encouraging them
to look at the answers in a broad context. In other words, teach
the students how to take a specific piece of knowledge and fit it
into the overall issue being addressed.
Content Standard D
The students should have the opportunity to participate in a hands-on
experiment where they can enhance their understanding of the ideas
being discussed. They can use common objects (such as household
utensils) to visually demonstrate the morphology that enables sea
birds to swim through the water or to pick up food with their beaks.
The students can also use their bodies to play different animals
in the food chain. This enables them to observe the cascade effect
of a break in the food chain.
- One shower lufa
- Overhead Projector and accompanying translucent sheets
- Preserved specimens of whole birds, beaks, legs, and feet
- Pictures (on overhead, computer, posters, handouts, etc
- Poster in the shape of a bird
and accompanying feather shaped construction paper pieces
- Pick-Up sticks or chop sticks
- One regular-sized bag of marshmallows
- Regular-sized kitchen forks, sporks (a combination spoon/fork),
and fat forks (almost as broad as a spoon)
- Toothbrushes (the quantity depends on the size of the group,
it is not necessary for the entire group to participate at once)
- One large and two smaller glass bowls
- Four large sheets of construction paper
- Adhesives (Velcro, glue, tape, ect
- Pictures http://www.1000pictures.com/animals/bird-wtr/index.htm
(on overhead, on computer, posters, handouts, etc...)
Pictures should be prepared ahead of time (i.e., put pictures in
a power point presentation, on overheads, in handouts, on posters,
etc...). A poster in the shape of a large bird should be made for
kids to tape their "feather facts on". Paper feathers
should be made ahead of time, also. An overhead projector and a
television and VCR will be useful if you want to show photocopied
pictures and video clips. If sample birds (preserved or alive) can
be obtained, they need to be set up ahead of time. Colleges usually
have specimen collections that birds can be borrowed from. Birds
that demonstrate each of the different physical features that are
discussed will be best for the presentation as models for reference.
If real birds cannot be obtained, cut outs of beaks, legs and feet
should be made for demonstration purposes.
In Tucson, the University of Arizona has an excellent preserved
bird collection. For more information, please contact Tom
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
Worksheets that help to reinforce
ideas learned can be made. A worksheet that asks students to match
beaks with prey items would be ideal for this lesson. If desired,
a fun activity would be to make origami paper birds. These are easy
and fun to make.
Procedure for the Activity
- First, find out what kinds of marine birds the kids know. Get
the kids involved in helping you list what makes marine birds
different from terrestrial birds. Mention that birds found at
the ocean can either be migratory or permanent. Discuss migration.
- Ask the kids what they think marine birds eat and then ask how
they think birds get their food. Talk about the beaks of different
birds and what prey they might be best at catching. Have the kids
match bills to prey items on a worksheet or poster.
- Point out the different types of bird legs
and feet. Ask questions to see if students can deduce the
utility of different feet and different leg lengths. Discuss counter
current exchange if time permits.
- Ask what would happen if all the kids drank salty water (they
would get sick or die). Have them generate ideas as to how the
kids think birds with little access to fresh water deal with only
having salt water to drink. Talk about the salt gland and make
sure to mention that a good percentage of a birds water
intake comes from their food. Mention that migratory birds have
a somewhat atrophied salt gland that works somewhat facultatively.
- Talk about the functions of feathers. Ask the students if they
think that marine birds get wet. Tell them about the mechanisms
used to achieve and maintain dryness.
- Describe tube nosed birds. Ask the
kids why they think these birds would need to have such a great
sense of smell (to find food). Note that this would be a great
trait for birds that like to steal food from other animals.
Beak and Leg Investigation
Students use different implements that mimic seabird beaks
and feet in order to explore how the different beaks and feet
work in similar habitats.
- A fork, spoon and a spork will be used to imitate webbed (palmate
or totipalmate), lobate and normal, un-webbed feet, respectively.
Reiterate the previous discussion about how different feet are
used. Given the choice of webbed, lobate and normal feet, have
the kids match the different types of feet up with the different
silverware items. Show specimens or pictures of birds that have
each of the different types of feet. Allow each child to stir
the spork, spoon and fork in a bowl of water, in order to see
why the webbed foot, or spoon, is the best for swimming.
- Next, discuss why leg length is important. Point out that
longer legs allow birds to wade in deep water without getting
wet, while shorter legged birds have an easier time swimming
(if they have webbed feet), and searching for small prey items
on the ground. Show specimens or pictures of birds with different
leg lengths and mention the depth of the water that each bird
might encounter, as well as the kinds of foods that you might
expect each of the birds to be eating.
- Reiterate the points of the discussion about bird beaks. For
this investigation, stabbing, grabbing and filtering beaks will
be examined. To demonstrate the utility of short, grabbing beaks,
place plastic bugs on the surface of a bowl full of dirt. Given
a toothbrush, a stick or a clothespin, have the kids decide
which beak implement is going to be effective for picking the
bugs off of the dirt. Allow the kids to grab the bugs with clothespins,
after confirming that everyone understands why the clothespin
would be the best implement for grabbing bugs.
Now, place a bunch of small marshmallows a few inches
below the surface of the dirt. The marshmallows represent
insects, worms and crustaceans that live deep in the sand.
Have the kids guess whether the toothbrush or the stick
is going to be best to get the deep lying food items. Allow
the kids to poke in the dirt with a stick, until they "catch"
Lastly, sprinkle some glitter over water in a small
bowl. Because youre obviously down to the toothbrush,
by process of elimination, talk about the flamingo and how
it obtains food with its lamellae. See if you can get the
kids to tell you what other marine animal uses a structure
like lamellae to get plankton out of the water (baleen whales).
Allow the children to "catch" the glittery plankton
with their toothbrush beaks.
Show the kids pictures or specimens of the different
bird beaks. Allude to the beak-to-prey matching exercise
done earlier, matching the implements used (sticks, clothespins,
toothbrush) to actual birds.
Ecological Dependence Exercise
Show the students this poster. Ask
them to guess what animals or objects might appear in the blank
spaces of the circle. Explain the relationship between the original
objects on the poster and those that the students placed there.
Make sure they understand the objects are all linked together in
an ecological cycle (Global warming effects the ocean temperature,
which hurts the coral, which impedes on the health of the fish,
which decreases the food source for birds). This exercise gives
a similar, but slightly different message, as the following activity
so the two can be used in conjunction or separately.
Students use their own bodies to demonstrate how human actions
can negatively affect their environment. Every student is going
to be in one of four groupseach group will be a specific component
of the marine food chain. We are going to learn about what happens
when one part of the chain is eliminated because of either habitat
destruction, , global warming, oil spills, or being caught by a
fishing net. Only when we really understand how interconnected the
animals in the marine food chain are do we realize how greatly we
can hurt one animal by harming another.
- This activity is not time consuming, yet it still addresses
the ideas being discussed in a clear, concise manner. Pick four
different aquatic organisms (sea gulls, sardines, plankton, and
the grey whale) then ask the students to number off until the
class is divided into four equal groups. All the "sea gulls"
go to one corner of the room, the "sardines" to another,
- As the students move to their corners, clear a space in the
center of the room.
- Assign each group a concept:
"Sea gulls" =loss of habitat because of human invasion
"Plankton" =oil spills
"Grey Whale" =global warming
- Now its time to form a circle! This is done by building
the circle in chains of loss of habitat, by-catch, oil spills,
and global warming. A student from each of the four groups walks
toward the cleared area. The four students stand next to each
other, facing in toward what will be the center of the circle.
Four more studentsone from each groupthen join the
circle. Keep adding to the circle in sets of four until all of
the students are part of at least one of the circles.
- All students should now be standing shoulder to shoulder, facing
the center of the circle.
- Ask the students to turn toward their right, at the same time
taking one step toward the center of the circle. They should be
standing parallel to each other with each head looking at the
head in front of them.
- At this point the students should put their hands on the shoulders
of the person in front of them and as the instructor counts to
three, slowly sit down on the knees of the person directly behind
them. At that point you then say, "Separate human and bird
habitats and there will be no habitat destruction, no by-catch,
oil spills, or global warmingthese are all conditions sea
birds need to survive in their habitat.
- After the students laughter has subsided (from falling
down) ask them about actions they can take to help prevent these
concepts from affecting the sea birds lifestyle in a negative
way (i.e. write to their congressmen). Also, ask them why these
problems are so detrimental to the sea birds.
- After the students understand the major point, let them try
the circle again. This time ask them to hold their lap sit posture.
As the students lap-sit, pick out one of the students from the
outermost circle and say that lately there has been an excessive
amount of sea bird deaths due to by-catch. The student represented
by the "sardine" suffering from by-catch will need to
leave from the lap-circle. At that point, the circle will collapse,
or at least suffer disruption. Go through each of the three remaining
circles until each of the different concepts have been chosen
from each of the circles. Explain to the kids that loss of habitat
by human invasion, by-catch, oil spills, or global warming can
eliminate birds from the habitat, which can disturb the entire
- Ask the students to talk about the purpose of the activity.
- This activity was modified from its original form put out by
the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Land Management
and Education, in conjunction with the Illinois Natural Resources
Information Network. Information on their lab sit activity can
be found at the following web site:
work sheets, additional web pages
for discussion or conclusion
- Make a list of all of the creatures that you think are directly
and indirectly affected by the presence of a selected bird in
an ecosystem. What happens to these creatures when this bird is
removed from the system?
- How do you think the survival ability of a sea gull is impacted
by the presence of humans in their natural habitat?
- How and why do you think that different birds evolve to develop
different physical characteristics?
- Why do you think that land birds evolved to live in the sea?
|Finally, kids will be asked
to write one fact that they have learned on a cut out feather. Each
child will present the fact to the class and then paste the fact to
the poster bird. If time permits, the kids can finally make an origami
bird to remember the experience by.
|Feather Facts. To assess
the knowledge that the students have gained, they will write a piece
of information that they have learned on a paper feather, present
what they wrote to the class, and then tape the feather to a large
poster bird that will remain in the classroom.
activities which relate to and extend the complexity of the experiment.
|The students can visit zoos, natural
history museums, estuaries, or even the beach and make a list of the
different sea birds that they see there, describing their feet and
beaks. Later, the kids can make deductions (or observation note) of
the types of habitats that the birds live in, and what they eat.
A web address with information on the topic of the activity.
Gill, Frank. Ornithology. New York: Freeman and Company.
Parsons, Katharine C. "Birds." Garbage.
Nov/Dec 1991: 38-43.
"Common Loon." The Nature Conservatory: Wings
of America. n. pag. Online. Internet. Available: http://www.tnc.org/wings/wingresource/colo.htm
Safina, Carl. "The World's Imperiled Fish." Scientific
American. Nov 1995: 46-53.
Mathews-Amos, Amy and Berntson, Ewann A. "Climate change harms
ocean life." Earth Island Journal Fall 1999: 20.