Category Archives: LS 4: Biological Evolution: Unity and diversity

NEW Amphibian Nature Study — and a Spring Give-away!

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Spring showers have meant the arrival of amphibians in Connecticut. See our sister site, A Child’s Garden, for a blog post on the study of amphibians, emphasizing survey as an ecological study technique, and the use of approximate measures when recording observations of animals in the field.

See “Studying Amphibians in the Field: Using Approximate Measures” for more information, and a spring give-away of two great e-Books with science journaling resources and nature study ideas.

Or enter using the Rafflecopter form, below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Animal and Plant Surveys: 10 Reasons to Get Outside and Survey

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What’s a Survey?

Simply stated, a survey is an overview of the living things in an area. The purpose of a survey is to get a general idea of the types of living things in that area, a step in scientific inquiry that will then (likely) lead to more focused questions about the living things there.

A simple table can be used to survey living things in your location. (c) Simple Science Strategies, 2013.

Why Conduct a Survey?

An animals survey can be a powerful, yet simple, outdoor-based learning task. With only a few minutes a day, several big scientific and educational ideas can be addressed:

  1. For students (and teachers) new to nature study, a survey provides an easy focus for outdoor excursions.
  2. Completing the survey allows students to practice collecting, organizing and interpreting data — an important science and numeracy skill.
  3. Using an organized list to answer a question is an important problem-solving strategy.
  4. Students working together with one clipboard and survey fosters discourse on scientific thinking.
  5. Conducting a series of observations on the same focus guides students to look for patterns over time.
  6. Looking for a particular type of living thing helps students hone their observation skills.
  7. Exposure to nature on a regular basis can engage learners, especially those who don’t have the opportunity to get outside often.
  8. Increasing students’ activity level by the inclusion of outdoor studies can fight childhood obesity.
  9. Working with a table of data gives students practice in using non-fiction text features – an important literacy skill.
  10. Gathering initial observations and data is an important step in both the inquiry and engineering design processes. nature study

Surveys naturally lead to the use of field guides — a staple in a science library.

Sample Animal Surveys

The above survey sheet can be used for amphibian surveys. or a generic animal survey can be used.

For examples of nature studies involving animal surveys, please click on the links, below:




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Zoology Lesson Plans and Links!

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Exploring Creation with Zoology 

I just posted a NEW schedule for Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day (Apologia Science). In our house, we worked out a daily schedule that allows us to do more nature study (Outdoor Hour Challenges), expand the experiments and hands-on portions, and do more independent work outside.

Check it out on A Child’s Garden… Better yet, follow my nature study blog for updates directly to your inbox.

Coming Soon…

Next up: Lesson 1 (“What is Zoology?”) Resources

  • Unwrapped Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, to match the lesson content;
  • Connections to the Next Generation Science Standards (2nd Draft)
  • Extra notebooking pages we created that we’d like to share
  • Links to online resources and videos, and more!


Stay tuned!



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New e-Book: Nests, Nests, Nests!

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Burgess Animal Book for Children

Nests, Nests, Nests! – a 25-page e-Book for zoology and nature study. Simple Science Strategies, $1.95

Earlier this month, we studied nests, comparing a squirrel’s nest to an oriole’s nest in “Comparing Nests: The ‘Same and Different’ Center.”   For those of you who want to study nests in more depth, I am pleased to share my newest e-Book, Nests, Nests, Nests!

Nests, Nests, Nests! is a 25-page e-Book perfect for the elementary classroom or homeschool science class.

This set includes both primary and regular-ruled science journaling pages focusing on animal nests, as well as a variety of framed pages for thematic writing, note-taking or nature study. Organizers for studying and comparing nests of different animal orders, coloring and copywork pages, and game cards for sorting and classification tasks make this set versatile, perfect for direct instruction or independent learning tasks.

Burgess Animal Book for Children

Set includes both primary- and regular-ruled pages.

Burgess Animal Book for Children

Several different organizers lead students to compare nests of different animal orders, and to develop a deeper understanding of the purpose of an animal nest.


Vintage botanical and zoological illustrations provide high-quality visuals for students to study and color, and the pages include plenty of space for journaling, notebooking or note-taking tasks.

Plain lined pages provide space for more extended writing tasks, or writing paper for independent writing tasks.

The nests of 6 different animal orders  are featured, to get students to think beyond birds’ nests in this study.

Three different organizers are provided: a double-bubble map, and a concept definition frame and a discussion frame.

The double-bubble can be used to compare two different nests, either from the illustrations, from text studies, or from a classroom collection of nests.

The concept definition frame can be used by the class to determine the essential qualities of any nest, and to develop an operational definition about what a nest really is.

The discussion frame is useful for cooperative learning tasks where students decide whether or not humans also create nests.

Burgess Animal Book for Children

Two pages of sortable animal nest cards can be used for a variety of games or independent learning tasks.

Burgess Animal Book for Children

Manuscript and cursive copywork pages include scriptures that fit the theme.

A two-page set of images can be used to create a sort activity, for small group or independent learning task use. Simply copy them onto cardstock or heavy paper.

Images includes nests from birds, mammals, fish, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and other animal orders.

All images are original or images that are in the public domain. All the remaining work is original work.


If you are a homeschooler, and are looking for a “one-stop” set of notebooking pages, you will appreciate the manuscript and cursive copywork, which draws upon Scriptures on theme.

Per customer requests, this zoology item also includes suggested lesson uses, linked resources and much more.


Click the button to order now!


The link to download the .pdf will be emailed to the email address you provide, within 24 hrs of your purchase.

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The Art of “Blending” – Winter Camouflage (November Study 1)

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What is Camouflage?


  1. concealment of things: concealment of things, by disguising them to look like their surroundings
  2. concealing devices: devices designed to conceal by imitating the colors of the surrounding environment
  3. protective coloration in animals: the devices that animals use to blend into their environment in order to avoid being seen by predators or prey, especially coloration

Fall provides many opportunities to observe how living things prepare themselves for winter. One topic we will explore this month is how animals’ coloration can aid in their protection during the fall and winter months.

This article will focus specifically on how animals’ coloration protects them in the fall and winter months. The larger topic of coloration will be reserved for another month.

Types of Camouflage

Animals exhibit several types of coloration, each of which protects them from harm in a different way.

  1. Concealing Coloration
  2. Disguise
  3. Disruptive Coloration
  4. Mimicry
  5. No Camouflage

Each of these methods will be examined more closely as it applies to fall and winter protection.

Concealing Coloration

When folks think of camouflage, this is the type of camouflage that probably comes to mind first, and is probably one of the most common, especially among prey species of birds, insects and other prey animals.

When an animal exhibits concealing coloration, it is colored or patterned in such a way that it blends into its surroundings, looking very similar to its environment.

Many animals adopt a different coloration in the winter. Some adopt the drab browns and grays of the fall and winter woodlands, such as many sparrows, winter goldfinches, and winter starlings.

Here’s a fun birding note – there are so many small birds that move fast, hide undercover, and are hard to tell apart unless you get a good look at them through binoculars: warblers, sparrows, finches, buntings… birders refer to these as “little brown jobs” or “LBJs.”


Camouflage Concealing Color Fall Nature Study

Many sparrows and other small birds use concealing color year-round, or just in the winter, to hide among the brown leaves of the forest floor. See “Little Brown Birds: Sparrows and Friends” for a study of brown birds. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2010.



Overwintering insects are at great risk of being someone’s wintertime food. In many cases, they disguise themselves as dead leaves or twigs, to avoid being noticed. This is the case with many of the giant silk moths, whose caterpillars overwinter in cocoons wrapped in dead leaves and twigs, effectively blending them into the leaf litter. This is even more important, when you consider that some, such as the Luna moth, must overwinter, then remain in the pupa until nearly the end of July, before the adult moth emerges – a long time to remain hidden from view, and from potential predators.


Camouflage Fall Nature Study

Many caterpillars cover their cocoons with dead leaves, to look like leaf litter, as they overwinter. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012.


Disruptive Coloration

In the fall and winter, some birds don’t change color drastically, but become a little more striped or spotted, and begin to congregate in large groups. The combination of the markings and the masses of birds make it hard for a potential predator to pick one bird out of the group, similar to the way that the stripes on zebras make it hard for a lion to pick one zebra out of the herd.

This type of camouflage is called disruptive coloration. By adopting a pattern of stripes or spots, the “edges” of the animal become less distinct, making it hard for a predator to zero in on one animal, or on an animal’s vulnerable spot (head, neck). Gathering in a large group makes this even more effective.

European starlings don’t change color dramatically, but, in the winter, become much more spotted. Similarly, juncos have a strikingly white belly that blends in with the snow, making them look like a cluster of black dots hopping over the snow.


Disruptive Coloration Nature Study Fall

Juncos’ white underparts blend in with the snow, making their vulnerable underside indistinguishable from their environment. (c) Phoenix Wolf-Ray, 2008 via Creative Commons.



Sometimes, animals have markings that resemble other, less “edible” or more dangerous creatures. The Viceroy and monarch butterflies are a classic example of this, as are caterpillars that have markings and “horns” to resemble more menacing creatures. While not a true mimicry, there is a subtle version of this “look-alike” phenomenon seen in winter birds.

If you have been watching your feeding station (that you assembled last month), you may have noticed a few days when you had huge flocks of black birds that descended on the feeders, stayed for an hour or so, then left as quickly as they arrived. This happens in my feeding area sometime in September or October. I usually see a huge flock of grackles, but, amongst the grackles, there will be a few starlings, some red-winged blackbirds, and maybe a crow or two.

While this isn’t true mimicry, the species that are in fewer numbers gain protection from looking like, and joining, the flock of grackles (a species that commonly gathers in large numbers in the fall). This association doesn’t affect the grackles, but benefits the other bird species. Would-be predators are less likely to attack the raucous grackles than they are the more timid starlings and blackbirds. So there is protection by association.


camouflage fall nature study

Birds such as red-winged blackbirds and starlings, will sometimes join large flocks of similarly colored birds, such as these grackles, for safety in numbers. (c) Rich Anderson, 2005 via Creative Commons.


No Camouflage

Not every animal uses camouflage as a protective measure, in winter or any other time of the year. Just one look at your bird list from your bird feeding station, and you can see a number of common species that remain brightly colored, year round:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Blue Jay
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Evening Grosbeak

There are also some common feeder birds that are brightly colored, but migrate to warmer, or even tropical, regions during the winter, so they continue to blend in with “summery” surroundings:

  • Scarlet Tanagers
  • Northern Orioles
  • Many warblers
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak

For these birds, the advantage of bright colors to attract a mate outweighs the risk of being easy to spot, or the bird has other means to protect itself from predators.


Blue Jay No Camouflage

Blue jays keep their bright blue coloration year-round. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2010.


The Learning Task

The Key skills and concepts

  • Dimension 1: Science ProcessEngaging in Argument from Evidence
  • Dimension 2: Cross-Cutting ConceptCause-and-Effect: Mechanism and Explanation
  • Dimension 3: Scientific DisciplinesLife Sciences: Biological Evolution – Unity and Diversity
  • Cognitive Process: Comparing & Contrasting

If you are not a member of Project Feeder Watch, consider donating your time (and a few dollars) to become a citizen scientist, and contribute your observations to a scientific project. For your subscription, you’ll get a poster of common feeder birds in North America, data sheets and/or access to electronic recording forms online, and a subscription to a monthly newsletter that is chock full of great information for homeschool, birding enthusiasts or classroom use.

If you’re not a member, you can use this procedure to study the fall and winter coloration of your feeder birds:

  1. Find a place to observe birds for about 15-30 minutes. [Your bird feeding station is a good place]. It is good to pick the same time each week, so that you get a true representation of the kinds of birds that come to your feeder.
  2. Print out copies of the camouflage recording sheet (enough for pairs or small groups of students).
  3. Note the date and weather conditions or any other important factors that might affect bird numbers (e.g., disturbances in the environment; a new feeder or food; the presence of a dog or cat in the area).
  4. Record the species of birds that come to your feeder during this time in the first column.
  5. Record the maximum number of that bird that you see at any one time (use a pencil so you can erase).
  6. Check off what kind(s) of camouflage you think the species uses in the next columns (NOTE: Only the most common winter camouflage types are listed).
  7. Record any other interesting observations in the last column.
  8. Summarize your observations about birds and coloration on the lines at the bottom of the page.

NOTE: There are no right answers to this task. The point is to begin to examine the coloration of birds, compare them, and draw some inferences about the relationship between the birds’ coloration and adaptation to changing seasons.



Post your observations, photos and links to your blog post to the November edition of the Simple Science Blog Carnival! Make sure you include a link back to this post or the blog carnival in your blog post.


Backyard Birds of North America: An Introduction to Familiar Species — Perfect for bird lovers, this informative pamphlet details more than 140 urban avian species and provides instructions on attracting and feeding backyard birds. Laminated for durability, this handy guide is ideal for field use by novices and experts alike. $2.71, Barnes & Noble.


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Project FeederWatch: A Great Program for Homeschoolers, Teachers and Other Bird Lovers

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Feeder watching teaches students how to identify birds, observe their feeding and social habits, and begin to take simple data. Photo Credit (c) 2011 Kim M. Bennett.

Why Volunteer to Collect Data?

For the past 20 years, my family has participated in many “citizen science” programs. Research projects that use volunteer data collectors are extremely beneficial, for several reasons:

  1. You are collecting real data for a real (BIG) research project, giving the task a real-world purpose;
  2. The “lessons” are already done for you, and the projects usually have a wealth of resources to help you plan other studies;
  3. The set up of the project reinforces important research skills in the volunteer participants;
  4. Because so many people participate, the body of scientific knowledge is greatly expanded;
  5. The small fee you pay to participate (it’s very small) supports further research — a great opportunity to teach kids about responsible giving.

Here are some programs that you can enroll in, to combine your own feeder studies with major studies.

Our Time with Project FeederWatch

My family has participated in Project FeederWatch for 20 years. We have learned so much by spending just a short time watching birds each week (of course, we watched them way more than the observation time, because we enjoyed the project so much!).

During our studies, we learned the following things:

  1. Tufted titmice will fight over leftover cooked broccoli that is left on a feeding table;
  2. The fur from your pet Shetland sheepdog’s doggy brush will disappear if you leave it under your bird feeder in the spring;
  3. Bluebirds will stay all year if you have berry suet (here in CT);
  4. Wild turkeys might run away (at first) when your neighbor’s cat jumps into the group, but the cat will be sorry he tried to eat turkey for dinner;
  5. Cooper’s Hawks will catch their lunch (birds) straight from the bird feeder;
  6. Goldfinches will land on you by the dozens and wait for you to fill the feeder after a snowstorm;
  7. And chickadees will sit nearby and scold you at the same time.
  8. A seed block under the feeder will attract grouse, pheasants and other large birds;
  9. Even birds that don’t eat seeds (hawks, phoebes, owls, e.g.) will be attracted to all the activity when you feed the ones that do;
  10. Once a year, about 300 grackles (with a few blackbirds and cowbirds) will descend on your yard, eat all the seed, then leave.

A great feeding station has several different types of feeders and several different types of food, to attract the greatest variety of feeder birds. Photo credit (c) 2012, Kim M. Bennett

About the Program


Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology

Data Collection Dates:

November through April


North America (United States and Canada)


According to the Project FeederWatch website:

The massive amounts of data collected by FeederWatchers across the continent help scientists understand

  • long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance
  • the timing and extent of winter irruptions of winter finches and other species.
  • expansions or contractions in the winter ranges of feeder birds
  • the kinds of foods and environmental factors that attract birds
  • how disease is spread among birds that visit feeders”



$15 ($12 for Lab Members)

What you get:

Posters, data collection forms and/or a link for online submission, a newsletter and tons of great online tools, articles and other links about this and other birding programs at Cornell.

For more information:

See the Project FeederWatch home page. If you happen to be in the Ithaca, New York Area, please do make it a point to visit Sapsucker Woods, the home of the Cornell birding world. Cornell is my alma mater — it’s worth a visit if you’re in that part of New York.

Some migratory birds, like the bluebirds that we watched all winter, will stay up north during mild winters, if your feeding station has the right assortment of food available. Photo credit (c) 2012, Kim M. Bennett

Keeping it Simple

If you don’t want to jump in with both feet and join Project FeederWatch, you

can still conduct simpler feeder watching studies in your backyard or outside your classroom window.  All you need are a few items:

  • a good field guide (we use

    National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America) or a poster of common feeder birds of your area. Click the image at right for ordering information.

  • a pair of binoculars
  • a notebook


Spend about 15 minutes a day watching the birds. Decide how you will collect data. Here are some options:

  • Count the maximum number of birds of a particular species at the feeder at a given time (e.g., if you count three chickadees, mark 3; then, if one flies off and two others fly in, mark 4) – this gives you an idea of the overall number of the birds at your feeder, although you don’t know if it’s the same ones or different ones.
  • Count the number of visits to the feeder, no matter how many or few birds this represents — this gives you an idea of the interest in the food being offered, but doesn’t give you as much of an idea of the number of birds there.
  • Count the individual birds coming to the feeder — this is nearly impossible unless you know your individual birds by sign (unlikely), but would give the most accurate answer to the question, “How many birds are coming to my feeder?”
  • Count the number of different species coming to the feeder — this works nicely when you compare the diversity from week to week, especially as you head into migration times of the year.

See “Feeding Birds: An Experiment (Or Two…)” for a very simple study of feeder birds.


Stay Tuned…

Watch future posts on Simple Science Strategies for more information on other programs at Cornell, including their online Ornithology classes. NestWatch, Project Tanager, and many others. Also look for information on American Robin, a website dedicated to citizen science and the migration habits of the American Robin.

Tell us all about how you use bird feeding to hone your students’ observation skills. Don’t forget to post your link in the Simple Science Strategies September Blog Carnival by 9/28/2012.



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Homeschoolers do some awesome things. My friend, Barbara McCoy, has a great blog at Handbook of Nature Study, with many great ideas for outdoor time. I love her “Grid Strategy” for focusing nature studies.  Read more about this method, and … Continue reading

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