Tag Archives: birds

Comparing Nests: The “Same and Different” Center

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Similarities and Differences

Research-based Strategies for Teaching and Learning

Over the past several years, researchers have studied thousands of teaching and learning strategies, to determine which ones yielded the best increases in student performance (Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement presents one meta-analysis of these strategies).

The type of learning task that led to the greatest learning in students involved comparing two things to determine how they were alike and how they were different from one another. This shouldn’t surprise us, when we consider that all of us learn new things by comparing the new with the known, in order to better “file” the information in our brains.

This article explains a simple center that you can create to compare any two objects (related to your theme or content), in an interactive bulletin board display. We will use a squirrel’s nest and the nest of a Northern oriole, to accompany our November studies of autumn nature finds.

Materials

  • Index cards (three colors)
  • Markers
  • Colored yarn
  • A stapler
  • A large photograph of a squirrel’s nest
  • An oriole nest (or large photo)
  • Bulletin board space
  • Sentence strip (2 foot-long pieces)
  • Scissors
  • Field guides or other non-fiction resources on nests

Procedure:

[NOTE: This is designed to be an independent learning center. The assumption is made that students have already been introduced to, and know how to work with, both the bubble map and double bubble map, described in early posts.]

Provide materials on a counter below a bulletin board (cover the bulletin board with whatever covering you’d like — I used to buy fabric remnants on theme, and kept them folded in the box with the other unit materials, to use year after year).

Students use the photos or actual nests, and the non-fiction resources, to generate characteristics or descriptions of the two nests. In the diagram below, blue index cards are used for the characteristics of the squirrel’s nest, yellow cards for the oriole’s nest, and white cards for descriptors that can be used for both nests. Cards are stapled to the bulletin board, and attached to the appropriate header and/or photo with string (I opted for brightly colored yarn).

Leave the bulletin board up for interactive work for the duration of the unit.

science centers comparing nests

A simple, interactive bulletin board becomes a powerful tool for comparing two nests during independent learning time. Image credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012.

Assessment

Make the assessment part of the student work, inviting students to question one another and revise one another’s work. For example, I have used a small, simple “o” on interactive bulletin board work, to indicate an “opportunity” for other students to revise a piece of information. When the information is updated successfully, I simply cover the “o” with a small, round sticker.

Periodically use the collaborative display in response work, having students summarize the learning, to date. Refer to the work during whole class instruction, as well.

Classroom routines

Once students have used this center, you can use the routine to compare all sorts of things: two books on a theme or topic; two closely related vocabulary words (e.g., blissful, ecstatic); two geometric figures (e.g., rectangle, trapezoid); two biological processes (e.g., photosynthesis, respiration).

In my elementary classroom, interactive bulletin boards were a staple among my learning centers — they fostered conversation and collaboration, were hands-on, and created a healthy “buzz” of learning. The differentiation is built into the task, allowing multiple “entry points” for the content. And the routine of revisiting the work reinforces to students that the classroom displays are meant to be resources for the students to use daily.

Additional lesson ideas

Burgess Animal Book for Children

For more instructional activities to use in conjunction with this learning center, please see “New e-Book: Nests, Nests, Nests!”,  a 25-page e-Book perfect for the elementary classroom or homeschool science class ($1.95 from Simple Science Strategies).

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. Also included with this e-Book is a summary of ten lesson ideas with linked resources, enough for a great integrated unit on animal nests.

Animal taxonomy studies

One of our favorite animal study books…

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

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What is Camouflage?

cam·ou·flage

  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.

 

Disguise

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.

 

Mimicry

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.

 

Share

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

sponsor:

Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology
 

Data Collection Dates:

November through April
 

Area:

North America (United States and Canada)

Purpose:

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”

 

Fee:

$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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Indirect Measurement: Color and Bird Feeding

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Learning Focus:

Essential Questions —

  • What is the relationship between color and bird feeding behavior?
  • How do you quantify something that you can’t measure yourself?

Enduring Understandings —

  • Treatment effects can be measured using both direct and indirect means.

Focus for This Task:

  • Focus Strategy: Indirect Measurement
  • Targeted Skill: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Key Concepts: Cause and Effect
  • Core Ideas: Biological Evolution

The Learning Task:

Designing the Investigation:

  • Problem Statement: Does the color of a bird feeder affect bird feeding behavior?
  • Null Hypothesis: The color of the bird feeder has no effect on bird feeding behavior.
  • Alternative Hypothesis: The color of the bird feeder does affect bird feeding behavior.

 Do you think that the birds will eat from one color feeder more than the other? Why or why not? Which color, if either, do you think will attract birds the most? How will you know?

Materials Used:

  • two identical pie pans
  • construction paper (one sheet of green, one sheet of red) [You can use more than two colors with older students; make sure one of them is red.]
  • scissors
  • mixed bird seed (or seed of your choice)
  • 1-cup measuring cup

Procedure:

  1. Trace the bottom of the pie pan onto each sheet of construction paper; cut out the two construction paper circles.
  2. Place one circle inside the bottom of each pie pan.
  3. Measure one cup of mixed bird seed into each pie pan, making sure to push the seeds to one side to expose the color at the bottom of the pie pan.
  4. Place the pie pans on the ground in a place where birds frequently come to visit and feed.
  5. After 2 days, bring the pie pans inside. Measure the seed in each pan using a measuring cup.

 See the photo gallery, below, for questions to ask while conducting this investigation.

Results:

  • Record your results using a data table.

How would you set up your data table? What would be the column headers? What would be the row labels? What data would you put in the body of the table? How might you order the data? Why?

Key Vocabulary:

  • dependent, independent variable
  • direct, indirect measurement
  • scientific method
  • experiment
  • data
  • measurement
  • observation

Follow-up:

  • Did you use direct measurement or indirect measurement to determine the effects of color on bird feeding behavior? Explain.
  • What would be other direct ways of measuring your treatment effect? What would be other indirect methods?
  • What other factors might have influenced the results of your experiment? How could you change the experiment to eliminate these factors?
  • Could you change your procedure to more accurately measure your treament affect? How?

Grade-Level Considerations:

Pre-K/K:

Students who are very young are learning that objects have properties, some which can be observed directly, using their senses, others which can be determined using simple tools and tests. The focus for them is on honing their observational skills, and exploring measurement.

When conducting this experiment with little ones, ask them questions, like the ones below.

  • Which color do you think will attract more birds? Why?
  • What did you notice about the birds feeding?
  • Which feeder has more seed? How can we figure it out?
  • Why do we measure things?
  • If you were a bird, which feeder would you go to? Why?
  • What do you think would happen if we changed the color of the feeders? Why?

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Grades 1/2:

As students enter the primary grades, they are learning that all living things have basic needs, in order to survive. They  begin to notice and can explain the connection between the behaviors of living things and their need for food and water. They are becoming more adept at the use of tools to investigate their world, and are learning to select the appropriate measurement tool for a given situation.

Simple experiments give primary grade students an opportunity to design and carry out fair tests to to investigate their world, and to practice recording their observations in various ways. As they work , ask students questions like the ones below:

  • Which color attracted birds more? Why might this be?
  • How could you figure out which feeder the birds preferred? What measurement tool would you need? Is there another way you could measure this?
  • If you wanted to find out if different colors attracted different birds, how would you change this experiment? Work with a partner to design this new experiment.
  • Use pictures, words and numbers to show the results of your experiment.

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Grades 3/4:

Children who are moving through the elementary grades are exploring the relationships between and interdependence of living and non-living things in the environment. They are beginning to understand that some behaviors of living things make them better adapted for their living conditions — that there is an underlying purpose behind the way that plants and animals respond to their environment. They are also moving beyond concrete to representational, and are using symbols and visuals to show ideas.

If this investigation is conducted with elementary grade students, ask them questions like the ones, below:

  • If this were a different environment (city, desert, beach), would you expect different results? Why or why not?
  • What other factors (environment, human activities, etc.) might have influenced the results of this experiment? Explain.
  • Draw a diagram showing the way you set up your experiment. Include a caption, and clearly label important parts of the feeding station.
  • Re-design this experiment, including a direct method of measuring the effects of color on bird feeding behaviors, in place of the method in this activity.

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Grades 5/6:

Students in the middle grades are honing their skills as scientists, and learning to evaluate the validity of experimental methods and claims. Their experiments should focus on evaluating and selecting from among various experimental methods. They can be expected to produce more sophisticated arguments and presentations, based on data and resources.

When conducting this experiment with older elementary students, consider the following adaptations:

  • Measure the effects of color on bird feeding behaviors using the following measurement methods: weight of seeds before and after feeding period; number of feeding visits per feeder, during feeding period; average length of feeding visit per bird, during feeding time.
  • Which measurement method most accurately measured the effect of color on bird feeding behavior? Support your claim using results from your experiment.
  • Find an article online that discusses color and bird feeding. Summarize your findings in your report.

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Suggested Resources:

 

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