Bird beaks or Animal eating methods

Try picking up different "foods" with different tools, to model how different bird beaks or animal mouths are adapted for eating different foods.
Science content
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Food Webs, Ecosystems, Biomes (3, 4)
Lessons activity is in
  • clothes pegs
  • skewers
  • sieves, slotted spoons or tea strainers
  • dropper pipettes
  • pliers (maybe for demo only)
  • dried peas in a tub
  • styrofoam pieces in a tub of rice
  • popcorn kernels in a tub of water
  • tub of water
  • nuts to crush (maybe for demo only)

This activity models how different bird beaks can pick up different foods, or how different animals' mouths are adapted for picking up different kinds of food.

Lay each of the four “foods" to be gathered on its own table: styrofoam pieces buried in a tub of rice, popcorn kernels in a tub of water, dried chickpeas in a tub, a tub of water.
Tell students that they will be trying to pick the styrofoam, popcorn, chickpeas and water with a tool that works like a bird beak/animal mouth: a skewer for stabbing, a sieve for sieving, a clothes peg for grabbing, a pipette for sucking. With younger students, maybe demonstrate how the sieve can pick up the popcorn out of the water.
Give each student one tool, so that there are about equal numbers of each of the four tools, and tell them that after a few minutes of trying to pick up all the foods, they will rotate onto a new tool.

Gather as a group to find out which foods each tool could pick up. The easiest way to find out at a glance what students found, is to number each food, and for each tool in turn students put up the appropriate number of fingers.
As each tool is visited, demonstrate again how it can pick up the relevant foods, and show pictures of birds' beaks or animals' mouths that function like the tool.
1. The skewer should be very effective at stabbing the styrofoam and pulling it out of the rice. In our lesson, some of the popcorn kernels had softened, so students were also able to stab them with the skewer and pull them out of the water. Animals that eat by stabbing: a heron uses its long beak to stab fish from water or muddy water; a venomous snake or spider stabs prey with its fangs and injects venom into it.
2. The sieve or slotted spoon is likely able to pull the styrofoam out of the rice, as well as the popcorn kernels out of the water, and also the the chickpeas out of their tub. This tool models bird beaks beaks that sieve food out of water or mud: the food along with the water/mud is picked up then the water/mud drains out of holes or slots in the beak. Animals that eat by sieving: a mallard duck picks up plants or animals with water, then the water drains through holes (called lamellae) in its beak. Baleen whales e.g. humpback or grey whales take a gulp of water and krill, then the water drains out through the baleen.
3. The clothes peg can pick up the chickpeas, and maybe also the popcorn and smaller styrofoam pieces that have broken off. Many birds and animals grab prey, berries or seeds from a plant or insects out of the air.
4. The pipette or baster is only able to suck up water, and models birds that suck nectar or animals such as mosquitos that suck blood. (Note: is actually the tongue of the bird that sucks up the liquid, and it extends from the beak during feeding.)

Demonstrate another kind of bird beak or mouth, using pliers to crush and open a nut. A bird such as a finch has a wide, strong beak, that it uses for crushing seeds. Sea otters have strong back teeth for crushing shells.

See fish feeding methods for a similar activity.

Grades taught
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Teaching site
Gordon Elementary
Grandview (¿Uuqinak’uuh) Elementary