Bird beak / animal eating style adaptations

Try picking up different "foods" with different tools, to model how different bird beaks or animal mouths are adapted for eating different foods. Make it into an active game.
Science content
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Food Webs, Ecosystems, Biomes (3, 4)
Biology: Evolution, Natural Selection (7)

Version 1. Outdoor relay race (see first photo)

  • a 'nest' tub for each group (tub with optional picture of a nest on it)
  • a box of tools for each group, containing a clothes peg, two skewers and a pipette
  • a plate for each group
  • foods to give to each group in turn as they get all of the last one to the nest: pasta pieces, pumpkin seeds, dried currants, a little dish of water

Version 2. Indoors, includes sieving

  • clothes pegs
  • skewers
  • hotpot strainers or tea strainers with long handles
  • dropper pipettes
  • pliers (maybe for demo only)
  • dried peas or spiral pasta in a tub
  • styrofoam pieces buried 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.

Version 1: outdoor relay race activity (see first photo)
Divide students into groups of three or four.
Give them a plate for food and a box of tools like bird beaks: clothes peg, 2 skewers that can be used for stabbing or like chopsticks, a pipette.
Place another tub "their nest" where their babies are waiting for food, across a playground. (This tub can optionally have a nest picture on it.)
The groups will receive food to pick up with any tool (no hands!) and run to the nest using the tool, relay-style, with only one person running to the nest at a time. When a group finishes one food, they will get another type.

Version 2: indoor activity, includes sieving
Tell students that they will model how a birds/animals eat, using tools. They cannot use their own tools, their hands, but only the tool to pick up pretend foods.

Show each tool in turn, and optionally bird or animal photos with beaks or mouths like these tools:
Clothespin models a 'grabbing' beak/mouth, like a robin grabbing a worm, or a bear grabbing a salmon.
Skewer models a 'stabbing' beak/mouth, like a heron stabbing a fish.
Pipette models a 'sucking' beak/mouth, like a humming bird sucking nectar.
Sieve models a 'sieveing' beak/mouth, like a duck sieving water for food.

Show students the four pretend 'foods' that they will try and pick up with their tools:
spiral pasta or dried chickpeas in a tub (maybe a worm or bug)
water in a tub (maybe nectar)
popcorn kernals in a tub water (maybe little bugs or shrimp in water)
styrofoam pieces buried in a tub of rice (maybe frogs or other animals buried in mud)
Each tub needs a little pot beside it, for students to move the food into. (Adults will need to dump this back into the food tub continuously.)

Give each student one tool, so that there are about equal numbers of each of the four tools.
Ask them to try and pick up all of the foods, and determine which is the easiest to pick up with the beak/mouth tool that they have. (No hands!)
After a few minutes bring students back to the carpet, and rotate the tools to new students.
Repeat trying a tool, and rotating them on, until all students have tried all tools.
Before the last couple of rotations, students can be asked to predict which food will be easiest for them to pick up.
(Note that as the )

Gather for discussion.
For each beak/mouth in turn, ask students to point to which example food (in the corners of the carpet they are around) was easiest to pick up. Student results will differ especially as the pasta and popcorn soften as they get a little wet, and new tools might be able to pick them up. (Some students also likely to want to present the challenge they mastered.)
Expected results:
1. The pipette or baster is only able to suck up water. Look at bird/animal photos that eat by sucking: hummingbirds suck nectar (they also eat a lot of insects) and animals such as mosquitos suck blood. (Note: for birds, it is actually the tongue of the bird that sucks up the liquid, as it extends from the beak during feeding.)
2. The skewer should be very effective at stabbing the styrofoam and pulling it out of the rice. Softened popcorn kernels/pasta can also be stabbed with the skewer. Revisit photos of 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.
3. The sieve or slotted spoon is effective at retrieving the popcorn kernels from the water, and also with patience can sift the styrofoam out of the rice, as well as scooping the pasta/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, leaving the tiny shrimp for the whale to eat (a lot of them!)
4. The clothes peg can pick up the pasta/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, or tug a worm out of the soil.

Birds also have beaks for crushing nuts. Use pliers to demonstrate. e.g. finch. Sea otters have strong back teeth for crushing shells.
Bird beaks also tear at flesh (eagle), chisel wood (wood pecker), and probe in mud for animals (shore birds such as curlews).
Another animal eating method: a frog uses a sticky tongue to catch insects.

For a Biomes lesson:
Sieving ('filter feeding') is only possible in water biomes. Which animals eat in this way? [duck and baleen whale]
On land, as well as in water, animals grab, suck and stab. What animals eat in these ways? [bears grab salmon while they leap upstream over a falls, hummingbirds suck nectar and mosquitos suck blood, a heron stabs fish]

See fish feeding methods for a related activity.

Grades taught
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Gr 6