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
  • 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.

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
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 tool, and for each food in turn students put up the appropriate number of fingers for the best tool to eat each food.
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.)

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]
Another eating method: a frog uses a sticky tongue to catch insects.

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
Gr 5
Gr 6