All birds have beaks that they use for grasping and eating food. Bird beaks come in all shapes and sizes which enable them to eat certain kinds of foods. Seed and nut eaters usually have short, thick beaks for cracking open seeds. Nectar feeders have long slender beaks for reaching into flowers. Other birds have beaks that are suited for meat eating, filtering, spooning, chiseling, or pinching. Bird beaks are an example of an adaptation. Adaptations are a special feature or behavior that allow an animal to survive in its environment.
For this activity gather a set of eating utensils (spoon, fork, chopsticks, and toothpicks) for each child as well as a variety of shapes of cooked pasta (be sure to have round ones, as well as long thin ones), and sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Begin by asking children what kinds of food they like to eat and how they eat these foods. Why do they eat some food with a fork and other food with a spoon or even their hands? Ask children what animals use to eat their food. Have they ever seen a bird eat? What does a bird use to eat its food? Allow the children to use the different utensils to try and eat the various kinds of pasta and seeds. Which utensils worked best for which food? Have the children sort the foods by the utensil that worked to eat each food.
Next use various “tools” to imitate bird’s beaks such as: a cup for a pelican’s pouch, a turkey baster for a hummingbird’s long slender beak, tongs for the long, thin beaks of shorebirds, and tweezers for the strong, pointed beaks of woodpeckers. Allow each child to try out the different bird beaks at various stations that contain different bird “foods” such as bowl of water with plastic fish for the pelican, a tall vase of water for the hummingbird, plastic worms in sand or soil for the shorebirds, and rice tucked into the bark of a log for the woodpeckers. After each child has had a chance to explore the different stations ask them: Which bird beak worked best for each food? Why? What kind of food might each bird eat? Why do they think so? Can looking at a bird’s beak help us guess what it eats?
There are more great ideas use Growing Up WILD’s ‘Bird Beak Buffet’ on pages 42-43 of the guide and check these out, too, from Growing Up WILD!
Looking for an extension of this activity? The annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place President’s Day weekend each February. For more information, visit the Audubon GBBC page. Bird feeders are a wonderful place to observe and count birds. If you are lucky enough to have a bird feeder outside your classroom window observing and counting birds there would be a wonderful way for children to participate in the GBBC. If not, you can create bird feeders as a class using clean, used milk cartons or jugs or even pine cones. The feeders can be hung outside where they are easily observable from the classroom.