Bird Survivor!

Big Idea:
Students will explore what they already know about nesting birds, then play a game that introduces some of the challenges that nesting birds face.

Learning Objectives:
1. Students will be able to list the steps of the bird nesting cycle.
2. Students will be able to describe several challenges that nesting birds face.
3. Students will be able to compare and contrast strategies that different birds use to successfully produce young.

Time Needed:
45 minute period and 15 minutes follow-up.

  • 24 Bird Survivor! Game Cards (see Resource Pages 8-11)
  • "Nesting Birds" quiz (Journal Page 2; key is located on Resource Page 12)

Getting Ready:
  • Copy and cut out the 24 Bird Survivor cards from the Resource Guide. For durability, you may wish to paste the statements onto note cards or have them laminated.
  • Copy "Nesting Birds" Quiz, 1 per student (Journal Page 2)
  • Make space in the classroom for Bird Survivor! Game

Conducting the Activity:
"Fact or Fiction?" Nesting Birds Quiz
1. Give students about 5 minutes to individually fill out the quiz about nesting birds (journal page 1). Emphasize that they are taking the quiz just to explore their own knowledge and ideas at this point, and their responses will not be graded.

2. After students have filled in their responses, read each question aloud. For each question, have students raise their hands and vote for the answer they think is best.
For a more active experience, establish "Fact" and "Fiction" sides of the classroom, and ask students to move between the sides of the room depending on their opinion. You may wish to reveal answers as you go (a key is located on resource page 2), or simply allow discussion and let the facts get uncovered as the lesson unfolds! Be sure to privately note any widely-held misconceptions.

Introductory Discussion
Introduce the activity by having a few students share stories about their experiences with bird nests and young birds. Discuss the following questions:

  • Why do birds build nests? (Nests protect eggs and young.)
  • What do bird nests look like? Where are they found? What kinds of materials might a bird use to build a nest? (sticks, leaves, moss, vines, feathers, spider webs, human-made materials such as string or scraps)
  • Have you seen a bird build a nest? At what time of year? At what time of year have you seen nests? Did it have eggs in it at that time of year? (Nests are used during the breeding season. Birds don't live year-round in nests, so nests seen at other times of the year are abandoned or will not be used until next year, if ever again.)
  • Some animals, such as humans, can have babies any time of year. But most birds only breed in the spring and summer. Why do you think that is? (Food and water availability is highest at those times of the year.)
  • Have you seen a baby bird? Where was it? What did it look like?

Learn the Steps of Bird Breeding
1. Write the following "Stages of the Bird Breeding Cycle" on the board:
  1. Find and defend a territory
  2. Find a mate
  3. Build a nest and lay eggs
  4. Incubate eggs
  5. Feed and raise nestlings
  6. Nestlings fledge

2. Bird Survivor! Game
  1. Prepare to play the Bird Survivor Game. Ask for five volunteer "birds" to stand at one end of the room and name them Bird 1, Bird 2, Bird 3, Bird 4, and Bird 5. Tell these students that they are going to try to successfully complete a breeding cycle.
  2. Shuffle the Bird Survivor cards and distribute ALL of the cards to the remaining students, even if some students receive more than one card. At the top of each card, one of the breeding stages is listed. Below that is a breeding event that will be read aloud and directed to one of the 5 volunteer birds.
  3. Ask the five students who have a "Find and Defend a Territory" card to stand up. Pick one of the students to read his or her card to Bird 1, who follows the instructions on the card. Have the remaining four students holding the "Find and Defend a Territory" cards each read their card to a "bird," continuing with Bird 2 and progressing through the remaining "birds." Continue the game by repeating this step, picking cards in the following order:
    1. Find and defend a territory
    2. Find a mate
    3. Build a nest and lay eggs
    4. Incubate eggs
    5. Feed and raise nestlings
    6. Fledge from the nest
  4. If a "bird" is told that the game is over for them, they should step out of the line-up. During the game, be sure to discuss any terms that are unfamiliar to students. Continue the game until all 24 cards are read.
  5. Discuss the Game and Nesting
    1. After the game, Ask:
      • Which birds do you think were the most successful? (The most successful is the bird that successfully raised the most young. The bird that took the most steps may not actually be the most successful bird.)
      • Which birds had the least success? (Possible answers include: the bird that died early, the bird that did not raise any young. Emphasize to students that in order for a nesting attempt to be successful, at least one offspring must survive. Note that even the bird who took the fewest steps forward was successful, since he/she still fledged young despite the challenges.)
      • Do you think all birds follow these steps of the nesting cycle in this order? If not, how do bird life cycles differ? (Some species, like many geese and ducks have precocial young, meaning that their babies can follow them and gather their own food shortly after hatching. Some species keep their mate year-after-year, so they don't have to do that step every year.)
    2. Discuss some of the factors that affect nesting birds. Questions for discussion:
      • What were some of the challenges the nesting birds faced?
        • Habitat destruction/fragmentation
        • Invasive/non-native species such as European Starling
        • Bad Weather
        • Predators such as hawks, snakes, raccoons
        • Pesticides
        • Cowbird nest parasitism
        • Dead Mate
        • Mites
      • What are some positive or "lucky" things that happened to some of the birds?
        • Protected Habitat
        • Nest Boxes
        • Good Weather
        • Good Mate
        • Lots of food

Activity #1
Ask children to act out the different stages of the breeding cycles in a "Guess the Life Cycle" charade game, using the six life cycle stage categories.