Habitat Exchange


Big Idea:
Students will characterize their habitat, communicate their findings to other classrooms via a wiki, and compare their habitat and birds with those at other schools.


Learning Objectives:
  1. Students will be able to identify four key features of a habitat and relate each one to the specific function it serves for a bird.
  2. Students will be able to relate habitat to bird diversity.
  3. Students will be able to describe why collaboration is important to bird conservation.

Time Needed:
Two 45-minute periods

Background:
If you traveled from a rural area toward the city, you'd see an urban gradient of increasing roads, buildings, and parking lots. At one end of this spectrum are sites showing little influence of urbanization, such as state parks and nature preserves. On the other extreme are metropolitan centers. Worldwide, urban areas are expanding both in size and number. Expansion of urban areas reduces native vegetation and increases impervious surfaces (such as buildings, marking lots, and roads).

For people working to conserve species, a key question is: what happens to the habitat value of undeveloped land as we move along the rural-urban gradient? Human settlements have a strong influence on bird communities. Many conservation biologists have focused predominantly on the protection of “natural” ecosystems, and haven't placed as much importance on urban and suburban areas. However, some studies have shown that these areas can have value for birds. Cities typically are located near large water bodies, rivers and estuaries, or along coastlines. Large urban parks and reserves might still support high species diversity because these protected areas are the habitat fragments of highly diverse ecosystems. In addition, many urban and suburban areas are located close to undeveloped native areas or forests, so birds may respond directly to the plants and parks within urban habitats, and may also respond to broader landscape features including large forested areas that are nearby. Finally, some species are well adapted to urban life. Peregrine falcons typically lay eggs on cliff ledges, but city sky scrappers provide adequate nest sites for these birds. Many invasive species that are found across the United States are well adapted to urban life such as European Starlings and House Finches. No matter where you live, your habitat is important for birds.

Materials:
United States map, internet access projected for the class (to view the Google earth tour and post to the collaboration wiki)

Advance Preparation:
  • Get ready to show the Google earth tour.
  • Examine the Habitat Exchange Wiki and make a plan about how to post your schools information.

Conducting the Activity
1. What's in Your Neighborhood?

Ask students to think about the neighborhood that their school is in. Brainstorm a list of about 10 phrases they would use to describe the site to someone who had never visited the area. Make a list of these phrases/features on the board so that you can later add them to your wiki site. Make sure the following have been mentioned:
  • How many plants are here? What types (e.g. trees, bushes, lawns, etc.)? For example: "Lots of trees around the school."
  • What human-created things do you see (e.g. buildings--large and small, roads--wide or narrow, parking lots, etc.)? For example, "There are lots of houses and buildings."
  • How much space is "green" versus "developed"? For example, "There's lots of green space around the school, but not much at the mall."

Decide which one of these six categories you think your school should be classified into. If the class cannot reach consensus, take a vote... this classification scheme is open to interpretation.

In these categories, you might see...
Urban
  • Skyscrapers
  • Office buildings
  • Parking lots/ structures
  • Some trees
  • Streets
Urban residential
  • Apartment buildings
  • Houses/Condos
  • Trees
  • Parking lots
  • Streets
Suburban/small city
  • Houses
  • Apartment buildings
  • Lawn
  • Bushes
  • Trees
  • Yards
  • Golf course
  • Mall
Rural agriculture
  • Farm fields
  • Houses
  • Lawn
  • Bushes
  • Trees
  • Yards
  • Farm buildings
  • Pasture
  • Ranch land
  • Small roads
Rural residential
  • Houses
  • Lawn
  • Bushes
  • Trees
  • Yards
  • State parks
  • Preserves
  • Golf course
  • Forest
  • Parking lots
Coastal or lake community
  • Ocean/lake
  • Houses
  • Lawn
  • Bushes
  • Trees
  • Yards
  • State parks
  • Preserves
  • Parking lots
Add your school in the proper category on the wiki. Later, you will compare your school to other schools both within the same and different categories.

2. What's It Like for Birds?

Ask students to brainstorm essential things that animals get from their environment to help them survive and reproduce. If they have difficulty, suggest some examples of things that humans need to survive such as food, water to drink, and a place to live. Make a class list of “What do Birds Need from their habitat to Survive and Reproduce?” on the board. Divide the habitat needs into these categories:
    • Food
    • Water
    • Cover (nesting areas, roosting areas, places to hide or escape, shelter)
    • Space (such as hunting and feeding areas, and migration routes; species also need enough of the right habitat to fulfill their needs)

Note: Students may suggest that living things need air. This is true, but it is not included as habitat unless you consider it as part of “space”. Students might suggest that birds need mates or families—this is also true, but these are not environmental needs and therefore not part of the habitat. You may wish to post or hand out the "what is habitat?" page (resource page 1).

  • Do you think this is a good place for birds to live? Why or why not?
  • Does our site meet these habitat needs and if so, how?
  • Will our habitat be a good place for birds to nest? Why or why not?
  • Do you think all birds would live and/or nest here? Why or why not?
  • Why do different birds prefer different habitats?
    • All birds have these four habitat needs, but birds differ in how they meet these needs. For example, a robin needs very different food than a Red-Tailed Hawk [robins eat invertebrates, especially worms, and fruit; hawks are birds of prey and eat vertebrates like squirrels and mice.] A Mallard has a different need for water than a hawk or robin because the duck swims and filter feeds in water. Food availability and the adaptations of the bird are the primary factors in determining where each species lives and breeds.






3. Introduce Other Schools

Explain to the students that children all around the country are learning about bird migration and habitat through this project. If possible, project the ‍Google Earth tour‍ of partner sites. If you cannot display the tour, then show a map of the United States and tell students where these partner schools are located. Ask:

  • How do you think the habitats are different in these locations (including level of urbanization and extent of natural habitats found there)?
  • Do you think you would find different birds in these areas? Why or why not?
  • What sites do you think have the most similar birds? Why do you think that?
  • Which sites do you think have the most different birds? Why do you think that?

4. Comparing Schools

Ask students if they have ever heard of a "wiki" and what they think a "wiki" is. Introduce the wiki as an online space where people can collaborate by editing documents together and by sharing ideas or information. Introduce the Habitat Exchange Wiki where you will create a wiki page that they can use to share what they are doing with others. Tell the students that they will be collaborating with students from other schools, within their state and throughout the US. They will do this by sharing information they learned during these lessons with other students participating in this project. Ask students to categorize their site and add it to the table.

5. Visit your wiki site.

Add information that your class has gathered about your habitat to your page within the Habitat Exchange Wiki. Add your site in the table. Browse the other schools listed on the wiki to find out what other students have learned about birds in their area—select one school in the same habitat category and at least one school in another habitat category.

Ask: How is our habitat similar and different? Do we share similar habitat descriptors? Do we share similar birds?

Then, compare their school to another school in the same category, and to another school in a different category.