Migration Obstacles!

Big Idea:
Students will discover the obstacles birds face during their amazing migratory journeys.

Learning Objectives:
  1. Students will be able to define migration.
  2. Students will be able to list potential hazards that birds face during migration.
  3. Students will be able to identify ways to help reduce negative impacts on migrating birds.

Time Needed:
60 minutes in a gym or outdoor space.

Suggested Materials:
  • A world map
  • Stopwatch or wristwatch
  • Dry erase board and marker
  • Clear plastic wrap and chairs or poles to attach plastic wrap between (windows)
  • Heavy string or rope, 5-6 pieces, each 5-15 feet long (various uses: start line, power lines, to designate an area for a wildlife refuge)
  • Pictures of hazards and dangerous obstacles-- Found on Resource Pages 7-14
  • Tarp or plastic bags with yellow road lines marked on it or tape on the ground (road)
  • Cardboard boxes (city buildings)
  • Cat head band or costume (optional, for cat)

Getting Ready:
Gather the materials you need and determine a site large enough for the Obstacle Course. Set up the course (see details under the 'Course Layout' at the end of the lesson, and image pages 15 of the Resource Guide.)

Conducting the Activity:
1. Play the Game

Let students know they will discover bird migration through a migration obstacle course. Explain the RULES of the game:
  • PRETEND: You have to pretend you’re a bird all the way through by flapping your wings and vocalizing a bird song or call.
  • DON’T TOUCH: If you touch any of the obstacles, you instantly fail to migrate! Stand to the side.
  • STAY IN BOUNDS: If you go out of bounds, you instantly fail to migrate! Step to the side.
  • CHEER: The students waiting in line can urge the birds through the course by clapping and cheering—preferably in bird-like sounds!

Course Layout:
Plan the course for a large space for the obstacle course, in a safe location the size of a school gym. Use the following materials set up in order:
  1. Start line
  2. Saran Wrap and chairs or poles to attach Saran wrap between (windows)
  3. Pictures of pesticide sprayed field
  4. Heavy string or rope (2 pieces) (power lines)
  5. Stationary student windmill
  6. Tarp, plastic bags, or ground with road lines marked/taped (road)
  7. Foam balls or paper wads (cars)
  8. Cardboard boxes (city buildings)
  9. Cat head band or costume (optional, for cat)
  10. Finish line: you've migrated!

First, play the game doing the spring migration from "south to north." As the teacher, be the “example bird” that goes through the obstacle course to demonstrate how to play and conquer all obstacles:
    1. Begin at the start line
    2. Move under “windows” (Saran Wrap)
    3. Jump over the pesticide-ridden field (image)
    4. Jump over “power lines” (rope)
    5. "Fly" around wind farm (getting tagged by stationary student)
    6. Run around habitat destruction (image)
    7. Fully stop before the road (black plastic), look both ways, and walk slowly across
    8. Try not to get hit by the cars (one student slowly going back and forth on the road)
    9. "Fly" around "buildings" (cardboard boxes)
    10. Try not to get caught by the cat (getting tagged... once a “bird” is caught by the cat, it fails to migrate.)
    11. Cross the finish line and successfully migrate!

Depending on how much space you have, ask between 1-3 students to go through at a time. Depending on group size and time constraints, you may wish to have a shorter course with fewer obstacles.

Once a student successfully reaches the end of the course, have them line up lengthwise to the course to watch and cheer on the other students. If a student fails an obstacle, they do not survive migration, and must step to the side. After the entire class has completed the course, record how many students successfully completed the nothern migration and review survivorship (How many made it? What percent did not survive?). You may also review race times and calculate mean times. (See Extensions.)

  1. Set-up "wildlife refuges" with rope or tape along the obstacle course to represent safe haven for migratory birds. Time the birds with and without refuges, and determine mean race time and survivorship.
  2. Take away obstacles (such as "cleaning up" the poisons by removing the signs or removing the cat because people have been taught to keep their cats indoors). Time the birds now that humans have taken these positive actions, and review the mean race times and survivorship.
  3. Have students migrate again ("from north to south" this time). If they make it, they have nested and successfully fledged young. Students who did not survive the first migration may take the role of young migrants.

2. Discussion about Obstacles
  1. Ask students:
    • What obstacles do birds encounter during their migration (both examples from the game, and others they might know)?
    • What else do you think makes it hard for birds to survive migration? (possible answers: confused about their direction by bright lights, fly into buildings, bridges and towers, die from eating foods with pesticides, pushed out by exotic species (e.g. European Starlings, House Sparrows), or eaten by predators (e.g.cats, raptors, snakes), having enough energy to go the distance).
    • Of the obstacles you experienced, in which do humans play a role? (Many of them!)
    • What can you do to help? Have students brainstorm actions they can take. (Some possible answers: keep cats indoors, plant bird habitats, clean up polluted or littered habitat, don’t use pesticides on lawns, remove exotic plants, turn off lights at night, etc.)
    • What would happen to birds who were slowest in their migration? (The slower birds would have the last choice in food, territory, and mates. Some have to fight for these things. Do you think you’d have the energy to fight after migrating? If you arrived too late, you may not survive at all!)
    • Why do they think that males normally arrive first? (Males need to set up and defend their territories prior to the females arriving. The first males have the better territories, and attract the best females.)
  2. Summary: discuss that a bird’s life can be full of dangers, but not all birds will encounter all of these obstacles. Each day they migrate they travel long distances and are likely to face challenges along the way. The biggest threat is human disturbance of habitat. Many migrating birds need a place to rest and eat during their long journeys, and if they can't find suitable stopover locations, they will not have enough energy for migration.

3. Introduce Real Bird Migrators
  1. Show students the map and point out how far different species migrate. Discuss what obstacles the students think these species might face along the way.
    • The Golden-Crowned Sparrow migrates from Alaska and the Yukon Territory to/from the California coast and Mexico.
    • The Yellow-Rumped Warbler migrates from most of Canada and the Klamath Basin in the United States to/from the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America.
    • The Arctic Tern travels up to 25,000 miles between the North and South Poles every year.
      • Remind the students how it feels to travel in a car, bus, or plane for more than two hours. If you had a perfectly straight road from the North Pole to the South Pole, it would take you 280 hours straight in the car (that's almost 12 full days!) driving at highway speed without stopping, eating, or drinking.

Activity #1
1.Math/Graphing: You may wish to time each student as they race through the course, recording times on a class data sheet or on the board.
1st Migration
2nd Migration
Lisa DeRado
45 seconds
40 seconds
42.5 seconds

Activity #2
Compare and contrast the race times and survivorship for the main couse and any optional habitat improvements you choose to make.

Activity #3
Brainstorm the top migration hazards in your area and determine whether they are natural or man-made hazards. Add new hazards from the final discussion to the obstacle course. After the final discussion, brainstorm about what individuals can do to help, and add conservation actions to the obstacle course.