Shared Birds, Shared Habitats

A top priority for bird conservation in the 21st Century is to conserve habitats and ecosystem functions. We need to reverse bird population declines and keep common birds common. This can be achieved by preserving healthy habitats and addressing the most pressing threats to bird populations. Because the majority of birds are migrants that use habitat across the Northern hemisphere, and sometimes across the world, connecting people and ideas is important. Many of “our” summer birds in the U.S. go to tropical habitats for 7-8 months of the year, during the non-breeding season (our winter).

Big Idea:
Conservation of a migratory species requires protection of key habitats needed in the breeding and wintering seasons, as well as on the migratory path.

Learning Objectives:
  1. Students will be able to name three conservation challenges that birds face.
  2. Students will be able to name three actions they could take to help reduce negative habitat impacts on birds.

Time Needed:
Two 45min periods

  • Large wall map of North and South America (or world map)
  • 6 migratory bird cards, cut apart-- sent in the package we mailed, resource pages 20-21
  • 10 habitat photos: 5 tropical and 5 temperate-- sent in the package we mailed, resource pages 22-32
  • Copies of Journal Page 8 (Making a Difference for Migratory Birds)
  • Conservation Challenges and Actions Table (link below)
  • Habitat Name Slips-resource page 19
  • Map Key--resource page 22

Getting Ready:
  1. Place each of the habitat images on tables/shelves around the room before students arrive.
  2. Cut out the 10 habitat name slips so they can be placed on the map to give students more perspective. (Resource Page 19)
  3. Cut apart the 6 migratory bird cards. (Resource Page 21-22)
  4. Print Journal Page 8 (copy 1 per student or group)

Conducting the Activity:

The 2009 State of the Birds introductory video provides an excellent overview to introduce students to threats faced by birds in today's world. If possible show this video before the activity. The video is 6 1/2 minutes long.

  1. Walk around the room showing the students the habitat photos, both temperate and tropical. (Journal Pages 22-32) Discuss where in the world these habitats exist, referring to the world map. Add the name slips (Resource Page 19) to the map (Map key Resource Page 22) so students have a perspective idea of location. What type of habitat is common in your area?
  2. Hand out journal page 8 to each student. Students will fill this out as they explore the various habitats and birds represented in the activity.
  3. Divide students into 7 groups, giving each group one of the migratory bird cards to begin (Resource Pages 20-21)
  4. Ask: Which habitat do your migratory birds live in during the summer? Have students place their migratory bird in front of the habitat picture (Resource Pages 22-32) corresponding to that bird's breeding (summer) habitat. Have the student group read the conservation challenge at that site, and if they can, come up with an action that they could take to help with that challenge. Then, encourage the students to also brainstorm actions that they would recommend to adults (such as their parents or to government leaders). Thoughts can be recorded on Journal Page 8.
  5. Ask: Where is your bird in winter? Players then “migrate” their game piece to the picture of their bird’s winter habitat and read about the threats to that habitat. Again, ask the student to brainstorm conservation actions and record them at the bottom of Journal Page 8. Students can also look at the tropical resident birds that share habitat with "our" birds during the winter, to learn about the challenges these tropical resident birds face all year on their habitat.
  6. This could be a breaking point between lessons. Ask students to go home and think about birds and threats their habitats face.
  7. Discussion: Why is it important to conserve North American habitat where we live, and the South American habitat? (Migratory birds are found in the U.S. and Canada in spring and summer, then migrate to spend the non-breeding (winter) months in the tropics where they share habitat with many year-round tropical residents. Managing the tropical habitat wisely is just as important for these migratory birds as managing their North American breeding habitats. Some of these tropical residents are of high conservation concern, so managing the southern habitats will benefit them year-round.)
  8. Discussion: If you have done the Migration Obstacles, ask students about where these birds are during migration. If you haven't done this lesson, ask students where they think these birds are during migration, and what types of obstacles they could face. Do students think that the areas these birds use during migration are likely to face similar conservational threats as their summer and winter habitats?
  9. Finally, ask students to share the conservation actions they brainstormed with the class. Summarize the kinds of activities that students can do that will benefit all habitats, such as:
    • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
      • Ask students about renewable verse non-renewable resources. Many of the resources used by birds are renewable, but can take thousands of years to recover after human degradation. Ask students how recycling plays into non renewable and renewable resources. (Throwing away plastics and paper causes non renewable resource such as fossil fuels to be wasted harvesting renewable resources like trees to produce more paper. Even though trees are considered renewable, they can take hundreds of years to recover.)
    • Using less "stuff.
    • Help conserve non-renewable energy by using less gas and power.
    • Eating "lower on the food chain" by consuming less meat and eating more locally grown produce.

Here is a table of specific actions you might find useful as an "answer key":

Activity #1
Research threats to bird habitats in a area in which you live, or another region of interest. Encourage students to do something positive for the environment (for example, see if you can reduce paper usage in class, urge the school to use fewer disposables, put up signs in school restrooms encouraging water and towel conservation, make sure school buses or parents aren't idling at pick-up and drop-off times). Be sure to share any actions you take on the Share Your Action wiki.

Activity #2
Discuss with students the relationship between morphology and habitat. Coastal birds look and act very different then forest birds. Why is this? Can students categorize birds based on appearance into what environment they would be found in? Natural selection and evolution has shaped birds to excel in their environments, and based on morphological features such as bill/beak, wing, leg, and eyes, we can begin to understand their niche in the environment. Show students the tropical resident cards (Resource Pages 22-32) and see if they can come up with different morphological features that dictates each bird's role in its ecosystem. Here are some examples.
  • Snowy-crowned Tern: Long wings, a black eye stripe to reduce sun glare, and a long beak make this bird built to spend days at sea feeding on fish.
  • Crested Duck: Round bill, webbed feet, and waterproof feathers make this bird ideal for swimming and dabbling. (Dappling refers to how some ducks feed, moving the bill around in shallow water)
  • Mexican Wood-nymph: A long skinny bill allows this bird to drink nectar from flowers.
  • Highland Guan: Powerful legs allows this bird to spend allot of time on the ground.
  • Aplomado Falcon: Strong talons, a black eye stripe called a malar stripe in falcons, a hooked bill, and a slender body allows falcons to hunt other birds.
  • Scarlet Macaw: A large powerful beak allows macaws to crack open nuts and logs.

Many features are hard to see on a single photo. Have students research one of the tropical residents, or a bird of their choice, and come up with a complete least of morphological adaptations that make it possible for them to survive in their environment.