Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Big Idea:
There are costs and benefits to migration. Some bird species migrate while others do not.

Learning Objectives:
  1. Students will be able to identify the costs and benefits of migration.
  2. Students will be able to mention "food availability" as one key indicator of whether a bird species will migrate or remain in one area year-round.
  3. Students will be able to define temperate resident, tropical resident, and migrant.

Time Needed:
45 minute period, plus follow-up

  • 12 game cards, cut apart (see Resource Pages 16-17)
  • 40 "Survival Chips" (consider using pennies, pebbles, poker chips, popsicle sticks or any small trinket)
  • 3 name tags or stickers to designate student volunteers as 1) "Migrant", 2) "Temperate Resident," 3) "Tropical Resident"
  • "My Favorite Bird" (Journal Page 2)
  • Online and print bird species information for student research (field guides, books and websites such as All About Birds)

Getting Ready:
Gather supplies and cut apart the “Should I Stay or Should I Go” game cards. You may wish to laminate or paste them on index cards for durability.

Conducting the Activity:
1. Initiate a discussion of your students’ thoughts about migration, asking questions such as:
    • Have you seen any movies about bird migration (such as “Winged Migration”)?
    • Do some bird species stay in our area year-round? If yes, what birds do you see here year-round?
    • Where do birds migrate?
    • When do birds migrate?
    • Why might birds migrate?
    • Do all birds migrate?
2. As a class, demonstrate the costs and benefits of migration through a brief demonstration, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
  1. Select three student volunteers and ask them to the front of the class. Using name tags, designate one as “tropical resident,” one as “temperate resident,” and one as “migrant.” Give each of these three students 10 “survival chips” (cards, tokens, coins, etc) that signify “success.” Hold the other chips in case you need to give some out. (The tags refer to where the birds are found throughout the year, "tropical residents" complete their life cycle at southern latitudes, "temperate residents" complete their life cycle in more northern latitudes, and "migrants" complete their life cycle in both.)
  2. Pass out each of the 12 game cards to 12 other students. One-by-one, ask them to read each card aloud. Some cards pertain to only one bird (the migrant, for example), others pertain to more than one bird (for example, birds that breed in the temperate zone can be both residents and migrants). Decide as a class which bird(s) the card pertains to, and give "survival chips" or take them from the appropriate bird(s) as directed.
  3. Following the demonstration, count how many "survival chips" each bird has, and discuss the costs and benefits of each strategy. Make the point that although one bird may have ended up with more, in real life, there is no “winner”- some strategies work better one year than the next, and success varies among bird species. You may wish to cite the example of strictly insectivorous birds, which would find it impossible spending their winters in a cold region where there are no insects.

3. Ensure that students understand that the primary reason why birds leave the warm tropics is to feed and raise nestlings. Although the tropics have a good climate year round, birds face significant competition for food. Going north in the summer offers migrating birds a huge variety and quantity of food sources, such as insects. But it's a balancing act, because migration is dangerous and many birds die during their journeys. Some bird species migrate, and others don’t. You may wish to summarize by drawing a table at the front of the class:

Tropical Residents
Temperate Residents
Survival Rate
High survival rate (avoid hazards of migration and harsh winter weather)
Moderate survival rate (due to hazards of migration)
Low survival rate (due to cold and starvation)
Number of Young Raised per Year
Few young raised per year (food for young is less abundant)
Moderate number of young raised per year (due to abundant food in breeding areas)
Many young raised per year (due to abundant food)

4.) Research a favorite bird:
Ask each student to select one favorite bird (you may wish to specify that they select a bird found in the US or locally, or let them choose any bird in the world). Encourage students to go to the All About Birds online field guide website and/or use bird field guides to explore where their bird is found throughout the year. Using a range map and their own research, challenge students to determine where this species is found throughout its yearly cycle and record their findings on their journal page 2. If their species is migratory, they might indicate the flyway(s) the bird takes, and whether some or all individuals of this species are migratory.

5.) Compare and contrast strategies:
Have students share their maps and reports with the rest of the class. Alternatively, you could first ask “migrators” to raise their hands and have a class discussion exploring that strategy (i.e.: Which species travels the farthest? Are there any species in which ALL members of the species migrate? Do any species change their strategy depending on the year?). Follow up by having the "temperate residents" share their strategy for surviving the winter (i.e.: What do temperate residents eat during the winter?).