Fermilab LInC Online

Birds of A Feather


Section 1- Identifying and Counting Birds (An indoors Activity



These words will be introduced and used in the context of the activity and discussion only:

(data, envirnoment, graphing, habitiat, migration )


Student journals

Per Group:


1). First, we will arrange students into cooperative groups of five students each. If there is an odd number of students, we may have to use some smaller or larger groups but, we will try to keep the total numbers as close to five as possible.

2). Second, we will introduce the idea of bird study and identification to the class. Using the information of birds posted on the world wide web:

We will try tapping the students prior knowledge by asking questions and encouraging deductions and theories to arrive at answers to the questions they do not know. And finally, encouraging all groups and students to answer or theorize about at least one concept or adaptation.


An alternative could be to give each student group a task, or question, such

as why do birds have feathers? and then have them search for the answers in

reference materials, fieldstrips,videos or on CD ROMS. A list of traditional book references is

available online, or have the students search the web for information. However, this

method can take considerable class time to achieve the desired objective. If

such time is unavailable, this method may not be appropriate.



3). Introduce the use and purpose of field guides to students by passing some around the room

and asking what reasons might exist to make such a book. Some of their answers might include:

there are too many types of animals (in this case birds) for one person to know by memory, to

help new and experienced birders identify species they have not seen before, and to show

beginning birders what to look for when identifying bird species. If students do not know what

a species is, we will take some time to try and explain this concept to them.( A popular

illustrative technique compares the scientific naming system to the student's name and




The four main birds in this study are mourning doves, red-winged blackbirds,

goldfinches, and house sparrows. The "field guide" also contains pictures of

a blue jay, robin, cardinal, and black-capped chickadee. These birds may be

seen by the students while on the study, and are included in the guide

because of this fact. However, they will be classified into a category

labeled "other" for data collection purposes. The birds in this study are

listed by common name, genus and species in their "field guide" entries.

Birds in this study all belong to the Kingdom Animalia (Animals), Phylum

Chordata (Has a backbone), and Class Aves (Birds). The mourning dove belongs

to the Order Columbiformes and the family Columbidae which includes the

pigeons and doves. The rest share the order passeriformes or perching birds,

although they belong to different families. Either Petersons or Audubon's

field guide to Eastern birds should list the families as well as genus and

species for all the birds they may encounter.

4) If time permits, students may want to print out a copy of the "field guide"

to color in. In the case of the goldfinch and red-winged blackbird, we may

want them to print out two copies of the bird to color a male bird and a

female bird, as the two sexes look different. Pass out copies of a published

field guide or let the groups sit by a computer with the color pictures on

it. When coloring each bird, discuss what makes each bird identifiable as

that type of bird. Is color a good way to pick out different types of birds?


Patterns of color? Shape? . Why might it be advantageous for the female to be colored differently? What could be helpful about being "duller" than the males? (Camouflage) Why are the males so brightly colored? (To attract mates, etc.) We will spend time to insure that students know what each of the four species to be studied looks like.

We may also want to include extra blank sheets for students to add drawings of unknown birds into their field guides.

We may have students pay attention to"key" traits to help identify birds including the size of the bird, the color of its legs, its beak, body, shape, whether it has marks on its wings and the length of its tail. We will be sure to encourage them to look them up in a published field guide for identification when they get back to the classrooom.

For the study itself, it might be helpful to have the group divide up the

birds such that one member does research on each type of bird and the fifth

member does research on the other common birds they might see. We may want

to limit the student assigned to the "other" birds to a less in depth report

on the individuals so that work loads are approximately equal. Each group

member reports what he or she has discovered to their peers. This could also

divide the students in the group so that one person is counting only the

goldfinches, one counts only the mourning doves, one counts all the "other"

birds, and so on until all the possibilities are taken care of. If time is

short, we may wish to conduct this lesson with the published field guides


Section 2- Establishing A Data Collection Activity

or Setting Up A Path

1. Students will be arranged into cooperative groups of five students each.

2. Introduce the idea of environmental data collection to class. Tap

student prior knowledge. Pose the following questions, giving students time

to respond in their journals.

How does data collection help scientists study the envirnoment?

Data collection allows scientists to determine the current condition of the environment?

What information do scientists learn about the environment when data is compared and analyzed over time?

Scientists learn how the environment is changing and what factors may be causing these

changes. Scientists might not always discover what is causing a change in

the environment but they may find how plants and animals are adapting to

these changes.

3. Ask the class to imagine they are conducting a scientific study of their

local environment. Have them consider the local environment. Pose the

following questions, giving students time to respond in their journals. What

is your local environment comprised of? What types of data would you collect

to help in studying the local environment? How do you determine what to

collect and where to collect it? Do you collect data from everywhere? How do

scientists collect data for scientific investigation? Accept all answers.

Scientists use the concept of sampling, collecting specific data from a

small area that represents the larger system. They use data collected from

sampling areas to make inferences or generalization about the larger system.

Scientists sometimes ask other scientists or experts for help. Who would you

go to for help in learning about your area or for advice in conducting your

study? Possible sources of aid include the Chicago Academy of Sciences,

Illinois Department of Conservation (DNR), forest preserve managers,

and land managers.



4. Establish a bird data collection activity.

The following points provide the rationale and processes necessary for designing

our activity. Have the class consider and discuss each point.



* Determine a path . In order to best examine our corner

of the world, the class should establish the path in an area near our

school that best represents our local environment. If our school building

is surrounded by streets and buildings these should be represented in our

path. Ask the class if it is important to maintain the same sampling area

every time data is collected. Will changing the sampling area change the

type and amount of data they collect? Can data collected from different

sampling sites be compared over time? Does varying the type of data you

collect affect the study in any way? Can different types of data be compared

over time?



To enable different schools across the state to use your data and compare it

to theirs, our path length in this experiment will be 200 meters long. Ask

students why everyone must have the same length for their path for

their data to be comparable. What would happen if one school used a 100

meter path and another a 50 meter path? How might this effect the data each

school collects?

* Establishing a regular schedule for data collection. This step is crucial.

Selecting a time and frequency that fits into our own class' schedule. As this

project covers changes over time, we will try to schedule a data collection period

once every two weeks to do this experiment. Ask the class to determine if

maintaining a regular schedule is important to scientific research. Does

varying the time of day that you collect data affect the information that

you will collect? Does varying the frequency of data collection affect the

study? Can data collected at random times or intervals be compared

accurately over time? Explain that once the schedule is developed, it is

important to maintain throughout the project so that the data can be

compared. Ideally, the duration of this experiment should be from October

through November or longer.



In order to set an accurate description of habitat, we will establish roles for each group member during initial survey:

For example, one person toserve as official recorder, two persons to serve as botanists (responsible for collecting plant data), and two persons to serve as biologists

(responsible for collecting animal data). These roles will change for the

actual data collection periods, where each student will then be counting a specific type of bird.



5. Have students find their path on the topographic map. Where is it situated

in relation to our school? our students' homes? What types of land

use/land cover are located near your plot? Houses? A forest? A river?



6. Go outside. Have each group walk the path prior to collecting data.

Students should use the blank paper, pencils, and clipboards to sketch the

path and the physical features that surround it. Also have students note the

ways land surrounding the path is used. Is the area built-up, natural, or

somewhere in between? Have each group use field guides to identify and list

the major plant and bird species found in your sampling site. In this

initial walk, assign one person to mark off 20 meter

intervals on the path, so we can save time when sampling is taking place.



7. Return to the classroom. As a class, consider the information we have

collected and use it to arrive at a description of the habitat we are

sampling in. Also, use the list of birds you've seen to identify the common

birds seen in the "other" category so that all the students know what these

look like. If there is an "other" species that is prevalent in the area, we

might want to make another category on your class' personal data sheets for

it. This could be especially helpful if there are few birds of the species

that are designated in our area.



8. Have each group use the complete list add any "extras" from #7 to your

data sheets. As a class, analyze the pros and cons of each group's data

sheet. Compare each sheet and use portions of each group's sheet to develop

a standard class data collection sheet for groups to use throughout the

project. This sheet should include space for recording the date and time of

data collection, weather conditions, signs of human activity/disturbance,

group members, the number of each type of bird your class is sampling for,

and blank space for additional comments.

Section 3 Collecting Data



1. Separate students into pre-established cooperative groups.

2. Pass out field guides, data sheets, clipboards, and pencils to each group.

3. Assign roles of each group member for main experiment.

* Assign one person to each bird studied and one to the "other" category. As an alternative, one person could serve as official recorder marking down their group's

data on the official group sheet.

This person would switch at every stop, so every member of the group has a chance to

try tabulating the data. Try to identify birds in the "other" category while

outside. Perhaps the group member responsible for counting the "other" birds

could describe each unknown bird in as much detail as possible for later

attempts at identification.



4. Go outside. Have the first group recorder list start time, date, group

members, and weather conditions, signs of human activity, and additional

comments on data sheet. All groups will be recording data at the same time

at the same point in the path, but will use separate data sheets.



5. Begin at the start of the path. Emphasizing quiet, walk 20 meters into

your path. Stop and have each group look for and count birds for 2-3

minutes. Once the data collection period is over, have each person report

their bird's total numbers to the recorder. Switch recorders. If you have

added "extra" birds, fill those columns in too. Don't forget to remind them

that these birds get recorded twice, once in the other category and once on

their own. Continue this method at 20 meter intervals until each group

reaches the end of the path. (rembering to mark our own path.)



6. Return to classroom. List each group's data on the chalkboard. The

recorder for each group is responsible for copying this information for

their respective group.



7. Using a computer spreadsheet program or graph paper, have students graph

their group's data with data collected from other groups. How does the data

collected by each group compare? If there are differences, have class

discuss possible reasons for discrepancy. Accept all answers. Explain that

scientists often use multiple trials when collecting data.



8. Have students average the data collected by each group. This average will

serve as the class' official data. Explain that scientists often average

data collected by various researchers to normalize disparity in the data.



9. Have recorders copy this information and file it in their group's project




10. Have groups graph their data and the official class data from this

collection period in relation to data previously collected. How does it

compare? If there are obvious differences, ask class to list those factors

that may influence these differences? Seasons? Weather? Disturbance near the

sampling area?



11) Input each groups data into the official data sheet.

Include the following:



* Name of School

* Location of Path (i.e. City and County)

* Weather

* Habitat

* Time of Day

* Start Time

* Finish Time

* # of Groups

* # of Students per Group

* Type of Study

* Month/Day/Year

* Number of House Sparrows

* Number of Goldfinches

* Number of Red-winged Blackbirds

* Number of Mourning Doves

* Number of Other Birds

* Whether or not a Plot was used

* Comments (i.e. all the other birds were chickadees, etc.)


District 97 Goals

for Mathematics and Science

The Following is an except from District 97 Handbook:

As a result of their schooling, students will be able to understand and use the appropriate processes, methods and techniques in math and science.

MS2-A Observe, classify, and measure objects, materials, substances, phenomena and events.

MS2-B Collect, organize, describe, analyze, summarize and interpret dat using statisical concepts.

MS2-C Construct, read and interpret tables, graphs, and charts.

Fermilab LInC Online

Birds of A Feather



Each student will be evaluated according to the following criteria:



locates information from a wide variety of sources; student can name at least 4 or more identifying characteristics of a bird


locates information from 2 or more sources; student can name at least 3 identifying characteristics of a bird


locates information from only one source; student can name only one identifying characteristic of a bird with prompting


Has difficulty locating information from one source; Is unable to recall or name one characteristic of a bird.



Is highly skillful and effective in using a variety of resources and technology to access information


Uses a variety of resources and technology to access information


Accesses or selects from basic resources; with assistance uses a variety of resources and technology to access information


Uses technology to access teacher-selected information; with assistance selects information from basic resources



Leads in completion of task; models an appropriate balance between speaking and listening; exceeds expectations and role responsibilities


Participates in completion of tasks; meets expectation and role responsibilities; balances role between speaking and listening in the group


With assistance, contributes to completion of tasks; with assistance meets expectations and role responsibilities


Is Frequently off task; participates to a limited extent; with assistance partially helps to complete tasks




Creates a superior field guide that reflects an innovative and efficient approach towards achieving its purpose; articulates subtle characteristics of product and gives detailed answers to questions about it.


Creates a field guide that achieves its purpose; Describes essential characteristics of the product and accurately answers questions about it.


With assistance creates a field guide that has essential elements: Describes most characteristics of the product and briefly or with minor errors answers questions about product.


Field guide is incomplete or maybe disorganized; describes a few characteristics and/or makes numerous errors: With prompting partially answers questions about product.





Created for the Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office, Friends of Fermilab, United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, and North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).
Author(s): Olivia Miller and Marva Simmons (with e-mail address links)
School: Hatch Elementary , Oak Park, Illinois
Created: October 18, 1997 - Updated: October 18, 1997
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/lincon/f97projects/yourfolder/test.html