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Changing Attitudes about Nature Through Bird Identification

By Cindy Dawson

Type of Entry:

  • Hands-on
  • Inquiry Lab
  • Authentic assessment
  • Group/cooperative leaning
  • Review/reinforcement

Type of activity:

  • Hands-on
  • Inquiry lab
  • Authentic assessment
  • Group/cooperative learning
  • Review/reinforcement

Target audience:

  • Life Science
  • Integrated science
  • Advanced Biology
  • Special needs (LD)
  • Special education

Notes to Teacher:

It is very easy to do a lesson in bird identification. If you do not have a set of bird cards, make them. You can get a pocket guide by Audubon, and make your own flash cards. Or subscribe to a Wild Bird magazine and cut out pictures to use as flash cards . You do not have to tell students directly that this lesson will keep them from using air rifles and pellet guns to hurt birds; that will come from education. They will tell you that they no longer do this, and that they keep others in their neighborhood s from doing it. Students will appreciate what they know. This is where the teacher comes in; you teach it to them. Attitudes will change through education. You can't make a student appreciate birds just by telling them to. You have to show them that they can.

The requirement for students is that they spend a lot of time in group work, cooperatively reviewing the birds over and over until they learn them. The good news is that they can learn to identify as many as they want. Let them learn what they are capable of learning. They'll let you know when limits are reached. Students will also have to participate in some hands-on labs.

Preparation time is usual for any lesson. Make the cards and then you'll have them for the next time you teach the lesson. Putting the labs together doesn't take much time at all. The entire unit can be done in two weeks of class time or longer or even sh orter, depending on how much you want to put into it.


This lesson teaches students to appreciate nature, though it is disguised as bird identification. Students so often disregard their bird neighbors, and may consider them unimportant, even to the extent of harming them. But after learning to identify 75 - 100 birds, students will develop an appreciation for them that extends far beyond the classroom. They carry this lesson with them through their adult lives, and even come back later to tell me that they still bird watch, that they teach their own children , and do much for the bird environment by feeding the birds in their yards.

Students work in groups to learn and review bird flash cards, after hearing stories about the birds from the teacher. They participate in labs such as owl pellets, feathers, etc. They also work to keep bird feeders on the school property filled so they ca n watch birds from the classroom windows.

The final moment of the lesson is when after learning the birds, students go out into the field as professional bird watchers to finally experience the ultimate lab. it is amazing to watch these students, young adults, get excited the first time they see a specific bird. It is a thrill that I have always experienced when watching birds, and to see that thrill on the faces of my students is my reward!


The question that this activity helps students to answer involves bird identification. Students will learn to appreciate nature and their surroundings trough education. By learning to identify 75- 100 birds, students get excited when they see them, and ar e more likely to develop a protective attitude toward bird species and their environments. Bird identification can also be hands-on with the activities that we do, such as feather labs, owl pellet labs, etc. Students will get excited about science. It can also be an integrated science lesson because bird identification can cover earth science (through habitats), chemistry (through buoyancy of feathers), and physics (through a study of flight.) Students will learn more than just a bird's name; they learn s ome details about each bird. This helps them to remember the name of the bird, hence the identification!


Appreciating Nature Through Bird Identification

Materials needed:

  • Flash cards of birds (making your own is so much better than buying them, because you can make your package include the birds from your area).

  • Feathers (can be collected by the students outside)

  • Owl pellets (order from a biological supply house)

  • Dissecting equipment (probes for owl pellet lab)

  • Hand lens

  • Bird feeders (can be made by the students with house hold items)

  • Bird seed

  • Bird identification guides

  • Binoculars (can be borrowed from community members)


Students will learn to identify birds in groups of 10 or 20, depending on how much time is available. Do not go on until they've mastered this. If you move on before the students are ready, they will not find much success. Only go on when the students are hungry for more. Different activities can be done including spelling bee type activities, partner drills, group drills, play games with the cards, or whatever design you choose to teach the birds to the students. I will show each card, tell something abo ut each bird, and then let the students work in groups to learn them. In addition, I do continual big group reviews. This proceeds until they've mastered 75-100 bird identifications.

Learn the parts of a feather, or the different kinds of feathers, by having a feather lab. Students use a hand lens to examine the parts. They could do a diagram of a feather. Discuss the various types of feathers. Test buoyancy of certain feathers. Weigh them. Discuss the oil gland and how the feathers are coated with oil which will help with buoyancy.

Divide the students into groups and have them write on butcher block paper as they share the different ways to identify birds. Then the teams can share with the whole class. You'll find that they will come up with no less than a hundred different things a bout a bird that can lead to identification.

Give pairs or groups an owl pellet to dissect. You can use a commercial kit that can be purchased, or design your own. I have my students take out all the bones and reconstruct them to see what the owl has eaten.

Have the students make bird feeders and place them in the school yard. Talk about the kinds of birds you see each day. This will filter into the homes, because they will want their own feeders at their homes. This makes them responsible for seeing that th e feeders have seed. My students will even research to see what kings of birds they can attract to the yard with different kinds of feeders and food. This is also a good lab. They can observe the types of birds that visit each type of feeder. They can als o graph what time a day the most birds visit the feeders, or certain birds visit the feeders.

Another good lab uses bird flight. One of my students recently measured the length of wings and made predictions about what type of flights that they had. This discussion can lead to how a bird will bank into your car to gain speed on his flight. I do not recommend this lab unless you have collected roadkill birds or birds that have hit the windows to freeze and use for specimens. It is against the law to keep these birds unless your school has a permit. A local college close to us has this permit and we donate to them. Also, our Department of Natural Resources helps us out from time to time.

Take the students out in the field to actually bird watch. You'll see excitement.

Method of Evaluation/Assessment:

I assess with partner assessments. Partners quiz each other with the flash cards. Also, I set up Lab ID tests where they see a picture of a bird and have to identify it. It may not even be the same picture that they learned from. Performance based assessm ent can be used for the labs.

Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas:

Students can learn more than the minimum number of birds. Use slide shows to teach the identification of birds. There are good video programs out there. Roger Tory Peterson has a couple of very good ones.

Have students do a nest collection. To do this, the birds have to be watched on the nest to identify it, then collect it when the mother and babies are through with it. This is hard work and takes a lot of time. Be sure not to collect a nest before it's i nhabitants are completely finished with it!

Another good lab is to test to see which colors birds attract. Put colored pieces of yarn out on the lawn, and watch to see which pieces are picked up first for nest building.

This lesson could easily be adapted to other types of animals.

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