Unit 2: Adaptation

This unit will explore both structural and behavioral adaptation by covering the topics of bird feathers, wings, beaks, bird language, and migration. For a summary of the lessons you can refer to the document posted below. If you have any questions feel free to email Education Coordinator, Paige Witek, at paige.witek@mrbo.org.

Topic: Feathers

Theme: Feathers are what set birds apart from other animals and are essential for their survival.

Missouri Science Standards: LS4.B.1

Teacher Guide

Video 1: Feather Anatomy and Function

Video Description: This video lesson covers how feathers are a structural adaptation. It goes through the feather types and the function of each as well as feather anatomy and growth. Video made by the Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO).

Teacher Notes:

  • Will cover all vocabulary terms and misconceptions

After watching video students need to complete these follow up questions to make sure they understand the concepts introduced in the video (Link is to Video Follow-Up Questions pdf Document to all videos). NOTE: Google Form Quiz version of follow-up questions available upon request; email paige.witek@mrbo.org.

Activity 1: Feather Function

Activity Summary: In this activity students will play an interactive game to learn about more feather functions

Link:  https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/all-about-feathers/#what-feathers-do.php

Activity 2: Comparing Feathers

Activity Summary: In this activity students will examine pictures and read about feather anatomy and structure. Then they will choose two feather types (wing, tail, contour, semiplume or down), draw them and answer questions about them.

Teacher Notes:


  • Follow-up questions (for each feather):
    • Where is this type of feather on the bird’s body?
    • What is the function of this feather?

Video 2: Animal Coloration

Video Description: From brightly colored feathers that make a bird stand out, to mottled camouflage to help an animal hide, different colors serve different purposes throughout the animal kingdom. This video was made by Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Teacher Notes:

Concluding Questions/Assessment

Topic: Wings and Flight

Themes: Birds are masters of flight due to many different adaptations. A bird’s wing shape allows for a certain type of flight that fits its lifestyle.

Missouri Science Standards: LS1.A.4; LS4.B.1; PS2.A.2

Video description:  This video describes the different wing shapes and how they benefit the bird. Video made by BioBush.

Video description:  This video shows an experiment comparing owls to other birds to try to figure out why owls have the adaptation of silent flight.  Video made by BBC Earth. 

Video description:  This video takes an up-close look at owl feathers to see how they help owls fly so silently.  Video made by Deeplook. 

Teacher Notes:

  • Owls have special feathers for nearly silent flight. This helps the owl to hunt because prey cannot hear them coming, and the owl can hear their prey as they fly toward it.

Topic: Beaks

Theme: A bird’s beak is an essential tool for the bird’s survival. The shape of a bird’s beak can help us to not only identify which group the bird belongs to, but also what it might eat.

Missouri Science Standards: LS1.B.1, LS4.B.1, LS4.C.1

Teacher Guide

Video 1: My Type

Video Description: Video lesson covers all vocabulary terms and is an overview of the many shapes and sizes of bills aka beaks and connections between beaks and food choice. Video is made by Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO) staff.

Video 2 & 3: My Beak Can Tell You What I Eat

Video 2:  Evolution by Natural Selection – Darwin’s Finches

Video description:  This video talks about Charles Darwin’s studies of the Galapagos finches and the theory of natural selection.  Video made by FuseSchool 

Video 3: Bird Feeding Adaptations: How Beaks are Adapted to What Birds Eat

Video description:  This video talks about the remarkable diversity of bird feeding adaptations.  Video made by Cornell University Naturalist Outreach. 

Activity: Create Your Ultimate Bird!

Activity Summary:  Students will be asked to individually create their own bird with adaptations to reflect what and how they eat, where they live and move and how they take advantage of their surroundings through their adaptations.

Teacher Notes:

  • It is important that the students plan their bird’s lifestyle BEFORE they go to sketch what the bird looks like. This will help them better understand adaptation.
  • It is also fun to have the students name their bird and maybe even come up with what the bird might sound like. We recommend having the students come up with their bird’s sound AFTER completing Lesson 4: Bird Language so they are more familiar with the various sounds birds make.

Concluding Questions/Assessment

Topic: Bird Language

Themes: Communication is a key component of bird survival and reproduction.

Missouri Science Standards: LS1.B.1

Activity Summary:  In this activity, students will explore bird communication and how vocalizations help birds survive and reproduce.

Teacher Notes:

  • Students will be asked to listen to bird sounds, then write about the sounds, draw the sounds, and describe similarities and differences in the bird sounds they hear.
  • Then they’ll be asked to think about what kind of messages birds need to communicate and how those messages might help with their survival. 

Topic: Feathers that Sing!

Missouri Science Standards: LS4.B.1

Video Series: Meet a Feather Scientist

Notes: Learn about Club Winged Manakins of Central and South America who use feathers to sing

  • Thought this would be interesting for students
  • Talks about feathers and evolution

Link: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/all-about-feathers/#meet-a-feather-scientist.php

Topic: Bird Migration

Theme: Migration is one important behavioral adaptation that can help birds survive due to seasonal changes in their environments.

Missouri Science Standards: LS1.B.1, LS2.A.2

Video Description: Video lesson covers all vocabulary terms and is an overview of the basics of migration-why, when, and how. Video is made by Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO) staff.

Video Description: Join a Cornell University Naturalist Outreach student to better understand bird migration. This beautiful STEM video brings to life core ideas from the Next Generation Science standards.  See (http://blogs.cornell.edu/naturalistou…​) and NYS 4H STEM pages for guides and worksheets on birds and bird migration. This video is a co-production of Dr. Linda Rayor, the Ithaca College Park Media Lab, and NYS-4H.

Video Description: As winter approaches, V-shaped flocks glide overhead as the world’s birds begin their long treks to warmer climates. Humans used to have some pretty crazy theories about where birds went for winter, like the moon, or to the bottom of the ocean. How did we learn the real story? And where DO birds go for winter? What are the longest bird migrations? How do birds store up energy for their long journey? How do birds navigate? Why do they fly in a V-shape? Find out in this video by PBS It’s Okay To Be Smart YouTube Channel!

Activity Summary:  Students will use community science to learn about migratory birds in their local area and create graphs comparing migratory and non-migratory species.

Teacher Notes:

  • Student Instructions included in packet
  • Students will explore real- life eBird data collected by community scientists.

Video Description: Around 600000 Sandhill cranes flock to Nebraska’s Central Platte River Valley each spring in one of the world’s largest and oldest remaining bird migrations. Video by National Geographic.