Why do birds have beaks?
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DISCUSS: How are these beaks different?

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Extensions

Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the activity and exploration you just completed.
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Activity Extensions: More Experiments to Try

There are several ways to extend this activity.

  • Repeat the activity with additional "foods" in each test square. Rubber bands make good worms. Different pastas can simulate seed pods. Marbles and pennies present a challenge. Which beak works best for which food?
  • Simulate situations that make food more difficult to get. Crumple aluminum foil to represent rough tree bark. Sprinkle it with beans and macaroni.
  • Check out the “Choose Your Food” activity from AAAS Science Net Links, which includes instructions for adding a mathematical component to the activity. Students count how many food items each beak picks up in a given time. Graph the data to compare the performance of different beaks.
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Read-Aloud Books

Epic! offers books online for teachers to use for free. Just click “Get Started” to register.

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Video Activity

Watch videos of different birds eating. After each video, talk about what the bird is eating and how it uses its beak.

Do you think a hummingbird could crack a nut like a macaw? Do you think a macaw could catch a fish like a great blue heron?

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Thinking Activity (Part 1)

A bird’s beak is like a tool that helps the bird eat. What kinds of tools would you use if you wanted to:

  • Crack a nut open?
  • Scoop cereal out of a bowl filled with cereal and milk?
  • Sip soda from a tall glass?
  • Catch a slippery fish?

Can you think of a bird beak that works like these tools?
If you’re stumped, advance to the next slide to see our ideas.

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Thinking Activity (Part 2)

At Mystery Science, we use nutcrackers for cracking nuts. A parrot’s beak is short and strong, and it works like a nut cracker.

A spoon is good for scooping up soggy cereal. It works like a duck’s broad bill.

A straw helps you sip soda from the bottom of a tall glass, just like the hummingbird’s beak lets that bird sip the sweet juice called nectar from the bottom of a flower.

A fork can stab a slippery fish, just like the pointy beak of an egret.

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Print Prep
Activity Prep

In this Mystery, students carry out an investigation to determine the relationship between the shape of different bird beaks and the food each bird eats. In the activity, Find the Best Beak, students experiment with long pointy beaks that are great for picking up seeds and wide flat beaks that are good for scooping. They discover that different beaks are best for different kinds of food.

Preview activity

Number of students:
Black Beans (Dried)
Any dried beans will work. If you must avoid food, substitute large beads.
Details
3 ounces per group
Dixie Cups (3 oz)
Each student will need 2 cups. We suggest having a few extras on-hand.
Details
2 cups per student
Elbow Macaroni
If you must avoid food, substitute straws cut into pieces that are about ½” long.
Details
3 ounces per group
Masking Tape
12 feet per group
Paper Cups (8 oz)
2 cups per group
Plastic Straws (Not Bendable)
Each student needs 1 straw. We suggest having a few extras on-hand.
Details
1 straw per student
Bird Beaks printout 1 per student
Prep Instructions

We suggest students work in groups of four. Homeschool students can work on their own.

This activity works best on a low pile carpet. If your classroom has a smooth floor (such as linoleum), you’ll need a bath towel to serve as the work area for each group of 4 students.

Make “Beaks”

Each student will need a “pointy beak” and a “duck beak” to experiment with.

Here’s how to make a “pointy beak”:

  • Fold a straw in half.
  • Make sure that the ends of the straws are even. (If they aren’t, trim them with scissors.)
  • Store your “beaks” in a cup so they stay folded.

pointybeak

Here’s how to make a “duck beak”:

  • You will use half of your Dixie cups to make “duck beaks.” Leave the other half of your Dixie cups whole as they will serve as “stomach cups” for students.
  • For half the Dixie cups, use scissors to make a cut from the lip to the base of the cup.

duckbeakcutting

  • Make a matching cut on the other side of the cup.
  • Squeeze the sides together to make a beak. (Quacking is optional.)

duckbeakabove

Set Up Stations

Mark off a test area for each group of four students.

  • If you have a low-pile carpet, mark a 3’ x 3’ square with masking tape.
  • If you have hard floors, spread out a bath towel and tape down the corners.

Prepare “Bird Food” and “Rocks”

For each group, you’ll need to prepare two cups. One filled with model “bird food” and the other filled with model “rocks.”

  • Divide the 8 oz paper cups in half.
  • For half of the cups, fill each about one-third full with dried macaroni “bird food.”
  • For the other half of the cups, fill each about one-third full with dried beans “rocks.”

Separate Supplies for Easy Distribution

At the start of the activity, each student needs a worksheet, “pointy beak,” “duck beak,” and “stomach cup.” Each group also needs a cup of “bird food.”

Best Beak Supplies

Each group will need a cup of “rocks” later in the activity. You may want to organize or separate supplies for easier classroom distribution.

Extensions
Download this Mystery to your device so you can play it offline: