Recreating Bird Beaks

Our 8th-grade students recently participated in a particularly fun and creative science lesson. Led by science teachers Cathy Bailey and Pam Sever, the students fashioned bird beaks out of everyday objects and experimented to determine which beak was the most effective in terms of securing food. “In 8th-grade science we are covering evolution in science and looking at the adaptation of animals. As an engineering project, we had the students create bird beaks and stomachs. The lab requires the ‘bird’ to pick up food and swallow it. The students have to record their data and then graph the results,” said Ms. Bailey.

By simulating birds with different types of beaks, the students learned about the advantages and disadvantages of phenotype variation and how those variations play out in the real world as birds compete for various foods. Each student designed their own beak, and while pretending to be a very hungry bird, the students used their beak to pick up pieces of food and place it in a cup which represented the bird’s stomach. Then, they had 20 seconds to see whose beak could pick up the most food. 

Ms. Sever explained, “We are studying variation of traits in our evolution unit. Each student made their own beak and then competed for various food types with the other beaks at the lab station. They then discussed how various beaks were advantageous for survival, what happened when there was an abundance of food types, what happened once the food types were reduced by competition, and what would happen if there were only one food type, or only one type of bird in an isolated region.” 

This lesson offered many engaging and teachable moments in which students were encouraged to think critically and creatively about adaptations in birds and how adaptations work in the animal world in general, and because they had so much fun, these are lessons the students will not soon forget!