Bird Beaks Investigation

Target concept: Certain physical traits give organisms species a survival advantage in a particular environment.

CCC: Structure and function

Practice: Construct explanations


  1. I have four pictures here for you and a question.
  2. Do not answer until I call on you.
  3. On the left is a salmon. Which of the following animals eats the salmon? Why?
    1. The eagle—get them to talk about how only the eagle has what’s needed to get to the salmon as food.
  4. In this investigation, we’ll be looking into the question: How do an organism’s physical traits influence their ability to get the food they need?
  5. Specifically, in this case, we’re thinking about birds.


  1. To do this, we’re going to simulate being birds.
  2. Each of you gets a beak.
    1. Hand out beaks. (One of each type per table)
  3. You also all get a stomach. (A cup)
  4. This is how this is going to work. I’ll be putting a “food” on your table. You’ll have 30 seconds to see how much food you can transfer from the plate into your “stomach.”
  5. When the time runs out, you have to stop. Then, discuss the differences in the beaks.
  6. Make sense?
  7. Food:
    1. Gummy worms in cereal
    1. M&Ms in Styrofoam
    1. Puffed rice in water
    1. Goldfish crackers
  8. Go through each one.
    1. Ask, what diff did the beak make?
  9. Now, as a group, come up with an answer to our question. How? Why are some better?
  10. Write your answer down.


  1. Have a few groups share their answers.
    1. Some beaks are better at getting some foods.
    1. Their physical traits make them better suited.
  2. What is your evidence?
    1. Some beaks were able to get some food better than others.
    1. Was there one beak that was the most versatile?
      1. Some animals find a specific type of food they can be really good at—specialists. Others evolve to be able to eat all sorts of stuff.
  3. Some real examples
    1. Robins
      1. What do real robins eat? (worms, insects, fruits and berries)
      1. What about their beaks makes it so that they can eat that food? (long and pointy, gets into small places and snags the worms)
    1. Ducks
      1. What do real ducks eat? (seeds and aquatic vegetation, insect larvae, worms, seed, grains)
      1. What about their beaks makes it so that they can eat that food? (helps filter out water and keep food, soft so it feels it)
    1. Kinglets
      1. What do real kinglets eat? (tiny insects, spiders, and eggs, especially eggs that are stuck to the undersides of leaves and twigs. In winter they also eat some seeds, sap, and berries.)
      1. What about their beaks makes it so that they can eat that food? (can pull out of tight places)
    1. Pelicans
      1. What do real pelicans eat? (fish, crustaceans)
      1. What about their beaks makes it so that they can eat that food? (scoop up stuff)
  4. These organisms live somewhere because their physical traits give them a survival advantage because they can get the food that is available in that environment.
  5. The structure of their beaks are better suited to get that kind of food.


  1. One more picture for you.
  2. Looking at this picture, what kind of food would you expect this animal to eat?
  3. Make a claim and support it with some evidence.
  4. Who can use what we just talked about related to the structure of birds’ beaks to make a claim about the food a velociraptor eats?


Gummy worms (big bag)
in cereal (in corn flakes or something)

M&Ms (king size bag)
in Styrofoam

Puffed rice (1 box)
in water

Goldfish crackers (1 large box)
on plates

Cups for “stomachs”

Plastic forks
Plastic spoons

Links to photos,Lake_District,_UK-_August_2011.jpg