Frozen Bird Lesson

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In this lesson, students will examine local bird specimens up close. After making observations and measurements, they will utilize prior knowledge along with their gathered data to make informed predictions about the diet, habitat and behavior of a local bird specimen.


  • Students will be able to identify physical adaptations of birds such as coloration, beaks, and feet.
  • Students will be able to explain that specific physical adaptations of birds serve various functions in survival and behavior in Northwest natural habitats.

Formative Assessment:

  • What makes a bird a bird? (ASR’s: beak; feathers; build nests; lay eggs; can fly (although this is NOT true of all birds!);  have wings, etc…) 
  • What is a physical adaptation? (ASR: a characteristic of an animal’s body that helps them to survive and thrive in their habitat)
  • What kinds of clues will the bird’s body give us to tell us about its behavior? (ASR’s: the beak tells us what kind of food it eats; the feet tell us what kind of habitat it lives in; the plumage will tell us what it blends in with/where it lives/how it attracts a mate)

Summative Assessment: 

  • Gallery Walk/Presentations: Students are able to demonstrate their learning by verbally and visually presenting their observations of the bird, connect the observations they made to their predictions about its habitat, diet and behavior, and after looking in a field guide, correct or confirm their predictions. They can also create a visual representation of bird adaptations and behavior through drawing or painting. The artistic rendering of the bird should include factual/appropriate attributes, such as a depiction of the bird in its habitat; engaging in behavior based on evidence and/or observation, etc.
    • After listening to each other’s presentations, students can share out things they learned, things that surprised them, etc. 
    • If time does not allow for a group presentation, collect student work and look for students’ observations, predictions and confirmation or correction of their prediction of the bird’s habitat and diet based on observed physical adaptations, with answers supported and/or rationalized by evidence.

Age group: 4th-8th

Venue/s: Labs, LS 102-103

Materials: journals, Pencils, Frozen bird specimens, various bird field guides, rubber gloves, rulers, hand lenses (optional), dish towels to place bird specimens on and/or under, watercolor paper, watercolor pencils, water cups, a few paper towels.

Time: about 1-2 hours depending on time spent on artistic rendering of bird

Set up: Bird specimens need to be pre-selected and set out before students enter the room, as well as assembling all of the materials ahead of time.  Birds need to be checked out of the freezer.  The instructor should spend some time reviewing basic bird anatomy (especially beaks and feet), as well as the field markings necessary to positively identify the various bird specimens.

Important Considerations:

  • The instructor must first establish clear expectations for how to treat and handle the bird specimens. (be gentle- no pulling, picking, grabbing, poking, etc.) This is a great time to practice and model STEWARDSHIP!
  • Inform students that the bird specimens we have all died accidentally, mostly from window strikes. No one killed these birds on purpose and it is a great privilege that we get to study them so closely. They are frozen to prevent them from decomposing. Most specimens no longer have eyes, because the eye is mostly water and is the first part of the body to dry out.
  • Offer students rubber gloves if they are uncomfortable touching bird specimens directly. Since the birds are kept frozen, there isn’t much concern about disease and germs, but students should be able to use gloves if they want. Everyone should wash their hands after handling frozen birds.
  • An additional option for students who are uncomfortable examining frozen bird specimens are the taxidermied birds- because they are more “museum-like”, it provides more of a distance between the student and their mortality which can help keep the environment conducive to learning.
  • After about an hour, the bird specimens will begin to thaw. They will start to get squishy and a little more pliable. Additionally, they could start to bleed slightly. This can be distracting and/or upsetting to students, and it is the instructor's responsibility to maintain the integrity of the specimens, as well as an environment conducive to learning. Birds should be returned to the freezer (in their appropriate bag) as deemed necessary by the instructor.

The Lesson Plan:


This is a great opportunity for students to use their observational and critical thinking skills to learn more about birds and their physical adaptations based on their habitats.  Students will get to handle real, albeit frozen, birds, something they wouldn't normally get the opportunity to do.  


“Every time you look at a bird, something extraordinary will happen. Today we have a unique opportunity to study birds up close. which is pretty rare! Humans are not able to get close enough to live birds in order to be able to study many of their details; you usually can't get to close or they will fly away. However, Islandwood has a collection of frozen bird specimens that we are going to use to observe and identify some bird species, as well as learn more about the physical adaptations that they have that enable them to survive and thrive in their habitat.”

  • Check out Alyssa (EEC Alum '14) introducing frozen birds. 
  • It’s also very important to inform students during your introduction that the birds they will be observing are dead and frozen. Explain to students why Islandwood has these birds and why we keep them frozen. (See Other Considerations for additional talking points)

The Lesson:

 Inform students that during this lesson, they will be observing and recording data, inferring information from what they have observed, as well as predicting and checking their predictions, all with dead birds!

Students should be broken up into pairs, or a group of three, with one bird between each group.

Have students turn to a blank page in their journal and divide it into four quarters.

You may also opt to use this graphic organizer, if your students are at this readiness to learn level.

 Allot approximately 15-20 minutes per quarter page.  Introduce the quadrants one at a time so students do not rush ahead.

  • In the first quadrant, students will first unveil their birds, and make as many detailed observations about their bird’s physical appearance as possible. This should include plumage colors; measurements of body (beak to tail), beak, feet, tail; description of the bill and feet.
  • The second quadrant is for students to make predictions about the bird’s habitat (where is this bird’s home? what ecosystem would you find it in?) diet (what does it eat?) and behavior (how does it find food? How does it eat? How does it protect itself/nest from predators? )  Embedded Assessment: Listen for students to be discussing their observations with each other. Agreement or disagreement should be leveraged with observed evidence.  
  • The third quadrant is “the big reveal”. This is when, after completing quadrants one and two, students are given a field guide and they can positively identify their bird, and confirm their predictions based on their observations.  Some students will need a lot of support on this step, and it helps if you already know what the bird is yourself so you can point to field markings that will help the student identify their bird.  Another option is to use sticky notes to tag each bird in the field guides.  This will lower the amount of birds they have to look through and it can focus their observational skills ("it can't be this bird because mine does not have webbed feet.")  Students should write the name of their bird, include additional details about diet, habitat or behavior (if they are confirming their predictions) or changing their predictions based on the new information they have received.  This is also a time for students to gather other “fun facts” about their bird they may find in their field guides. The instructor can also introduce the I-pods which have a Sibley field guide app on them, which also has songs and calls for some auditory learning, as well.
  • The fourth quadrant, the art piece, depends on time allotted for the Frozen Birds lesson, as this portion of the lesson can be very time-consuming. Allot at least twenty minutes for students to complete an artistic rendering of their bird. Based on the first three quadrants, as well as their specimens and their field guide, students have a wealth of resources available to them, and lots of information that can be synthesized and represented as a piece of art. The fourth quadrant can function as a “first draft” of their artwork, or simply as a space to do a scientific illustration. Regardless of which way you choose to facilitate this part of the lesson activity, the instructor should be assessing and checking student work and looking for factual attributes of the students’ bird before distributing watercolor paper for the final art project.
  • Upon completion of each of the quadrants, students can present their work to each other or all students can do a gallery walk of each other’s work. See Summative Assessment section for additional look-fors as indicators of student learning.

Relevant Journal Pages:

Blank Pages

Transfer of Learning:

Now that you are experts on at least one bird species, how will you use this knowledge at school or home? What will you teach people back at home about birds? How can you continue to practice observing birds once you leave Islandwood? What kinds of places will you look? 


1. Week of birds

2. Bird Beak Buffet

Additional Resources: