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Lesson #3: Why Do I Have to Migrate?

Despite common belief, even hummingbirds can survive sub-freezing temperatures! They're equipped with down underwear and can stay alive as long as they have enough food to shiver to keep their bodies warm. Yet in the midst of late summer and fall abundance, hummingbirds and many other species leave northern areas for the tropics.

A. Have students conduct research to answer this question: "Exactly what does the bird we're sending to the Neotropics eat?"

B. Go outside and survey the schoolyard, or an area nearby, searching for the types of food your bird eats. (Plan to do this activity both before and after the first frost.)

C. Have students predict how the availability of your bird's food will change during the fall and over the school year. (As you study the phenology of your area this year, have students pay particular attention to the presence or absence of your bird's required food.)

D. In science notebooks, have students draw and label your chosen bird, paying particular attention to the feet and beak. Discuss how these body parts might be designed to obtain specific foods. Look at a variety of birds' beaks in a field guide. Discuss how some are designed for obtaining and eating a particular food item while others, especially of omnivores, are designed for more general food needs.

E. Ask students, How might the beak or feet of your Journey South bird help or hinder it in finding food? (Would your bird's beak be capable of opening seeds? Extracting nectar from a flower? Ripping open a dead animal? Spearing a fish? Catching flying insects? Are the feet designed for carrying? Sinking into prey animals to kill them? Clinging to tree trunks? ) Some birds eat an entirely different diet in the tropics than they do on their breeding grounds. Others eat very similar food in both places. Ask students, What do you suppose your bird will eat during migration and then on its wintering grounds?

F. Based on your observations and research , when do you think your Journey South bird will migrate from your region in the fall? Why?

1. Do you think your bird leaves because it runs out of food? the north? Do you think it "anticipates" running out of food in the future? What is the difference between an instinct and a behavior that is the result of thought?

2. Consider birds that live to the north of your town. Based on your field observations, when would these birds need to move through in order for suitable food to be available?

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