Rainforest Bird Beak Buffet

Author(s): Claudia Scharff

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Elementary School (K-5), Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5


Biology/Life Science



Big ideas(s):

Birds have beaks suited to eat specific kinds of foods.  This allows them to coexisit in the same habitat (in this case, the rainforest).  

Vocabulary words:

None of these vocabulary words need to be introduced, but there are opportuntities to introduce them if you choose to.

adaptive trait: an aspect of the developmental pattern of the organism which enables or enhances the probability of that organism surviving and reproducing.

competition: a symbiotic relationship between or among living things for resources, such as food, space, shelter, mate, ecological status, etc.

ecological niche: the way a species 'makes its living;' where it lives, what it consumes, and how it avoids consumption by predators or displacement by other species.

What you need:

1) Bird Beak buffet kit from SEP resource center. If you don't have access to the SEP resource center, you can assemble your own kit.

    You need (for 31 students):

  • Beaks: 9 plastic pipettes or eye droppers, 9 tweezers, 5 nutcrackers, 5 tongs, 3 crab picks (or other sharp object)
  • Stomachs: 3 different sized cups (18 small, 10 medium, 3 large)
  • Food: colored beads (berries), rubber bands (worms), plastic bugs, beans, a couple of small mammals made out of styrofoam balls
  • Flowers for hummingbirds: baby food jars, felt, rubber bands, food coloring


2) water to mix with yellow food coloring to use as "nectar"

3) oranges, mangos, finger bananas, nuts with their shell on, seeds


This lesson could take place inside or outside.  You need a space and a board to introduce the lesson to all the students and a larger space where students can "eat food."

Time needed:

10 min. intro

10 min. activity

15 min. discussion

There are lots of opportunity for extensions and to repeat the above sequence with variations in the lesson.  You can do this on the same or a different day.

Author Name(s): 
Claudia Scharff

Students will look at pictures of 5 different rainforest birds and share their similarities and differences.  Each student will be given one of 5 tools and one of 3 cups to represent respectively a beak and stomach.  Students will go around the room and forage for "food," respresented by fake and real food.  They will discover that their "beak" and "stomach" allow them to eat only certain kinds of of food and consider the implications of this.

Prerequisites for students: 

Students should be able to listen attentively and follow directions.

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Students will be able to explain the similarities and differences between 5 rainforest birds (in particular the shape of their beaks).

Students will be able to identify and share the specific foods that their "beak" was suited to eat, and how the structure of their "beak" enabled them to eat only specific kinds of food.

Students will be able to describe why it is advantageous for all of the birds in the rainforest to have beaks suited to eat only certain kinds of food; they will be able to explain that these birds could not all surive in the same habitat if they all competed for the same limited resources.

Content background for instructor: 

It is helpful to know some of the characeristics and diet of each of the birds:






Getting ready: 

Reserve the Rainforest Bird Beak Buffet kit from the SEP resource center.  Purchase fruit and nuts.  Decide where you will introduce the lesson (a rug works well) and where you will let students forage for "food" (This should be a large area where students can walk around. Desks throughout the classroom work fine).  

Just before the lesson, mount the pictures of the hummingbird, trogan, toucan, parrot and harpy ealge on a board where you will introduce the lesson, with some space to write attributes under or over them. Keep the "beaks" and "stomachs" nearby.  Mix water with yellow food coloring in a pitcher and pour the "nectar" in the baby food jars. Wrap felt around baby food jars with rubber bands to represent flowers. Keep all the "food" out of view from the students and close to the area where you will have them forage.

Lesson Implementation / Outline


Explain that you will be studying 5 different rainforest birds (humming bird, trogon, toucan, parrot and harpy eagles) as mounted on the board. Ask students to share there observations of the birds.  Write down their observations (similarites and differences) as the students share them on the board.  The varying beak structures and sizes of the birds should come up quickly.  As it isn't obvious from the photos, explain that the humming bird and trogon are very small birds, the parrot and toucan are medium-sized birds (abt. 2ft.), and the harpy eagle is a very large bird (up to 3.5 ft. - about the size of a young student!).  Explain that each student will pretend to be one of the five birds.   The birds will have either small (trogan, hummingbird), medium (parrot, toucan) or large (harpy eagle) "stomachs" respresented by three different sized cups.  Each bird will have a "beak" that respresents the beak of the animal.  As you introduce the "beaks", tape the respresentative tool onto the bird picture for clarity (tweezer for trogon, eyedropper for hummingbird, nutcracker for parrot, tong for toucan, and crab pick - or other sharp object - for harpy eagle).  Explain that as birds do not have hands, students may use only their "beaks" to collect food and may gather only what fits in their stomachs.  Pass out hummingbird tools & stomachs to roughly 30% of the students, trogon implements to roughly 30% of the students, toucan implements to about 15% of the students, parrot implements to about 15% of the students, and harpy eagle beaks and stomachs to 10% of the students.  While you do this, have someone else quickly put the "food" in the foraging area or do it yourself just after you pass out the materials. Let the students know they are to pretend they are hungry birds on the quest to find their lunch.  Optional: play rainforest sounds.


Observe as students try to "eat" the variety of foods.  Optional: tape record them or write down what you hear.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

After students have gathered most of the food, tell them the jaguars are coming for their lunch, and that they must stop eating and come to the rug or discussion area.  Ask students to share their experience as a particular bird with the student next to them.  Depending on time, ask for one of each type of bird to share out their expereince with the whole group.  As it comes up, highlight that none of the birds except the hummingbird could drink the nectar, and that this was the only food it could consume with its beak. Have a parrot student demonstrate (and you may need to help) that only parrots can crack nuts with their beaks. Notice that toucan beaks are especially suited to gather fruit, while trogon beaks are good at picking up smalll insects, worms, and seeds.  Highlight that harpy eagles are the only birds that can both spear large mammals like sloths and monkeys with their beaks and fit them in their large stomachs.  Ask students to consider what it would be like if they all had hummingbird beaks or any other beak (and have them try it if you like and time permits). Explain that the great competition for the same limited resources, would not allow all of the birds in the species to survive.  As it is though, with the birds being expecially suited to eat only certain kinds of food, the birds can coexist in the same habitat, each occupying a different ecological niche.  

Extensions and Reflections

Extensions and connections: 

If you have recorded any student conversation, share this with students and allow them to consider how similar this conversation (things like, "hey, that was my flower" or "you can't eat that mango") might be to the things birds are chirping to eachother. Have students consider any of the following questions in their minds or by doing the activity again: What if there was a drought, how would each of the birds be affected? Who would be affected most?  What if the area was deforested to allow cows to graze?  What if all of the toucans were affected by a virus and died out?  etc etc... Have students share their thoughts orally or in writing.  


The following NGSS Performance Expectation would make a good extension to this investigation:

1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow and meet their needs.

NGSS Topics
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Topics Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science: 

Standards - Kindergarten

Life Sciences: 
2. Different types of plants and animals inhabit the earth. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know how to observe and describe similarities and differences in the appearance and behavior of plants and animals (e.g., seed-bearing plants, birds, fish, insects).
c. Students know how to identify major structures of common plants and animals (e.g., stems, leaves, roots, arms, wings, legs).
Investigation and Experimentation: 
4. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
b. Describe the properties of common objects.
d. Compare and sort common objects by one physical attribute (e.g., color, shape, texture, size, weight).
e. Communicate observations orally and through drawings.

Standards - Grade 1

Life Sciences: 
2. Plants and animals meet their needs in different ways. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know different plants and animals inhabit different kinds of environments and have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places.
d. Students know how to infer what animals eat from the shapes of their teeth (e.g., sharp teeth: eats meat; flat teeth: eats plants).

Standards - Grade 2

Investigation and Experimentation: 
5. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
c. Compare and sort common objects according to two or more physical attributes (e. g., color, shape, texture, size, weight).

Standards - Grade 3

Life Sciences: 
3. Adaptations in physical structure or behavior may improve an organism's chance for survival. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know plants and animals have structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction.
b. Students know examples of diverse life forms in different environments, such as oceans, deserts, tundra, forests, grasslands, and wetlands.
c. Students know living things cause changes in the environment in which they live: some of these changes are detrimental to the organism or other organisms, and some are beneficial.
d. Students know when the environment changes, some plants and animals survive and reproduce; others die or move to new locations.

Standards - Grade 4

Life Sciences: 
3. Living organisms depend on one another and on their environment for survival. As a basis for understanding this concept:
b. Students know that in any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.