Bird Beaks

Science NetLinks, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This lesson explores the relationship between the shape of a bird’s beak and it’s ability to pick up and open a food source. The resource includes a teacher lesson plan with background information, online pictures of birds' beaks, a student worksheet for the hands-on activity, and a Build a Bird culminating activity.




Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence could include needs and characteristics of the organisms and habitats involved. The organisms and their habitat make up a system in which the parts depend on each other.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The shape of a bird's beak will determine the food that the bird can eat, so a bird has to be in a habitat that has the right food for that particular bird. For example, a pelican will thrive in an ocean habitat because it has a large, rounded beak that allows it to scoop up a fish from the water.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students use models of different bird beaks to pick up 'food' of different shapes. The tools are modeling the birds' beaks, and the data from the lab suggests what will happen when birds with the differently shaped beaks try to eat food sources in the real world (predict phenomena). The teacher needs to emphasize to the students that they are using models of bird beaks in the investigation. To more fully address the standard, students could look at photographs of real bird beaks and decide which tools best represent that beak shape in the experiment. Asking students to come up with the tool to be used to represent each type of beak would better satisfy the ‘develop’ portion of the standard. To strengthen this practice, the teacher could have the students predict which type of beak would be most effective at picking up each type of food before the investigation begins.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Birds have to live in an environment in which they can find food, or else they will struggle to survive or starve. The shape of a bird's beak will determine the foods that the bird can eat. For example, hummingbirds have long, thin beaks suitable for drinking nectar, but unable to open nuts or shells. Hummingbirds must often migrate to where flowers are available because their beak shape cannot open seeds more suitable for other birds and organisms. The food available in an area will determine what type of birds are able to live in that environment.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The beaks, which are a substructure of the bird, are shaped differently in different types of birds. The teacher should emphasize that the structure of different beak shapes gives the birds advantages in consuming different types of food sources, allowing a bird to survive in the habitat.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The focus of the lesson is to support students in making sense of the phenomena of why bird beaks are shaped differently. The hands-on activity allows the students to use models to explore how beaks of different shapes can pick up different food types, which shows how the structure of the beak dictates the function of the beak.

  • Instructional Supports: Bird Beaks does allow students to explain phenomena that they can see related to birds in their own area. A wide variety of bird examples are used, and students should be able to relate to the examples. The lesson does allow for students to have class discussions about their thoughts after looking at beak and tool examples, and then they give written explanations on the Choosing Your Food Wisely e-worksheet after completing the activity. The activity is scientifically accurate and grade‐appropriate, and uses models to explain phenomena and to support students’ three‐dimensional learning. Extension activities are suggested, but there are no supports for English Language Learners or struggling readers. The online pictures of birds and tools do provide visual information without a great deal of reading, and the teacher could teach the entire class the labels for the tools by holding the tools up and saying their name, which would help the ELL students. A rubric to assess the Build a Bird Kit activity is not included in the lesson.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The introductory websites and class discussion allow the teacher to assess student understanding before the activity begins. The e-worksheet allows the teacher to see if the student has made the connection between beak shape and food source. To further assess if the students understand the concept, they are given a Build a Bird Kit at the end of the lesson, and and asked to use the different bird parts on the page to build a bird. After students have constructed their bird, they should select and describe a habitat in which they think that bird would thrive.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This lesson does not feature on interactive component.