Eat Like a Bird

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Instructor Guide/Manual , 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.




Eat Like a Bird is the January lesson of a series of 10 monthly Feathered Friends lessons created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Pennington Wild Birds. The lesson focuses on bird beak forms and the type of food each bird has evolved to eat. Students brainstorm foods they know that birds eat and observe birds feeding in their area to make connections between structure and function before conducting an investigation about the relationship between them. The January activities can be found on pp. 24-28, but each month's lesson has NGSS-aligned activities that are specified in the introductory pages of the document.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Clarification Statement: Examples of structures could include thorns, stems, roots, colored petals, heart, stomach, lung, brain, and skin.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to macroscopic structures within plant and animal systems.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students observe local birds eating before they play a game to determine which bird beak model is most successful for gathering different types of bird food. The game is presented as an independent take home activity for students to share with their families, but could be done in class as a formal investigation or with more structured guidance to better address this standard.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Questions for discussion are suggested as a follow-up to students viewing feeding birds and investigating which bird beak is best adapted to different food sources. However, students could more fully engage in this practice by comparing beak types and food sources. This could be done in a student notebook or with a worksheet created by the teacher to guide the investigation. If the teacher orders the free bird feeder available via the website, the class could observe and collect data on different types of bird seed to see which birds are attracted, preferred feeding times, or other variables the students have questions about.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are explicitly making sense of the connection between beak structure and function. The structure/function relationship could be more fully explored by asking students to conduct research into how the form of other structures like feet or wings help birds survive (and are influenced by where a bird species live or gets their food). Some of the video links provided show birds feeding and would provide opportunities to analyze these relationships.

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
This activity is focused on the relationship between structure and function, which at the 3-5 level in Life Science should also include the concept of substructures. Teachers should emphasize that beaks are substructures of the head, which in turn is a substructure of the bird. Additional detailed text, photos and video about bird beaks (and other body structures) can be found at: A connection can be also be made to the crosscutting concept of Systems and System Models by helping students to see how individual body parts comprise an interdependent system that can carry out functions that individual body parts cannot.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are asked to brainstorm about the types foods eaten by birds, and questions help guide this discussion before they observe birds feeding (at a nearby feeder or on live webcams). A class investigation is suggested based on the questions that come out of the students’ wonderings, but little support is provided. As a result, the teacher would have to generate materials and directions to guide this activity. The bird beak game (offered as a home activity) would provide meaningful engagement with the practice if done at school as a class investigation to generate quantitative data with teacher support.

  • Instructional Supports: This set of activities provides a good connection to students wherever they live, since birds can be observed feeding almost anywhere. A variety of activity ideas are suggested, but without detailed supports. Background information is provided, including a description of a grade-appropriate tradebook about an eagle that had its beak repaired using a 3D printer. Instructions are also given for making a simple bird feeder that might support further investigations, as would ordering the free bird feeder. The other lessons in this series also provide additional connections to this and other Life Science performance expectations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: No formal assessment is provided, but students could be assessed on their discussions, investigation ideas and results, and answers to questions on worksheets that might be created by a teacher to support the activities. To incorporate an engineering element and provide an additional opportunity for assessment, student might be given a design challenge. They could be asked to design a beak model to pick up a specific type or types of food, or vice versa.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: A link is provided to a page that includes links to supplement materials (, but this resource does not include a technologically interactive component.