FOCUS: The singing of birds tells us that springtime has arrived. Songbirds use song to defend a territory and to attract a mate. In addition, shorter calls communicate information about danger and food. With their voices, birds can converse with each other over large distances and in dense vegetation. As we learn to recognize different bird songs and calls, we can begin to understand what they are saying to each other.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about songbird songs.
Have the children close their eyes to listen to songbird songs and calls. Ask children to silently keep count on their fingers each time they hear a new bird, and to gesture to the location where they heard it.
SOUNDING THE HOUR
Objective: To model how each songbird species has a particular song and preferred time to sing.
Give each pair of children a Sounding the Hour card showing a bird and the words to its song. As a group, practice all the different songs on the cards. Each card also tells when the bird begins to sing in the morning and when it usually stops singing until evening. Now hold up a clock or clock model with moveable hands. Explain that you will call out the hours as you advance the clock from 2:00 am until noon. Each pair of children stands up and begins singing at the time shown on their card, and continues to sing until the clock reaches the time when their bird stops singing. Why might morning be a good time for birds to sing their territorial songs? (Still air, less people noise, may be less occupied with food-gathering.)
For younger children, rehearse bird songs in small groups with a leader and use only one card per group. Include the following birds: robin (4-9 a.m.), red-winged blackbird (5-10 a.m.), chickadee (6-11 a.m.), nuthatch (7 a.m.-12 p.m.).
Materials: recording of a dawn chorus in the Northeast, device to play audio, Sounding the Hour cards, one for each pair of children; a clock with movable hands or paper plate model of a clock.
FIND YOUR KIND
Objective: To model how birds use song to defend a territory and attract a mate.
Make a duplicate set of Find Your Kind cards and mark half the cards with an ‘S’ for Singer and the others with an ‘F’ for Finder. Introduce each bird and practice its song with the whole group. Now mix up the two sets and hand a Find Your Kind card to each child. Then have the Finders turn their backs and the Singers spread out. Have the Singers sing their songs all together, over and over, and send the Finders out to find and stand next to a bird of their species, comparing cards to be sure they’ve found the correct bird. How hard was it to find your own kind with all the birds singing at once? Why might birds use sound to locate each other in a forest? (Easier to stay in touch by sound than by sight where the lighting is dim and there are lots of obstacles in the way.) Why do male birds sing?
For younger children, use fewer birds and rehearse their songs with the whole group before handing them out.
Materials: Find Your Kind cards, one per child.
PUPPET SHOW “Bird Talk”
Objective: To learn the differences between bird songs and calls and what they communicate.
Perform the puppet show or have children perform it for their classmates. Afterward, ask questions to review key details and vocabulary in the story. What does a bird’s song mean to a female? (Come here! I’m a male bird with a nice territory and I’m looking for a mate.) What does a bird’s song mean to another male? (Stay away, this is my territory.) Why do bird songs sound different? (Each species sings its own particular song.) Do both male and female sing songs? (Usually only the males, but females sing in a few species.) What is a bird call? (A shorter, simpler sound used for staying in touch with a mate, announcing food or danger, begging for food.) Do all birds use calls? (Yes – male and female, young and old, not only in spring.) Why are female songbirds sometimes drab-colored compared to the male? (So they won’t be as visible while sitting on the nest.)
Materials: puppets, script, props, stage.
Objective: To listen to and learn to recognize the songs and calls of some common local birds.
Hand out a Bird Match card to each child or small group. Provide the six-bird version for the younger children and nine or thirteen-bird version for the older ones. Show pictures and play recordings of the common local birds on the Bird Match card, describing some of the distinguishing characteristics of each song or call.
Afterward, review with a listening quiz. Now play the recordings again and have the children try to identify the bird. Why might it be helpful for a small bird living in a forest to use voice to communicate with its kind? (Easier to hear each other than see each other with branches and leaves in the way.)
Materials: photos and recordings of common local birds, Bird Match cards (one per child or small group), device to play audio.
BIRD SONG MAPPING
Objective: To notice and represent on a map the different birds heard or seen around the school.
Ahead of time, make a map of the schoolyard and surrounding area where you may walk with the children to look for birds. On the map, mark each location where you will stop to listen for birds. Make a “baseline birdsong” map by listening at each station and noting any birds that are singing or calling on the map.
To begin, stand in one spot and practice listening for bird sounds. Refer to the Songbird Hunt card and listen for close sounds and faraway sounds, sounds that are continuous and sounds that come and go, sounds that are melodious and sounds that are mechanical, sounds that are low or high, etc. Now visit the first listening spot on the map and have children close eyes and raise one finger for every different bird they hear. Then have the children open their eyes and point out the different birds they noticed and note these on the map. Use the Voices of Some Common Birds guide to help with identification or download and use the Cornell Merlin app.
Continue on to each of the next stations. Afterward, count up how many of each species of bird they recorded. If available, compare their map to the baseline birdsong map you made earlier to see if birds are singing in the same locations now, or compare to other groups to see how closely their maps agree. What bird behaviors do the children notice that might be a sign of the breeding cycle? (E.g. two birds sitting or flying together, a bird carrying nesting material or singing.)
With younger children, focus on listening for birds in different places. While walking between listening spots, have them practice imitating the song of one of the birds on the Voices of Some Common Birds page (e.g. robin: “Cheerio, cheery me, cheery me”).
Optional: Provide real or cardboard-tube binoculars.
Materials: for each team: map of the school grounds, clipboards, pencils, Songbird Hunt card and Voices of Some Common Birds guide; optional: real or cardboard binoculars for each child, downloaded Cornell Merlin app on smart phone/device.
UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE – Chickadee Charades (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To model chickadee vocalizations and their meanings in chickadee communication.
Play recordings of the following six different calls of the black-capped chickadee, pointing out differences among the calls without telling students their meanings:
Chickadee-dee Call = “Chickadee-dee” (“Look here, there’s food.”)
Gargle Call = “Chi-di-lee-doo” (“Back off, I’m eating now and I’m the boss!”)
Tseet Call = “Tseet ” (“Hello, I’m here.”)
High Zee Call = “Zee-zee-zee” (“Freeze! Danger!”)
Chatter Call = “Chi-chi-chi-chi ” (“This is my territory, stay away!”)
Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee Call = “Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee” (“Danger, mob that predator!” – the more “dees,” the more danger.)
To play or download the various calls go to the protected materials: Click Here
Now have the students work in small groups and give each team a Chickadee Charades card describing one of the calls and giving a scenario for a skit that incorporates the call. Have each group perform a skit that demonstrates the meaning of their assigned chickadee call, then have their classmates guess at the meaning. What are some reasons why many birds use sounds to communicate with each other?
Materials: Recordings of common chickadee calls, device to play audio, Chickadee Charades cards, bird feeder, bag of bird seed, evergreen boughs.
JOURNAL ACTIVITY – Silly Songbirds
Objective: To review learning by making up a vocal repertoire for an imaginary bird.
Some birds are named for the sounds they make, like the chickadee, cuckoo, and whippoorwill. Hand out a Silly Songbird card to each child or pair of children and have them draw this imaginary bird and describe (or use words for) its territorial song and its alarm call.
Silly Songbird Cards
Great Barking Hawk
Greater Squeaking Sparrow
Lesser Squawking Sparrow
Little Green Giggling Owl
Long-tailed Bop-bop Bird
The Red-breasted Hiccup
Whip Whip Wee Wren
Afterward, have children share their silly songbirds in small groups.
Materials: for each child or pair of children: a Silly Songbird card, science journals or clipboards with paper, pencils; optional: colored pencils.
SPOT MY BIRD
Objective: To play a game to review songs of some local birds and learn more about them.
Form a large circle with all the children so they are at least two arm’s lengths away from the person on either side. Hand each child a Spot My Bird card on which there are two birds with their songs noted under each. To begin, the leader draws a Singer card, reads the informational clue out loud and sings the bird’s song. All the children look at their cards to see if they have this bird. Those who do leave their places and run clockwise around the outside of the circle, then return to their original positions. The last child back gets to choose the next Singer card. For the next round, the child (or leader) reads the clue and sings the song on this Singer card. Again, children with this bird on their card run around the circle and back to their places. Play continues until all Singer Cards have been drawn and everyone has had a chance to run at least once around the circle.
For the youngest children, use only six Singer cards, selecting the birds with which the children are most familiar (e.g. Singer cards 1-6).
Materials: Spot My Bird cards, Singer cards in a plastic bag.
Objective: To review and share some thoughts about birds.
Have children complete this sentence: “The bird I liked best today was ______________ because__________________.”
A STEP BEYOND
Musical Names: Have children make up a song or call to go with their name.
Songbird Survey: Take children on a bird survey at the same time every day (or every week). Make a graph of what birds were singing each time to watch the progression through the spring.
Class Bird List: Keep a running tally of all the different birds encountered near the school. How many different species are there? Find and post pictures of each new species as it arrives.