beaks made eating

This Beak was Made for Eating – Lesson

Bird beaks comes in different sizes, shapes and colors.  Some are long and flat while others are short and skinny.  There are beaks that look like spoons, and beaks that look like alien spaceships.  Did you ever wonder why bird beaks all look so different?  It all has to do with food.

With these activities you will learn why a hummingbird would have a hard time eating a frozen burrito!

Time to Complete

30+ minutes




Population, variation in a population, adaptation

Science Standards


digging out worms


Paper plate3
Pennies3 handfuls
Clear cups3
Empty disposable pop bottles2
Pieces of bark, carpet, or something else that has crevasses or hard to reach spaces3
Ricea few handfuls
Large can or jar1
DirtEnough to fill can/jar about 3 inches deep
Gummy worms10 + more for eating

Also collect as many of these “adaptations” as you can: Tweezers, needle-nosed pliers, large pliers, straw, slotted spoon, awl, tongs, chop sticks, scissors, serving spoon

adaptation tools


Pinching Pennies


Put out three paper plates and fill each plate with pennies.  Put a pair of tongs next to one plate, a pair of scissors next to another plate, and a pair of needle-nose pliers next to a third plate.  Place an empty clear plastic cup next to each plate.

Make sure to watch the “Natural Selection” video before this activity!

The object of the game is to get as many pennies in the cup in 20 seconds as possible.

Game Rules

  1. Each player must hold a cup in one hand and a tool in the other hand.  Players are not allowed to put either the cup or tool down during the game.
  2. The only way a player is allowed to get pennies into their cup is with their tool.  The tool is also the only thing that may touch the pennies besides the plate or the cup.
  3. The plate may not be pushed around, picked up, or bent in any way to help get pennies in the cup.

Once the time is up, have the players count the pennies they got in their cups.

Discuss why the person with the most pennies was the most successful at this game.  Make sure the discussion includes the fact that the tool is very important in the game and that the player with the most appropriate tool will usually get the most pennies into the cup.

Talk about what makes a population and what variation in a population means.

pinching pennies

Story of 3 Robins


Put out three pieces of bark, carpet, or something else with little crevices and hard to reach places.  Sprinkle rice into the crevices and holes.  Put a pair of tweezers by one piece of bark, a pair of needle-nose pliers next to another piece of bark, and a pair of bigger pliers next a third piece of bark.  Each piece of bark will also have a cup next to it.

Explain what an adaptation is and that you are going to explore one important adaptation: the bird beak.

The object of the game is to get as many pieces of rice into the cup as possible.  This game also has as story to go with it.  READ OR TELL THE STORY BEFORE THE GAME.

larry mo curly robins

The Story

Larry, Mo, and Curly are robins and are the best of friends.  They live in a beautiful valley with thousands of other robins.  These robins mostly looked the same but their beaks are all slightly different sizes.  That is ok with their band of friends because being different is ok.

One gloomy morning, the three friends awoke to find out that something terrible had happened in their beautiful valley.  Larry, Mo and Curly were not usually the earliest robins to wake up in the valley.  And today was no different.  When they decided to start looking for worms, they immediately knew something was wrong.  They could not find a single worm anywhere in the neighborhood!  And worse yet, robins from other areas where flying around frantically searching for worms.  The word on the street was that there were no worms left!

The robins held an emergency meeting outside of city hall.  Mayor Cusko made a startling announcement.  “Attention, Attention!  We have an emergency situation on our wings.  The worms have disappeared completely!”  There was a brief stunned silence followed by complete pandemonium.

“What are we going to do?” one robin shouted.  Mayor Cusko slammed his wing against the podium and shouted “Everyone quiet down!”  After briefly whispering to his aid mayor, Cusko exclaimed “It has come to my attention that worms are not the only insect in the valley!  I want every bird to go out searching for a reliable food source.  Come back and let me know what you find.”

Play and Discuss

Now play the game like the “Pinching Pennies” activity but this time the players are the robins Larry, Mo and Curly and the tool they are using are their bird beaks.  The cup is their stomach.  All of the rules for the game are the same as those in the “Pinching Pennies” activity.

robins activity

Once the game is over, ask whether Larry, Mo or Curly was the best at getting bugs out of the bark of the tree.  The player with the tweezers will probably win as it is the best tool for the job.

Discuss possible endings to this story.  Do this by asking questions like:

  • Which of the three friends is more likely to survive? Why?
  • What will happen to the other two friends? Answer: they will probably keep looking for a food source that is easier to eat with their beak size and shape.
  • What would happen if this was the only other food source?
  • Is this population of robins likely to survive this change in the environment?

Now read the rest of the story.

End of The Story

Well, Larry, Mo, and Curly went off together and found this great big log that was on the ground rotting.  They immediately saw lots of white wriggling termites.  Just then Curly’s stomach began to rumble.  “Guys, I am starving.  I don’t care that these things aren’t worms.  I am going to eat them anyway.”  So Curly began to pick termites out of the rotting wood with his sharp narrow beak.  The two others soon joined in.

“These things aren’t half bad” replied Mo.  After a few minutes, the three friends had eaten all of the insects within easy reach.  Curly continued probing into the cracks with his narrow beak, pulling out hard-to-reach insects.  Mo’s beak was much bigger and fatter.  He had a hard time getting any more termites.  Larry had a beak that was somewhere in between Mo’s and Curly’s in length.  He was able to get a termite here and there but struggled to fill his belly.  Soon, only Curly was eating.  Mo and Larry were bummed out, and still hungry.

“Curly,” Mo exclaimed.  “We are going to go check out the meadow and see if we can find something else to eat.”  Curly looked up in surprise and said “But there are tons of termites here!  There are plenty for everyone!”

“Because,” Larry said.  “Our beaks are too big to reach the bugs in the cracks.”  With that, Larry and Mo flew off, leaving Curly perched on the log.  A few days later Mayor Cusko called a meeting for all of the robins in the valley.

To Curly’s surprise, many of the robins were not at the meeting.  He had not seen his friends in a few days and was worried about them.  He searched and searched but could not see them.  Mayor Cusko called the meeting to order and asked for reports on food sources around the valley.  Few birds responded.  Most looked anxiously around hoping for some good news.  One robin yelled out “I have been eating seeds but they made me sick.”  Another robin said “I found another type of red worm, but they are in the water and difficult to catch.”  The group moaned.

Finally, Curly raised his wing and shouted “I found a large log with lots of termites.  There are plenty for a while but you will need a slender beak to get them out of the cracks.”  A few of the robins with bigger beaks waved their wings in frustration.  The mayor exclaimed “Let’s give it a try!”  Just then there was a commotion in the back of the group.  The birds began to part as none other than Larry and Mo came strutting onto the stage.  “We have found the answer to our food problems” they proclaimed.  “We have discovered a sheltered valley that still has worms.”

Excited cheers erupted in the crowd.  “But, it is a three-day flight that is very dangerous.  We are leaving again in the morning.  If anyone wants to come along be ready at the crack of dawn.”  Larry and Mo approached Curly with apprehension.  “Are you going to come with us?” Mo asked Curly.  Curly looked down at his feet and sheepishly said “No”.  “I have all the food and safety I need here.  I am going to miss you guys though.”  The three birds gave a giant hug before parting ways for the last time.

The end

  • Discuss how the story relates to real life and if the ending is realistic. Would this happen in a wild population?
robin bark digging

Dinner Tools

The Game

Fill a large can or jar with dirt at least 3 inches deep.  Put ten gummy worms in the dirt and bury them so that none of them are showing.

The object of the game is to get as many gummy worms out of the dirt and into the players stomach (cup) as possible in 20 seconds.  The rules are the same with the added rule that players cannot get dirt in their stomach (or as little as possible).

Choose a volunteer and have them choose their own beak (tool).  Once they start they cannot trade it for a new beak, they are stuck with it until the time runs out.

Have the kids take turns playing this game and choosing which beak to use.  They will eventually figure out that the chopsticks are the best tool for the job because they can easily go deep in the dirt and can grab worms without picking up unwanted dirt.

dinner tools


Ask the kids why all bird beaks do not look the same.  Answer: they all eat different foods in different environments.

You can tell what a bird eats by looking at its beak shape and size.  Hand out a bird picture to each kid.  Tell them they are going to match their bird with the tool it most closely matches and then see if they can guess what that bird eats.  Tell them to concentrate on tool function and not necessarily shape when matching to a bird beak.

Once they have all chosen a tool, and decided on a possible food source, go around the group and see what everyone came up with, switching tools if the child gets a wrong answer.

This list is part of Fit to Survive [Unit 11]. Jump over to the unit main page to see all lessons and activities.

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