Behavioral Ecology: Bird Behavior Lesson Packet
- July 6, 2020 -

 Behavioral ecology studies why animals behave the way they do. To look deeper at this, we’ll examine the behavior and adaptation of birds.

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here, or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet, or there’s a copy included in the packet.


Behavioral Ecology studies how animals develop, control and evolve their behavior. Through behavioral ecology we can ask questions like: How does their behavior contribute to theirsurvival and reproductive success? How do abiotic and biotic factors affect their behavior? Does human activity affect their behavior? Do animals compete or cooperate? These studies include how animals learn, communicate, forage, reproduce, and socialize.

To begin looking at behavioral ecology, it’s useful to select one type of animal and consider its traits. This lesson will focus on birds as an example of behavioral ecology. Until recently, many researchers believed there werebetween 9,000-10,000 different species of birds. A new study by the American Museum of Natural History instead suggested that there are almost 18,000 species of birds.

Bird behavior varies greatly between species, as some birds are mostly water dwelling animals, and others live in trees, in brush, on land, or even prefer high elevation areas like cliffs or mountains. There are five traits that define a bird, including feathers, wings, beaks or bills, laying eggs, and having an adapted skeleton suitable for flight. Because these traits vary widely between species, so does a bird’s behavior. Examples of bird behavior include nesting habits, mating, hunting, and feeding chicks. Birds have also adapted over time for species preservation and changing climate.

Video resources:

What causes behavior in animals – an explanation of behavioral ecology and why animals have differing behaviors.

Study on nesting boxes – Scientist Dr. Mark Stanback gives a talk on his research on nesting boxes to reduce competition between bird species

Sample Research Project:

Project: Headwaters’ bird feeder observation project

Methods: Make or buy a bird feeder and use it to track bird behavior over time. See how to do it in this video.

Supplies: a milk carton or plastic jug, bird seed, scissors, string.

NGSS Standards:

MS-LS2-1; MS-LS2-2; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
HS-LS2-1; HS-LS2-2; HS-LS2-6; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs: Analyzing and interpreting data
Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
Scientific knowledge based on empirical evidence
Planning and carrying out investigations

CC: Cause and effect
Stability and change


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