The following 60-90 minute exercise was conceived by Bill Hilton Jr. and expanded and written up by Jeremy Scheivert, education specialist at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania. It has been used successfully at Hawk Mountain and at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, North Carolina--as wella s in 3rd grade classes in South Carolina schools--to teach children about hummingbird and plant adaptations, feeding behavior, and related concepts.
Grades K-3 (may be adapted for other grades levels)
Biology (Life Science), Ornithology, Ecology, Botany, Zoology
Pollination, coevolution, plant physiology, symbiosis, and natural selection
Like all species, hummingbirds play a special role in the environment. There seems to be a need for programs that not only teach about a particular species but also about how that species interacts with other organisms in an ecosystem. In the natural world, nothing exists in a vacuum, and it is impossible to get a complete picture of one species without mentioning another. During its lifetime, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) has special interactions with other organisms--especially flowering plants--so it is an excellent example of interrelationships in nature.
By the end of the lesson, participants will be able to:
-- Name three important foods for hummingbirds
-- Explain how hummingbirds get food
-- Explain important relationships between hummingbirds and flowering plants
-- Identify and locate hummingbird nesting material.
-- Field or meadow
-- Half-liter plastic soda bottles
-- Scissors and cellophane tape
-- Conical paper drinking cups
-- Red fruit punch
-- Baby powder
-- Stiff paper
-- Fishing line or string
-- Hummingbird nest, skeleton, specimen, etc. (if available)
People of all ages are fascinated with hummingbirds and the interesting lives they lead. These birds have many unique adaptations that allow them to occupy their special niche. Hummingbirds are the smallest of all birds. Most of them weigh less than a nickel and lay eggs about the size of a pinto bean. While watching these small bids fly from flower to flower, their behavior may remind you more of an insect than a bird because they can hover and even fly backwards. They can often be seen catching small insects on the wing to feed their demanding metabolisms. This surprises most people because they do not think of hummingbirds as insect eaters. Instead, they associate them with nectar. Over time, hummingbirds have evolved a special relationship with flowering plants through coevolution. The long, thin, hollow beaks of hummingbirds are perfectly adapted to fit into long, thin flowers like Trumpet Creepers. Conversely, Trumpet Creeper flowers are perfectly shaped to allow hummingbirds to reach their nectar and pollinate them. Through natural selection, the hummingbird beak has gotten longer to enable it to reach the abundant supply of nectar in the tubular flowers, and the tubular blossoms have elongated to ensure a specific pollinator. Tubular flowers exclude most other pollinators, and often the blossoms have the stamen and pistil at the top of the opening where the hummingbird places its forehead when it drinks the nectar. This increases the chance of pollination. Overtime, this symbiotic relationship has evolved in such a way that one species would probably not do well in the absence of the other. Children seem especially intrigued with these birds that can fly backwards, visit 2,000-5,-000 flowers everyday, and make their nests out of spider web. Therefore, hummingbirds are an ideal species to use to introduce children to the world of birds. This program mill also teach biological concepts and encourage children to explore the natural world. Specifically, students will explore hummingbird nesting behavior, diet, habitat, biology, flight pattern and relationship with flowering plants. Participants will not only take part in discussions that expand on hummingbird natural history but also various activities that will make learning about hummingbirds fun.
Before beginning this program, the area will need to be set up for "The Great Hummingbird Nectar Game." First, make several large flowers out of stiff paper (one flower for every two participants works well). Make sure the flowers are different colors with a least one red one. It is important to make one elongated petal and to cut a hole in the middle large enough for the flower to fit over the top of a half-liter bottle. Next, fill the bottles with varying amounts of red fruit punch. Then, right before the program, place a little baby powder on the elongated petal to represent the pollen. Scatter the bottles around the area by hanging them from trees using fishing line. These will represent flowers with nectar and pollen. Next, prepare hummingbird beaks for the participants. Cut the straws in various lengths and put bends in some. Then, use small, conical, paper drinking cups for the base of the beak. Snip the tip off and run the straw through the tip of the cup. Tape it to hold it in place. The children can now place the straw in their mouths and use it to suck up the fruit punch (nectar) from the flowers. Also, place a hummingbird feeder somewhere where the children can observe it during the program. Maybe it will attract a live specimen!
Introductions to one another
Overview of the "Happier Than A Hummingbird" activity
II. Body of Learning
A) An Introduction to the Hummingbird--Where does it fit? (Discussion)
B) The Great Hummingbird Nectar Game
This activity is designed to demonstrate the relationship between hummingbirds and flowering plants. After giving each child a hummingbird beak, have them go around to the flowers that have been hung around the area and drink some nectar from each of the flowers. Depending on which beak they have, some of the children will not be able to reach the nectar. This is all part of the game. Tell the children to fly from flower to flower with the figure eight motion. After everyone has visited each flower once, have them sit down and to discuss the activity.
Questions to consider and discuss:
Hummingbird Nesting Foray!
Prepare students for the foray by discussing hummingbird nesting behavior.
At this point, walk around the field or forest edge identifying possible nesting material for hummingbirds.
Greenewalt, C.H. Hummingbirds. Dover, 1960 (1990).
Hilton Jr., B. 1987. The Piedmont Naturalist. Vol. 1. York, South Carolina: Hilton Pond Press.
Johnsgard, P. 1997. The Hummingbirds of North America. Smithsonian.
"Fill the Bill." Ranger Rick's Nature Scope. 1.4 ( 1985): 29-30,
Holley, Dennis. Animals Alive! An Ecological Guide to Animal Activities. United States of America: Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1994: 196-199, 201, 206-207, 209.
Project Learning Tree. "Dynamic Duos." Environmental Education Activity Guide Pre K-8. Washington, DC: American Forest Foundation, 1993. 79-82.
Sisson, Edith A. Nature with Children of all Ages. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987: 78, 82
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