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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Lessons & Units

A database of lessons and units searchable by content and cultural standards, cultural region and grade level. More units will be available soon. You can use Acrobat Reader to look at the PDF version of the Cover Sheet for the Units and Self-Assessment for Cultural Standards in Practice.


Lesson 1 What is a Bird?


1) Students will describe the main characteristics of a bird.

2) Students will label the different parts of a bird.

3) Students will tell why different types of birds have different shaped bodies, wings and tails, beaks, feet and how these adapt each type of bird to its way of life.

4) Students will answer the question "How do birds fly?"


1) Brainstorm about "What is a bird?" and how it differs from other animals. What special characteristics enable birds to fly? Refer to the page "How Birds Fly" and have students try the experiment.

2) Make a chart to compare birds with another example of local wildlife such as a mouse, squirrel or rabbit. How are they alike; how are they different?

3) Have each student draw a bird and label its parts. Then compare the drawings with the one from Alaska's Birds, pg. 5.

4) Look at the sketches of the different types of beaks, feet, wing shapes and tail shapes for different birds (Alaska's Birds, pg. 7-9). Discuss the purpose/advantage of the variations. Do "Feet Are Neat."

5) Discuss why it is important that birds are light in weight. Have students look at chicken bones. (If you soak the bones in vinegar for several weeks beforehand, the bones will be soft enough for the students to cut.) Point out that the hollow bones reduce weight. Struts in some of the bones help strengthen the bones without adding much extra weight.

Assignment: Ask students to collect samples of as many different kinds of feathers as they can find and bring them to school.


How Birds Fly

Like airplanes, birds are streamlined and are built of light materials so that they can lift easily in the air. Feathers point backward. Bills are lighter and more streamlined than the heavy jaws of mammals and reptiles. Most bird bones are hollow and filled with air from the bird's lungs. Even the wishbone is hollow. Next time you eat chicken or duck, look at the hollow bones.

Birds move through the air by pulling themselves forward like a person rowing a boat. They push air down and back with the broad side of the wing, then slightly turn and fold the wing to move it forward. Some birds with great, broad wings can soar and glide for long periods without flapping. Other birds have short wings and have to flap fast to stay up. Bird wings and airplane wings have a similar shape. This shape causes an airfoil that provides lift.


airplane and bird wing




Hold a piece of paper like this and blow under it.

Hold a piece of paper like this and blow under it. The force of the wind will push it up.

Now blow across the top of the paper and watch it lift.


Now blow across the top of the paper and watch it lift.

The slow moving air under the paper forces the paper up through the fast moving air on top of the paper, creating lift.



Parts of a Bird: First, learn the different parts of a bird. When you see a bird, try to notice what color and shape each part of the bird is. For example, if you saw the bird shown below, you might say it was brown. But if you looked at it carefully, you would notice its back, wings, and tail are brown, but its crown is black and white, its bill, legs, and feet are orange, and its breast and belly are light gray.

Parts of a Bird


Bird Wings:

Bird Wings





Bill shape is a good identification clue. You can also tell a lot about a bird's feeding habits by the shape of its bill.

Insect eaters

Insect eaters have slender, pointed bills (flycatchers, warblers, thrushes, and swallows).

Seed eaters


Seed eaters have short, stout, cone-shaped bills for cracking seeds (pine grosbeaks, redpolls, and sparrows).

Woodpeckers have strong, straight, chisel-like bills for drilling into wood to catch insects.


Mud probers

Mud probers have long, slender bills for catching animals in the mud (dunlins, yellowlegs, and other sandpipers).

Water strainers have spoon-like bills with edges that strain food from the water (mallards, pintails, shovelers, and wigeons).

Water strainers

Fish eaters often have long, sharp bills for catching or spearing fish (kingfishers, grebes, loons, and mergansers).

Fish eaters

Birds of prey


Birds of prey or "raptors" have strong, hooked beaks with sharp edges (eagles, hawks, owls, and shrikes).



Legs and feet. The length of a bird's legs and shape of its feet are also clues to bird identification. Leg and feet shapes also provide information about where a bird lives, how it captures its food, and how it moves from place to place.


Wading birds have long legs and toes (yellowlegs and great blue herons).


Perching birds have toes for grasping. Pressure on the inside of the foot causes the toes to lock around a perch. That is how chickadees can sleep without falling off the branch.


Swimming birds like ducks, puffins, and loons have webbed feet for paddling in water. Grebes are also swimming birds, but their feet are lobed.

Tree climbers

Tree climbers have wide-spread toes with curved claws. Some woodpeckers have two toes in front and two toes in back. Three-toed woodpeckers have two toes in front and one in back.

Birds of prey

Birds of prey like hawks, owls, and eagles have strong legs and feet with sharp, hooked claws to grasp and carry prey.

Ground feeders


Ground feeders like sparrows and juncos often scratch the ground for food. Their feet have three forward toes and one hind toe.



Wing shapes are good indicators of flight style. Both wing shape and flight patterns are clues to identification.

Pointed wings

Pointed wings are found on fast-flying birds like falcons and swallows.

Short, rounded wings

Short, rounded wings are good for quick takeoff but short flights. Grouse and sparrows have this type of wing.

Long, broad wings

Long, broad wings are soaring wings like those of hawks and eagles.

Tail shape indicates how a bird flys.

A long, forked tail

A long, forked tail is for steering during fast flight. Swallows use their forked tails to make quick dips and turns while chasing insects.

A stiff tail

A stiff tail provides leverage for tree climbers. Woodpeckers use their tail for support when they peck tree trunks in search of insects.

A broad, rounded tail

A broad, rounded tail is typical of soaring birds like hawks.

A long, narrow tail


A long, narrow tail is typical of falcons and acts as a rudder during swift dives.


Copycat Page

Feet Are Neat

bird icon

These birds all have the wrong feet! In the blank next to each bird, write the number that represents the "right" feet.


Lesson 1

What is a Bird?

Lesson 2


Lesson 3

Identifying Local Birds

Lesson 4

Bird Habits and Habitat

Lesson 5

Seasons and Migration

Lesson 6

Birds as Food

Lesson 7

Other Traditional Uses of Birds

Lesson 8

Traditional Stories and Beliefs about Birds


Whouy Sze Kuinalth
"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"
Tauhna Cauyalitahtug
(To Make a Drum)
Math Story Problems
St. Lawrence Island Rain Parka Winds and Weather Willow
Driftwood Snowshoes Moose
Plants of the Tundra Animal Classification for Yup'ik Region Rabbit Snaring
The Right Tool for the Job
Fishing Tools and Technology
Blackfish Family Tree
Medicinal Plants of the Kodiak Alutiiq Archipelago Beaver in Interior Alaska Digging and Preparing Spruce Roots
Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village Dog Salmon


Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum by Sidney Stephens
Excerpt: "The information and insights contained in this document will be of interest to anyone involved in bringing local knowledge to bear in school curriculum. Drawing upon the efforts of many people over a period of several years, Sidney Stephens has managed to distill and synthesize the critical ingredients for making the teaching of science relevant and meaningful in culturally adaptable ways."



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
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Last modified August 18, 2006