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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 4 Bird Habits and Habitat



1) Students will be able to list the necessities of good bird habitat and describe some causes of loss of habitat.

2) For each bird studied students will know

- the particular habitat of that bird

- the type of food eaten.

- the type of nest made and number of eggs laid

3) Students will be able to describe the life cycle of a bird.



1) Brainstorm on what are the necessities in a bird's life and how it affects where birds live. Why do the different birds require a different habitat? Then have students recall where each bird on the local list is most commonly seen. Categorize birds on your list according to habitat. Use a field guide if additional information is needed. (Alaska's Birds, "Where Do Birds Live?" pg. 63-67)

2) Discuss what is meant by "loss of habitat" and how it affects local birds. What are some of the reasons for loss of bird habitat? Refer to "Shrinking Habitat" from Teach About Geese.

3) Research the type of food eaten by each bird using the following resources: a local elder or community member, personal observation, a field guide or other written material. How do the different types of birds get their food? Review types of beaks.

4) Research the type of nest made by each kind of bird. Take a field trip to look for bird nests and try to figure out which kind of bird made each nest found. If there are eggs, their size and color will help to identify the bird. The location of the nest will also give you a clue.

5) Brainstorm about how long birds live and how fast they multiply. Students should estimate and then calculate with paper and pencil. Find out how many eggs a bird lays in a season and then figure out how many offspring a pair of birds could produce in a normal lifetime. What factors will affect the number of these birds that survive to reproduce? Refer to "Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket" from Wildlife for the Future.

6) Discuss the life cycle of a bird and illustrate it. Refer to the front page of the "White Fronted Geese" article in the Appendix.

7) Take a close look at an egg: (use a chicken egg!) Break open an egg so students can see basic egg parts.

a. the shell - the outside of the egg

b. the membrane - the cellophane-like material that lines the shell

c. the albumen - the egg white

d. the yolk - the yellow center

What is the function of each part?

egg topography


teacher and students




Grades: 4-7
Subject: application, comparing similarities and differences, description, discussion, evaluation, generalization, kinesthetic development, observation, synthesis
Duration: one 45-minute or period longer
Group Size: minimum of six students, with one developer, one carnivore, three herbivores, and one bush
Settings: indoors or outdoors; large area with room for people and props
Key Vocabulary: habitat, food chain, development, herbivorous, vegetation, consequences
Topics: land use, land use planning, people and wildlife sharing environments, responsible human actions, habitat for wildlife



Students will be able to:

1) Describe some effects of human development of land areas on plants and animals previously living in the area.

2) Evaluate the importance of suitable habitat for wildlife.

3) Recognize that loss of habitat is generally considered to be the most critical problem worldwide facing wildlife today; and that habitat loss influences Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta geese populations, especially along the Pacific flyway.



Students simulate some of the potential impacts of land development on geese and their habitat in a physically active game.



In Alaska, all over the United States, and throughout the world, wildlife habitat is being lost. Whenever an area of land is paved for a shopping center, divided and excavated for homes for people, and sometimes when it is plowed to grow a crop, animals lose their homes, and frequently their sources of food and water. Larger animals that may depend upon smaller animals as a source of food also disappear. Some animals cannot tolerate human intervention and may disappear although their food and water sources are not directly affected.

Students may have observed this phenomenon near their communities. This process is happening in large ecosystems and small, world wide. For example, many wetlands have been filled and drained to make land for farming and buildings. When wetlands are filled, many kinds of life forms, such as geese and other water birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, and a wide variety of vegetation, are lost. Some animals can move to new habitat, most often they can not.

Migrating geese from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta depend upon wetlands for wintering areas in states and countries along the Pacific Flyway. Over 90 percent of the wetlands in the lower Pacific Flyway have been destroyed by draining, filling, dredging, and pollution. Wetlands in Alaska are also vulnerable to development. In Anchorage, significant numbers of acres of wetlands are lost annually. Alaska still has wetlands, but they must be protected so that we keep sources of salmon, moose, and berries close by and the geese return to nest each spring. (See Facts About Geese for additional background information about wetlands.)



Green and blue construction paper, classroom desks, tables or chairs, five or six large bedsheets or blankets for a student group of about 25.



1. Review with the students the elements necessary for a habitat (food, water, cover, and space arranged suitably for the particular animal). If the students have the background, use specific goose examples in your discussion. After some discussion to make sure that the elements of habitat are clearly in mind, tell the students that in this activity they will be simulating wildlife in its habitat.

2. Divide the students into four groups: herbivores, carnivores, vegetation (shrubs, grasses, etc.), and people who will be village planners. If the students are not familiar with the terms "herbivore" and "carnivore," provide them with working definitions of those terms (herbivore, a plant-eating animal; carnivore, a meat-eating animal; and although not needed for this activity, omnivore, an animal that eats both plants and animals). Plan for three times as many herbivores as carnivores with a small number of village planners in proportion to the other two groups. The numbers (amount) of vegetation may vary. For example, two planners, three carnivores, nine herbivores, and eleven bushes (vegetation).

3. Establish a large area (either in the classroom with tables, chairs, and desks moved to the sides of the room, or outside) that can be used to simulate the wildlife habitat area before development. The "village developers" are to stay on the sidelines at this time, simply observing the undeveloped land and its wildlife inhabitants. They may be meeting on their own, nearby, to make plans for development. In fact, they can make their entrance rather suddenly once the wildlife habitat has been established, simulating the arrival of heavy construction equipment. This is the situation the developers are considering: The village has to be moved because the river is changing and the old site floods every spring. The site selected by the village was chosen because it is near the water but had high & dry places for buildings and roads. It was also selected for its access to wood and to wildlife for hunting and fishing.

4. Provide each "herbivore" with:

* Two desks or chairs to use as "cover" (or string or hula hoops).
* Three pieces of green construction paper to represent food.
* One piece of blue construction paper to represent water.
* Some of the vegetation (portrayed by students).


Provide each "carnivore" with:

* One desk or chair to use as a "den" (or string, or hula hoop).
* Space equivalent to that used by three herbivores.
* Three herbivores as a potential food source portrayed by students.
* One piece of blue construction paper to represent water.
* Some of the vegetation (portrayed by students).


5. Ask the "herbivores" to arrange the food, water, and cover; including the students who are "vegetation" in a space to represent their habitat. Once the herbivores have arranged their habitat, ask the "carnivores" to move into the area to establish their lairs and water sources, keeping an eye on the herbivores as possible food sources. For added interest, suggest that the students identify what particular kind of animal they are, and role-play its characteristics. (This phase takes about ten minutes, with the developers planning while the herbivores and carnivores arrange their habitat.)

6. Once all the animals are established in their habitats, it is time for the developers to enter the picture. These developers have been given the opportunity to create a new village site. (They may use three to seven minutes to construct their development, explaining their actions as they take them.) They are restricted in how much space they can use. They may use the space equivalent to that used by three herbivores. The developers may use the sheets and blankets to build their development. They may remove bushes (represented by students), cover (represented by desks), food and water.

7. Once they have constructed their village, engage all of the students in a discussion of what happened. What action took place? With what consequences? Would or did any animals die? From what causes? Could the developers have done anything differently to change the consequences? Could they have developed several scattered small areas instead of one large area, or vice versa, with what effects? Would it have reduced negative consequences for wildlife if they put the development in a different area of the habitat? Rather than negative consequences, were there positive consequences? If so, what were they? How were they achieved? Ask the students to consider and discuss what seemed realistic about the activity, and what did not. For example, sometimes development can take place that enhances the area for some kinds of wildlife. Often, however, it will not be the same kinds of wildlife that were in the area before development. Planners and developers can sometimes add to the vegetation in an area, creating additional cover and food for some kinds of wildlife and make water sources available under some conditions, if there is insufficient water in the area.

8. Ask the students to summarize some of the possible impacts on wildlife from human activities like development of land areas. Are there places in your community where wildlife habitat has been lost by human development? Are there places where wildlife habitat has been enhanced by human activity? What alternatives, if any, are there to development of previously undeveloped areas? What tradeoffs are involved: for example, in developing vacant areas within communities rather than undeveloped areas outside communities? If development does take place, what kinds of actions can people take to minimize the negative consequences for wildlife, vegetation, and other elements of the environment? What about possible economic costs? Social costs? Ecological costs? Aesthetic costs? etc. Discuss loss of habitat as something that is affecting wildlife all over the planet. Ask the students to summarize the importance of suitable habitat for wildlife. Discuss the students' concerns and recommendations.


1. Conduct this activity twice, with the students trading roles the second time. When the former wildlife become developers, they could see if they could produce a development plan that could benefit the area for people and wildlife in some ways. The activity can also be conducted to show differences between developing the entire area-with likely loss of all wildlife in the area-to developing only part of the area, with some wildlife likely to survive.

2. Ask students to complete the following sentence, and discuss their response: "If I were going to build a house for my family in a previously undeveloped area, I would"



Name and describe three animals or plants which used to live in your area, but no longer do. Describe the changes that seem most responsible for eliminating each of these plants or animals. Suggest and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages, if any, of possible actions that could have been taken to prevent the elimination of these plants or animals from the area. Name one kind of wildlife that would do better and one kind that would do worse, in areas in which humans cut down a forest and planted grass; dammed a creek to flood a valley; put in a housing development with large lawns and many shrubs; built a city on a lakeshore with crowded skyscrapers.

Adapted from Project WILD

birds in city



birds with chicks

Grade Level: K-4
Subjects: Science, math, art, language arts
Skills: Art skills, counting, comparing, predicting, drawing conclusions
Duration: Two 30 minute sessions
Group Size: Individual
Setting: Indoors
Vocabulary: Clutch, declining population, extinct, population, production



Students will:

1. Learn that animal populations grow through births, and

2. Observe the relationship between the size of a population and the number of young that are born each year.


Teaching Strategy:

Students simulate a population of nesting geese and analyze the results of the simulation.



Paper cups (one per student), photocopies of Goose Pair Silhouettes, dry grass, goose down or cotton batting, beans, poster paper, glue or tape



This activity introduces young students to a population of geese as it changes in size through births. Students will observe the capacity of small and large populations to grow through births each year. Older students can use their math skills in the activity "Population Explosions" to observe this relationship.

A consequence of the birth rate of a population is the ability of the population to build up from small numbers. As long as a population is relatively large, animals that die are replaced each year when young are born and grow up. Wildlife managers are concerned about small populations of wildlife because they may be in danger of going extinct. If populations are small or have declined to low numbers, people may need to make efforts to help the population grow or recover.



1. Pass out the paper cups and make the grass, down or cotton batting, and beans available to the students. Tell the students that they will each be making a goose nest by gluing tile grass and down or batting in the cup.

2. After the students have made the nests, give each student the goose illustrations and have them cut out pairs of geese.

3. Tell the students that each pair of geese will produce 5 eggs each year. Have each student place five beans in their nest.

4. Create a large graph on the poster paper with two columns. Label the left-hand column "Pairs of Geese" and the right-hand column "Number of Eggs" (see illustration). Explain that a goose population will have a certain number of pairs. See the activity "Population Posters" in this Activity Guide if you have not introduced the term "population" to your class.

5. Begin filling in the chart. Start with "one pair of geese." Ask a student to bring up a goose pair silhouette. The geese can be taped or glued to your chart. Move to "two pairs of geese." Again ask students to bring the pairs up. Continue until the population has 20 pairs.

6. Explain to the students that the number of eggs laid by each pair varies; for the purpose of this activity, however, each goose pair will lay five eggs. Begin with "one pair of geese" and draw a nest (circle) and fill it with five eggs. Ask the class to count the number of eggs in the egg column and write that number down. Continue this process for the increasing number of pairs (older students can do this by multiplication).

7. Compare the number of eggs laid by the largest population with those of smaller populations. Encourage students to think of things that could happen to geese so there would be fewer geese in a population (they could be eaten by predators, harvested by hunters, die from accidents, or starve to death because there was too little food, etc.). Which population would recover quickest if each population lost ten geese? (the smallest population would become extinct, other small populations would take a long time to recover because there would be fewer eggs each year compared to the larger populations. The largest population would recover the quickest.



Pairs of Geese


Number of Eggs


1 Pair of Geese geese


5 count5 Eggs 5 eggs


2 Pair of Geese geese geese

5 count5 count 10 Eggs 5 eggs5 eggs



3 Pair of Geesegeesegeesegeese

5 count5 count5 count 15 Eggs 5 eggs5 eggs5 eggs



4 Pair of Geese geesegeesegeesegeese

5 count5 count5 count5 count20 Eggs 5 eggs5 eggs5 eggs5 eggs



8. Explain that people are concerned about small populations of wildlife because they may be in danger of going extinct.


1. On poster paper, have the class write a story about what they learned. Place the story next to the graph. Younger students can dictate the story to you as you write.

2. The activity assumed that all female geese layed the same number of eggs. Explain to the students that female geese do not always lay the same number of eggs. Each student should choose the number of beans to place in their nest. The number should be between 3 and 7. Hide the nests around the room or on the schoolgrounds and then have the students conduct a nest search and count the total number of eggs. Older students can calculate the average clutch size (number of eggs per nest) by adding up the numbers in each nest and dividing the total by the number of nests.

3. For older students, develop multiplication problems: "If a pair of geese produces 5 eggs, a population of 5 pairs of geese produces eggs.





1. have students choose an endangered species and create a skit. The skit should depict the dangers that face the offspring of both populations that can recover quickly and those that recover slowly.


Additional teaching activities about arctic nesting goose populations: Teach About Geese, K-12 curriculum. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Anchorage, AK. 1988.

Goose Pair Silhouettes














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