This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner Home Page About ANKN Publications Academic Programs Curriculum Resources Calendar of Events Announcements Site Index This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
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 7 Other Traditional Uses of Birds


1) Students will list and describe the traditional uses of birds other than as food.



1) Brainstorm with the class the uses of other bird products in the traditional way of life. Have students interview elders on this topic. Make a list of traditional uses other than as food and make a chart to indicate what part of the bird was used for what purpose.

2) In addition to the use of birds and bird products, what other importance did some birds have in the local culture? (eg. foretelling the weather, the coming offish, good or bad luck, kept as pets). This will be studied more in Lesson 8.

3) Make a traditional artifact using some part of a bird. Suggestions: dance fans or arrows using feathers; a small blanket with the down from a goose; a "duster" from the wing of a goose; a rattle from the crop of a grouse.



Bird Traditions...has a lot of information in the section on "Uses" (pg. 15) and also under individual birds.

Such anthropological studies as Ingalik Material Culture and Ethnography of the Tanaina, both by Cornelius Osgood (Yale University publications) document some traditional uses of bird parts such as in the manufacture of a loon skin bag, swan bone drinking tube, feathers for making arrows or to strengthen clay pots.

Make Prayers to the Raven by Richard Nelson has a whole chapter on birds which includes many traditional uses.


Bird Clothing

The Lime Village Dena'ina have made two major types of cold weather clothing from birds. One kind is constructed from feathered-skin while the other style uses soft feathers as filling in skin and cloth. Birds employed for the former type of clothing include eagles, cranes, swans, geese, ducks, and cormorants. Swans, cranes and eagles are said to have the strongest skins. Waterfowl down has most frequently been the filling in skin and cloth clothing.

Feathered-skin clothing including parkas, pants, mittens, and hats have been made primarily from the wingless bodies of the larger birds from which the tail and other large feathers have been removed. The skin is then tanned to remove the oil from the skin and to soften the skin.

Feathered-skin clothing has been lined with animal skin for additional warmth and strength. An elder explains that bird skin is fragile and tears easily without support. The furred-skin of small animals has provided a warm lining for mittens and hats while caribou skins and tile furred-skin of a variety of animals have served as lining for larger bird garments. This reversible clothing is warm when worn either way.

People have created specialized clothing such as jackets particularly from the soft feathered necks and breasts of ducks but also from swans, loons, cormorants, and other waterbirds. This less hardy clothing especially admired for its attractiveness is made entirely from one species of bird or from a variety of birds. If the breasts are used, they are always lined because breast skin is not as tough as neck skin, the most popular kind of skin used for this type of clothing.

An elder who wore feathered-skin clothing as a young person observes that when he came home from World War II, the practice of sewing bird skin clothing had been discontinued, lie says that animal skin clothing continued to be sewn after bird skin clothing because the latter was harder to make. He reports that bird feather clothing was worn primarily as work clothing and not necessarily saved for special occasions. Although harder to produce than animal skin clothing, bird skin clothing served as an attractive change from animal skin clothes as well as providing warmth and other utilitarian needs.

People indicate that due to the scarcity of large game animals in earlier times, feathered-skin clothing allowed the animal skins to be used for essential items that feathered-skins could not provide.

Lime Village Dena'ina have continued into modern times to create feather-filled cloth clothing arid bedding items. Although neck and breast down has been especially prized for it softness, medium-sized feathers have been used especially when down has been lacking or in short supply. Feather-filled articles have included snow pants, parkas, pillows, blankets, and other types of bedding and clothing.

Children's toys and art objects that closely resemble living birds have been fashioned from the feathered-skin bodies of waterfowl, woodpeckers, and other birds. With some exceptions, the bird including its head, feet, and wings remain intact. The bones are removed from the feet and the inner pall of the bird is removed through a cut on the side of one wing. The bird is stuffed with moss or grass because the plants absorb oil well (see Loons).

People have made sack-like water containers from the dried feet and lower, featherless leg skin of swans, cormorants, dippers, and sandhill cranes. Swan skin followed by crane skin produce the biggest and thus the best containers. The sack-like containers are sewn with a special waterproof stitch and are tied on top with leather or other available string. The containers have primarily been used when traveling.


Bone Technology

Bird bones have served the Lime Village people in a variety of ways. Both men and women have made beads from duck wing and leg bones and from geese and swan foot bones. After they have been boiled and cleaned, the warm bones are cut to bead size. If the bones are cut when cold, they may chip. In early times, a hard, sharp, shiny brown rock was used to cut the bones.

The beads have been colored with various plant dyes: alder bark, red; rotten willow wood, blue; rotten spruce wood, reddish brown; berries, a variety of colors. The beads, soaked or simmered in the dye, have been used in necklaces and earrings and have been sewed on headbands, coats, and other clothing. When a bead is sewed on a fur parka, the fur is partially cut from the area where the bead is to be placed so that the bead is visible. See Swans for information on windpipe beads.

Lime Village people have made whistles for calling birds and animals from cooked, cleaned bird bones. An elder reports that his father made many different kinds of whistles. The sound of the whistle varies with the kind of bird and bone used, the size of the bone, and the number of holes made along the length of the bone. Depending on the desired sound, the caller blows into one end of the bone while covering the other end of the bone and perhaps some of the holes along the length of the bone.

Swan wing and leg bones have been used as "straws" and have been left at locations regularly used for obtaining drinking water.

Split wing bones of various birds have served as toothpicks.

Medicinal Uses of Birds

Few Lime Village medicinal uses of birds have been documented.

Fresh raw or rotten bird meat and other animal meat has been secured on an infected or blood-poisoned area to draw the sickness from the area into the meat. The meat is left on the area until it is very rotten because rotten meat is said to heal the area faster than fresh meat.

Any kind of soup including duck, grouse, and ptarmigan can be given to a sick person to increase his appetite and provide nourishment.

Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern

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."



Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer, educational institution, and provider is a part of the University of Alaska system. Learn more about UA's notice of nondiscrimination.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified August 18, 2006