Bird Biology (Professors Bruce Byers and Jeffrey Podos, Biology)


Observations of organisms in their natural environments can spark a life-long interest in biology. We plan to work with teachers to develop a series of activities and exercises, centered on observations of animals that address key elements of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for science. Frameworks supported by this project include: Classification of Organisms, Ecology (Living Things and Their Environment, Energy in Living Things, and Changing Ecosystems Over Time), Evolution and Biodiversity, Systems in Living Things, and Reproduction and Heredity.

We have chosen to build our project largely around birds. Birds are conspicuous inhabitants of urban, suburban, and rural environments, and have an intrinsic appeal to which almost everyone responds. They are easily observed at feeders and elsewhere, and engage in a variety of fascinating behaviors. Birds can be used to construct a year-round program that engages studentsí natural curiosity, includes indoor and outdoor obersvations and experimentation, and that touches on topics across a broad spectrum of biology.

Much of the Bird Biology project will be based on activities built around class participation in Project FeederWatch. Feeder Watch is a web-based program of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology that accumulates data from feeder watchers across North America. Participants compare their local observations with those from a large data set.

In addition to helping students gain mastery of key concepts in biology, the Bird Biology project also helps enhance studentsí inquiry skills. In order to make observations and test questions about animal biology, students will have to solve (with guidance) the problems involved in planning and executing scientific inquiry. For example, students will work to develop sets of questions about birds; to develop the observation skills necessary to identify bird species and document their behavior; to determine which types of data should be tracked; to decide how data should be measured; to develop a system and format for recording data; to decide how to analyze and draw conclusions from their data; and to effectively communicate their findings.