Weekend Science Fun: Birds of the Rain Forest

Today we were inspired two bright and colorful books for first graders, Macaws by Cecilia Pinto McCarthy and Rain Forest Life by Janine Scott. These two books would be perfect to accompany a trip to the zoo or a unit on rain forests for the youngest set.

Macaws are from Mexico, Central and South America. Their bright colors and inquisitive natures make them popular with humans.

Facts about Macaws:

  • have colorful feathers
  • can live 50 years or more
  • have strong beaks for eating fruit and seeds
  • males and females pair for life
  • nest in tree cavities
  • travel in flocks

Most macaws live in rain forests. A rain forest is a place with trees that gets a lot of rain. How much rain? Some rain forests get up to an inch of rain per day, or 365 inches per year! Rain forests are often found in warm, tropical regions, but there are also cooler rain forests. An example of a cooler climate rain forest occurs in the west coast of the state of Washington.

Tropical rain forests are home to an abundance of interesting, colorful, and unique birds, in addition to macaws:

Activities:

1. Bird Beaks

Birds use their beaks for many of the same purposes that we humans use our hands. Birds eat with their beaks, build nests with them, and even groom themselves with them. Birds do not have teeth, but they do have tongues.

One of the first things you might notice about the macaws, toucans, hornbills and hummingbirds is how different their beaks are.

(Photograph of hyacinth macaw by Malcolm at Wikimedia)

The macaw's beak is long and curved on top, coming to a hook at the end. The lower beak is short and stubby in comparison. It looks rather like a can opener.

Check out how these wild macaws use the pointed tip of their beak and their tongue to remove nut meats from nuts. Note: This video has numerous pop-up ads.

The toucan's beak is so large that you might wonder how it flies. It turns out that the beak is very light. Toucans eat mostly fruit, although they also eat insects.

The hornbill's beak is also very large. The structure on the top is called a "casque" and it is thought to be involved with calling (sound production). Larger hornbills have a diet similar that of the toucan. Smaller ones are omnivorous (they eat many things), or even carnivorous (eating only meat).

The hummingbird's beak is long and slender like a needle. Known for drinking nectar from flowers, hummingbirds also eat small flying insects.

Eating like a Bird

1. Food

Gather:

  • various small fruits like blueberries, raisins, nuts, 0-shaped cereals, gummy worms, and small crackers (check about food allergies beforehand and avoid foods with those ingredients). If you don't want the children to snack on the food afterwards, choose inedible items like un-popped popcorn and packing peanuts.
  • plates or dishes to present the food on
  • variety of equipment to mimic bird beaks, such as tongs, toy pliers, toothpicks, chopsticks, tweezers or forceps, and straws
  • paper cups or similar containers to act as the bird's "crop" (where the food goes)
  • timer (optional)

Depending on the number of children and the amount of food and equipment you have, you might want to form small groups.  Explain that the children are going to "eat like a bird." Suggest that they try to put the different food items into their "crops" (cups) using the different tools, but not to use their fingers. Present each child/group with a plate holding an assortment of food items and allow them to freely explore the options. Do some tools work better than others? Brainstorm about what might be other challenging foods that birds might eat. How would you eat an oyster or a snail without hands? How would you eat a fish without dropping it? What other types of tools might be helpful?

Handling time:

Introduce the idea of "handling time," that is the amount of time it takes to pick up, process and eat a particular food item. Using a single tool and a timer, see how many pieces of a particular food they can get into their crops (cups) in a short period of time, such as a minute. Try other kinds of food for the same length of time. Weigh the amount of each type of food that was gathered to discover which type was most efficient, or resulted in the most food consumed per minute. Graph the results.

Another way to perform this test might be to time how long it takes to pick up a particular number of one type of food item with different tools. For example, how long does it take to pick up 30 raisins with tweezers versus toothpicks?

Fluids:

Have you ever watched a bird drink? Notice how these chickens scoop up water and then tilt their heads back to let the water flow down their throats.

Drinking is also a challenge with a beak. Often the tongue helps. Scientists have recently discovered that hummingbirds have a tongue like a mop that they use to slurp up nectar. If you've ever visited a lorikeet exhibit, you might have seen the brush-like tongues they use to lap nectar.

Gather:

  • straws
  • spoons
  • new toothbrush
  • juice
  • shallow bowls

Pour the juice into shallow bowl. Compare how easy it is to drink with a straw or spoon versus try to drink by collecting fluid in the bristles of a toothbrush.

2. Bird Craft

One thing that catches your eye about these tropical birds is their colorful feathers. Make a brightly colored bird.

Gather:

  • craft pom poms (2 sizes, body and head)
  • colorful feathers (available at craft stores)
  • matching color chenille pieces, cut into short lengths for beaks
  • sewing thread
  • white or craft glue
  • scissors

Chose 1 large pom pom for body and one smaller pom pom for the head for each bird. Take a few minutes to study the structure of the feathers. Find two similar feathers for wings and one for a tail. If the feathers are widely different sizes you can trim them with scissors. Choose a section of chenille to serve as a beak. Bend the chenille into a v-shape, if desired, or leave it long to serve as a hummingbird beak.

Glue the head and body together. Set aside to let dry or the head may slip when adding other elements. If you are doing a flock of birds, you can glue some while others are drying. Put a bit of glue on the hard tip of each feather (where it attached to the bird in real life) and insert it into the body on either side to form wings. Add glue to the hard tip of the tail feather and insert it on the opposite side from the head. Finally add some glue to the tip of the chenille and add to front of head, taking care not to move the wings and tail. Allow to dry.

Once dry, tie a length of thread around the body and hang up. You can create mobiles or flocks of birds or use them as puppets.

3. Bird homes and rainforest layers

The rainforest is divided into layers.

The emergent layer consists of the very tallest trees that push up through the canopy.

The canopy is the dense layer of treetops.

Under the canopy there may be little light. Wherever light passes through the canopy, young trees, shrubs and vines can grow. The forest floor is also teeming with life.

Birds like the hoatzin use the trees of the rainforest for homes and food.

Many birds live in the canopy layer of the rainforest, although some nest in the shrubs and vines of the understory. Ant birds follow army ant swarms running over the forest floor, catching insects and other arthropods chased up by the approaching ants.

Project:  Chose a rainforest bird that interests you and find out where it lives in the rainforest. Does it nest in trees in the canopy or shrubs in the understory? Where does it find food?

Prepare a short report and share what you have found out with others.

Macaws by Cecilia Pinto McCarthy

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Library Binding: 24 pages
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 142966049X
ISBN-13: 978-1429660495

Rain Forest Life by Janine Scott

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Paperback: 24 pages
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1429671521
ISBN-13: 978-1429671521

Books were provided by publisher for review purposes.

See our growing list of children's books about birds at Science Books for Kids.

6 thoughts on “Weekend Science Fun: Birds of the Rain Forest

  1. Post author

    The scarlet ibis is a bright orangish-red to deep-red-colored bird. It is found near water because it eats tiny invertebrates that live in the mud. They live in South America.

    Do you have a specific question about them?

  2. Post author

    Audrey,

    The scarlet ibis lives in wet areas and feeds on insects and crustaceans in the mud. It would be on the forest floor.

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