Here is a suggestion for an activity you can use with children of primary or
secondary age. It involves collecting information about when birds visit a bird feeder over a twelve hour period. I used it to find out if feeding patterns in garden birds are linked to changing light levels. You could also use the activity as a context for teaching about measurement and precision.
My set up used a force sensor attached to a hook. A bird feeder containing peanuts was suspended from the bottom of the sensor. This was connected to a logger which I wrapped in a plastic bag for weather protection. The logger I used also collected data about light levels, temperature and sound. Data was collected from late afternoon until next morning.
Not many birds visited the feeder the first evening, as you can see by the four points at the beginning of the top line of the graph (red), pictured below.
However, there was a large increase in feeding activity the next morning. This is visible as many tall ‘spikes’ on the top right side of the red graph. The tallest ‘spike’ could be due to a larger bird visiting the feeder, or several birds landing on the feeder at the same time.
My colleague, who is a keen ornithologist, let me have his data for the masses of a large sample of garden birds. Over the last week my bird feeder has been visited by great tits (average mass 18g), blue tits (10g), house sparrows (25g), a nuthatch (20g) and an immature greater spotted woodpecker (60g). Chaffinches (20g) have tried to land on the feeder but do not have much success. I have tried using the data from this investigation to identify which species visited the feeder throughout the recording time. The force sensor measures up to 50N ± 1N; the light sensor measures up to 1000 lux. Would different sensors have given better results and made identification easier?
The investigation was repeated the next evening which produced a similar graph, below, and prompted the question of what regulates the feeding times of the birds.
There seems to be a correlation with changing light intensity (blue line). Research in to the work of Prof Alex Kacelnik FRS shows that there are many factors involved in regulating feeding behaviour, including day length and light intensity. Through this activity your pupils will be engaging with cutting edge science, as no one is yet quite sure how bird behaviour is influenced by the environment.
You can find out more about Kacelnik’s work by visiting the Royal Society website http://royalsociety.org/people/alejandro-kacelnik/
or the Oxford University website
We’d love to see any results you have had from a similar experiment or thoughts on how this has worked for you.
P.S I have now got this set up outisde the office window at the National Science Learning Centre - more details to follow.