At dinner last night, the younger Free-Ride offspring told us about a science lesson from earlier this week:
Dr. Free-Ride: You were going to tell me about a science activity you did, we think, on Tuesday in school?
Younger offspring: Mmm-hmm.
Dr. Free-Ride: Tell us what it's called.
Younger offspring: "Best Bird Beak".
Dr. Free-Ride: "Best Bird Beak". And what was the activity?
Younger offspring: Well, you use different items to pick up different things, like softened shredded wheat nuggets.
Dr. Free-Ride: Uh huh.
Younger offspring: Grapes, water, and ... there was one more thing, I think. I'm not sure.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK. Maybe it will come to you. Maybe it won't. So, different kinds of things that, if you were a bird, you might find attractive as food items?
Younger offspring: No, the items that you use to pick up the things are -- it depends on what kind of bird it is. Like ... a hummingbird can't open up their beak so wide, so they have to get small things. And, like, hawks -- they could get big things like grapes --
Dr. Free-Ride: I see.
Younger offspring: -- compared to the other stuff.
Dr. Free-Ride: So, did you have to imagine what kind of beak you would have if you were a different kind of bird, or did you actually have, like, pretend beaks to use for this activity?
Younger offspring: Well, it's not about imagining, but it's to see what foods you could pick up best with the different items. I'll tell you the items: a strainer, tweezers, chopsticks, pliers, and an eyedropper.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh. So, was the idea that, depending on what you have to pick something up, you might be better off going for one kind of food item rather than another kind of food item?
Younger offspring: Well, you try all the things on one food. So first, you might use chopsticks ...
Dr. Free-Ride: Mmm-hmm.
Younger offspring: ... to pick up all the items and see which one works best. But especially not water.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, yeah. I guess water would be very hard to pick up with chopsticks. Unless it was in ice cube form.
Younger offspring: Yes. And that would be really hard, too, because it's slippery. You record the data of what works best in your science book.
Dr. Free-Ride: I see.
Younger offspring: And do you know, the water only works with the eyedropper. And, like none of them work with the strainer.
Dr. Free-Ride: A strainer doesn't pick up anything very well?
Younger offspring: No.
Dr. Free-Ride: Not even grapes?
Younger offspring: No.
Dr. Free-Ride: I guess you're not allowed to scoop?
Younger offspring: No, no. You know, the grape cup was only this big, and the --
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh!
Younger offspring: -- strainer was bigger.
Dr. Free-Ride: So the strainer was bigger than the cup the grapes were in in.
Younger offspring: And you can't pour the grapes out of the cup.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK, so if you're a bird, the idea is that you sort of have to be able to get into the place where the food item is with your beak.
Younger offspring: Without tipping! 'cause some people tried tipping it to get it. Some people got little crumbs of the wheat nuggets.
Dr. Free-Ride: WIth the strainer?
Younger offspring: No, with the eyedropper.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh.
Younger offspring: But you're not allowed to use the eyedropper for anything else beside water.
Dr. Free-Ride: Interesting. So, after you did this experiment, did you all talk about how it relates to different kinds of beaks for birds?
Younger offspring: Yes. We were doing the questions that it said in our book aloud.
Dr. Free-Ride: I see. ANd what kind of bird beaks did you talk about? I know you've been learning about adaptations.
Younger offspring: Yes, yes. That was for my science homework, you know.
Dr. Free-Ride: I do know, but the people reading the blog might not know it. Can you say just a tiny bit about what kind of beak adaptations you learned about after you did this activity?
Younger offspring: Well, we talked about what beaks might be what birds. Like, the pliers should have been the hawk, and, maybe, I think the tweezers should have been a woodpecker, and the eyedropper should have been the hummingbird, and the chopsticks should be a crane's, I think.
Dr. Free-Ride: Are there other kinds of beaks that you've seen on birds other places that are interestingly different from those?
Younger offspring: Well, I'm not sure. I don't remember it, 'cause it was on Tuesday!
Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, Tuesday was such a long time ago. Can I ask your sibling? Can you think of any birds with interestingly adapted beaks?
Elder offspring: Well, there are some with curved beaks, like hooked beaks. And some that curve up -- both parts.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, the top bit and the bottom bit.
Elder offspring: And there are some that are shaped flat and shovel-like, and there are some that are definitely made for scooping.
Younger offspring: Yeah, like a pelican.
Elder offspring: I think the strainer one, that would be like ... like, if there's something in the water that it wants to get.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, to filter it through? Are there birds who have the bird equivalent of baleen?
Elder offspring: Well, they have ridges on their beaks. I don't know any birds with strainers.
Younger offspring: What about pelicans?
Elder offspring: They have a bag.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, they have sort of a storage pouch. Pelicans always remind me a little bit of hamsters.
Younger offspring: Hamsters?!
Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, because, do you know what? Hamsters can store food in their cheeks. Also, small children can.
Younger offspring: You're crazy.
Dr. Free-Ride: That might well be, but it's still the case that hamsters can store food in their cheeks, and I think that pelicans can store food in their pouch, their beak-pouches. Like, if they got a big fish, but they don't necessarily have the time to --
Younger offspring: Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: -- chew it? Do they chew? They've got to chew.
Elder offspring: No, I think they just swallow it.
Dr. Free-Ride: They just swallow?
Younger offspring: Yeah!
Dr. Free-Ride: Then why do they have the pouch? Is that in case your stomach is already full, in case you catch more fish than it's comfortable to swallow at one time?
Elder offspring: It's, I think, to bring them back to its family.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, to share! Sharing is good. I like sharing. So maybe there's an advantage in being a kind of bird that can share food with its family.
Elder offspring: One more beak that I've seen. The seagull -- the perfect beak to pick up Cheetos.
Younger offspring: Yes, it is.
Dr. Free-Ride: Do you think that people reading a blog have a special interest in what sort of adaptation you need to pick up Cheetos?
Elder offspring: You need to live by school yards, dumpsters, fast food places.
Younger offspring: Sea.
Dr. Free-Ride: Convenience stores.
Younger offspring: Seas!
Elder offspring: And by places where kindergartners, well, little kids that usually drop things and usually eat chips, walk.
Dr. Free-Ride: Ha. I wonder if pet birds who live in houses with small children are especially well adapted to "harvest" food.
Elder offspring: Oh yes -- the parrot's beak is designed to crack seeds open.
Younger offspring: I thought that was the macaw.
Dr. Free-Ride: Isn't a macaw ... so closely related to a parrot that one of them technically is a kind of the other? I don't remember which one is which.
Elder offspring: A macaw is a kind of parrot, but a parrot isn't a kind of macaw.
Younger offspring: A toucan -- I'm not sure what its beak is for ...
Dr. Free-Ride: I'm pretty sure it's not adapted to eat Froot Loops.
Elder offspring: Showing off. Maybe getting fruit from far away. Oh, and I know what the male bower bird's beak is for: collecting shiny objects, blue objects, ornamentation objects, and especially car keys with blue tags on them.
Dr. Free-Ride: Maybe collecting car keys isn't a special adaptation but an accident because of what else they tend to do.
Elder offspring: What if they hit the button? "Hey, who locked my car?!"
Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, but I'm pretty sure birds have a hard time driving automobiles.
Elder offspring: And then there's the female bower bird: "Thank you for getting this amazing gift for me!"
We actually did this at my nature center, and there are birds with strainer beaks! Ducks have a strainer beak. Here's what we did (it was our 2nd grade adaptations program):
-> hummingbird: a straw that sucks water through a funnel decorated to look like a flower
-> woodcock: chopsticks picking up gummy worms out of dirt
-> cardinal: pliers cracking sunflower seeds
-> duck: strainer straining "plankton" (little bits of sponge) out of water
-> flycatcher: a cup catching flying "insects" (cheerios)
-> chickadee: tweezers picking up grains of rice on a log
-> great blue heron: tongs picking up little plastic frogs out of a bucket of water
-> hawk: staple remover that tears up clay mice
we'd give groups of kids different tools, and they rotated around to all the stations. once they'd visited each station, they got to choose which station is where their tool worked best AND where no one else's tool worked as well as theirs (sometimes there was conflict and we'd have a mini face-off). Once they knew their stations, they then moved over to pictures of birds and figured out which birds had beaks similar to theirs.
It was tons of fun, and it was cute seeing how much the kids actually learned from the activity. Glad to hear your sprog had fun too!
Bwah-hahaha, touche, Y.O.!