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Wingin' It: Course Description

Course Title:  Wingin’ It:  A Study of How Birds Adapt to Urban Environments

Course Description:  After AP Research Project Course: 25 hours (5 weeks with 1 hour class each day)

How do birds “wing it” in urban settings?  Have you ever wondered why birds nest in lampposts instead of trees?  Or why there are so many pigeons in the city and why they don’t move out of the way when you walk nearby?  And have you ever seen a group of birds eating leftover food on the sidewalk?  This course, Winging It: A Study of How Birds Adapt to Urban Environments, will answer these questions and more by introducing students to the city as an ecosystem that both supports and threatens local and migratory bird populations.  Students will gain knowledge of how birds have adapted to live in urban environments through the use of field studies and authentic research.  They will build on research skills such as data collection, analysis, and communication.  By the end of this course, students will have a deep understanding of the role in which cities play on influencing bird behaviors.  Those species that can adapt to the changing landscape learn how to “wing in” in cities; and those that don’t, flock.  

This course is designed as a mini- Authentic Research Module (ARM) that could be used after an AP Environmental Science or AP Biology Exam, or within an existing secondary science class.  

Course Goals:  Students will be able to:

Content

  • Understand the importance of urban biodiversity
  • Explain how cities alter natural habitats of birds
  • Identify species adaptations to the changing environment
  • Describe how conservation is important to aid in bird species survival in urban areas
  • Evaluate ecosystem health by measuring population size, behavioral adaptions, and adaptations to human impact (collision data) on birds

Skills

  • Record and analyze bird populations and song data using Excel and Raven Lite computer applications
  • Design and implement an authentic scientific research project related to urban birds
  • Perform a background literature search 
  • Analyze data and communicate findings to class, in an oral presentation and a written research paper

Research: 

  • Teacher generates prompts/blurbs to lead students in research question
  • Topics of Research:
    • Bird collisions in NYC
    • Nesting behavior
    • Population vs. location in NYC
    • Population vs. time in NYC (ebird)
    • Pigeon watch
    • Urban noise and its effects on bird behavior

Bird Journals:

Students will be responsible for keeping a bird journal.  Journal entries should be made about 2-3 times per week where students (on their own time or as class activity) observe and record local bird behavior.  These journals could be the source of the student’s research question. 

Course Outline:

Week 1: Introduction to birds in the city

Week 2: Observing and analyzing how urban environments affect bird behavior

Week 3: Introduce project to research local bird behavior

Week 4: Collect data for research project

Week 5: Present findings and local conservation plan

Course Skeleton:

Activity

Topic

Activity/ Materials/ Location

Assignment

1

Are cities ecosystems?   

Course introduction

Introduce cities as ecosystems

NY Times article activity : How and why do cities evolve?

 

Look on Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Celebrate Urban Birds to study common urban bird types

2

What birds are in our neighborhood? Urban Bird Count Pt. 1 Data Collection

 

Outside: Record observations in nature journal & perform bird count

Inside: Share class data; teacher models chart generation in Excel

 

3

What birds are in our neighborhood? Urban Bird Count Pt. 2 Graphing/ Data Analysis

Data analysis:

  • Graph class data
  • Calculate species richness, abundance, and biodiversity index

 

Finish analysis

4

What birds are in our neighborhood? Pt. 3

Conclusions and Discussion

 

Lab report: Write results and discussion

Whole class discussion

 

5

 

How do cities alter bird behavior? Pt. 1

 

 

 

Brainstorm threats to bird populations

Read and concept map Science Daily article of urban bird songs

 

How are songs important to bird survival?

 

6

How do cities alter bird behavior?  Pt. 2

Introduce students to microphones, decibel meters, and Raven Lite (Teacher models; class follows)

Define Frequency, pitch, amplitude

In-class activity using microphones, meters, and uploading data to computer

 

 

7

How do cities alter bird behavior?  Pt. 3 : Collecting Song Data

Record observations in nature journal & record bird song data outside/ Upload data inside classroom

Analyze data & write up results

8

How do cities alter bird behavior?  Pt. 4 : Analyzing Bird Behavior Adaptations

Analyze song data

 

9

How do cities alter bird behavior?  Pt. 5 : Drawing Conclusions

Draw conclusions and discuss results with class

 

10

How do local conservation groups protect birds?

Class visit from a representative of NY Audubon

 

11

How do birds behave in an urban habitat? 

Introduce mini research projects (groups of 3-4 students)

Project topics are guided by teacher, to focus on nesting/ feeding behavior

How to develop a research question?

Groups brainstorm and create research question (which must be approved by teacher)

12

Finalize research questions/

Gather background information

Background literature search (students find own sources and are given some by teacher)

(3 sources min.)

 

 

13

Experimental design & methodology

Methods must  be approved by teacher

Students use method guide given by teacher

Students gather literature sources

14

Introduction/ Work on Posters

Posters are started by students (Title, Introduction, & Methods)

Gather materials (students & teacher)

15

Data Collection

Outside school with group materials

 

16

Data Collection

Outside school with group materials

 

Group c with Teacher

Any additional data can be collected on students own time

17

Data Collection

Outside school with group materials

 

Group check-in with Teacher

Work on final report

18

Data Collection

Outside school with group materials

Work on final report

19

Data Collection

Outside school with group materials

Work on final report

20

Analyze Data

Inside school with group materials

Computers with internet access and MS Office

Work on final report

21

Analyze Data

Inside school with group materials

Computers with internet access and MS Office

Work on final report

22

Analyze Data/ Craft Poster

Inside school with group materials

Computers with internet access and MS Office

Work on final report

23

Finalizing Poster

 

Finish sections for homework

24

Presentations

Students present poster to class

 

25

Presentations/ Conclusion

Students present poster to class

Course conclusions

 

 

Notes to the Teacher:

  • Set up bird houses in school yard in March or when applicable (depending on location).
  • Order (free license) and familiarize yourself with Raven Lite Pro- application for analyzing bird recordings.

Possible Research Questions: 

  • Is there a difference between urban bird calls and their rural counterparts?
  • Do urban birds behave differently than their rural counterparts (in regards to nesting or feeding)?
  • What is the population of birds in our community and what implications may that have on the local ecosystem?
  • How does NYC create microhabitats for birds? 
  • Do bird species vary throughout the city?  If so, why might this happen? 
  • What locations in NYC are most threatening to birds and why?