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Bird Beak Activity | 2nd grade

Red-shouldered hawk

You can learn a lot about an animal just by making careful observations. If you want to know what an animal eats, a good place to start is by looking at the teeth. But what if they don’t have teeth? When looking at birds, it’s all about the beak! Different beaks can tell us quite a bit about what that particular bird eats.

Explore different bird species through this short presentation and figure out what they eat by making careful observations of their beak shape.The next time you go outside, try paying close attention to any birds you see – what does their beak look like? What are they eating? You might start to notice all kinds of interesting behaviors and adaptations!

Learn more about birds with the resources in our Online Museum Store.

Post by: Ellen

Food Web Activity | 3-5 grade

Dissection of an owl pellet
Owl Pellet Dissection

Do you know what an owl eats? Today we are going to find out by dissecting an owl pellet! This will help us learn about the food web that an owl is a part of and how this web is important for keeping plants and animals alive. 

In this 30-45 minute activity students will learn how to identify an owl pellet and will explore the contents of an owl pellet virtually through a video. Based on their learning, students will construct a food web including a great horned owl with producers, consumers, and decomposers. (This activity was created for 3rd-5th graders.) 


Materials/ Resources:


Optional: Instead of virtually exploring an owl pellet you can click here if you wish to purchase an owl pellet to dissect at home for this activity. 

Post by: Elise

Great Horned Owl Activity | 3-5 grade

When the sun goes down and we head to bed, a different world is waking up! We may be able to hear some of these creatures of the night “hoo-hoo-”ing to each other as they wake up and we turn inside. How do they live? What special features help them thrive in the dark? Take a closer look at the great horned owl and practice your naturalist skills of making observations and matching form to function.

In this 45-60 minute activity students will learn about the ways in which the great horned owl is able to survive in its habitat using its adaptations. Explore the resources below:


Great horned owl
Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus

Teacher’s Guide
This guide helps to lead opening and follow-up discussions, and outlines NGSS connections.


Great Horned Owl Adaptations
This powerpoint includes thought provoking questions, facts, visuals, and videos to make the experience engaging and informative.


Owl Adaptation Worksheet
Students may use this worksheet to take notes on what they learn. A post-discussion helps students understand how adaptations can work in tandem with each other, and the differences between behavioral and structural adaptations. This activity was created for 3rd-5th graders.


Optional: Consider pairing this lesson with our Food Web Activity.

Learn more about birds with the resources in our Online Museum Store.

Post by Ellen and Elise

Gettin’ Birdy: Seabright Neighborhood Walk

There are quite a few habitats to be found around the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Today we will go on a short walk starting at the Museum, and ending at Arana Gulch Open Space Park. The Museum is located in Tyrrell Park. Let’s start there, where a number of interesting neighborhood birds live. House finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) and golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) can be found flying through the bushes while the occasional red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) can be seen in the big eucalyptus tree. Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) can be seen flitting through the shrubs, making their “plinking” calls as they look for insects, sounding like tiny little tambourines.

As you walk out toward Seabright Beach you will probably see a wide variety of gulls and the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) poking around looking for something to eat. In the water you might see the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentails) flying around or the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) swimming around chasing fish. As you walk towards the Santa Cruz Harbor and lighthouse keep your eyes peeled for the snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) hiding in the sand dunes. Please keep your distance from these adorable and threatened birds as they nest on the same beaches that we play on, so we need to respect their space and their home. 

While you’re walking through the Santa Cruz Harbor, be on the lookout for some of the marine mammals that occasionally cruise through including California sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), the Pacific harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii), and the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Perched on the masts of the boats you might see the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) or even a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) with its wingspan of over 6 feet. 

If you head north through the Harbor you will come to Arana Gulch Open Space Park. This 67 acre park has open meadows surrounded by wetlands and beautiful oak forest. There have been many amazing wildlife sightings at Arana Gulch, including coyotes (Canis latrans) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). The wetland on the east side is home to the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), a small and vocal bird which can be seen diving into the water to catch fish. The oak forests surrounding the edges provide habitats for the downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) and the California scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica). In the meadows you can see the western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) and the western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) perched along the fences while you can often find the red-tailed hawk soaring overhead.

This short, hour-long walk takes you through some beautiful habitats and shows how nature is your neighbor and not something far away or hard to find.

Post by: Chris

Gettin’ Birdy: Where are the Birds?

Birds are, quite literally, all around us. They are a constant presence in our cities, parks, and open spaces. The previous post provided an introduction to the “why” of birdwatching, and some basic tools and tips to get started. This post will introduce a selection of species that are common across nearly all habitat types in Santa Cruz – “the regulars”. Following “Gettin’ Birdy” posts will take deeper dives into particular birding hotspots, as well as bird biology and behavior. 

One of the great benefits of birdwatching is that birds are present in our cities and urban spaces. You don’t have to get far out into nature to see interesting species or witness unusual behavior. In fact, there are many interesting behaviors that are exhibited by birds that thrive alongside our city streets and buildings. Look for nests under the eaves of buildings or in brushy areas of backyards, and even in planters and garden boxes – certain ground-nesting birds often hide beneath ornamental shrubs and flowers! As you begin to explore your neighborhood and local area for birds, it can be nice to have an idea of what you might be seeing. The species list and images below can serve as a nice primer for “the regulars” that you may be able to see from your own window, front porch, or yard.

Post by: Spencer

Gettin’ Birdy: Why Birdwatch?

The central coast of California is a biodiversity hotspot, and a perfect place to learn more about wildlife. Santa Cruz is fortunate to have a number of city parks and open spaces that attract many different species of birds – all told, 450 different species have been recorded in the county. That’s over a third of all species seen in the entire country! So, if you are interested in getting outside and exploring over the coming days, weeks, and beyond, try birdwatching! It can be fun for all ages, birds are widespread and common across urban and open spaces, and there are a number of effective resources to help those unfamiliar with identifying birds. Birdwatching is a window into lives quite different from our own, but the world of birds, and even their interactions with humans are fascinating and clearly visible once you know how to look for them. All it takes is practice! 

Seabird runs in the surf with the sun low on the horizon
Photo by Jacqueline Deely, www.jacquelinedeely.com 

Getting Started

So, you want to see birds. One of the first decisions to make when it comes to birdwatching is where to go. There are certainly places that are more “birdy” than others, but have no fear – you will see birds almost anywhere you go! Bird hot-spots can be found at your local park, creek, or beach, and especially places with water such as wetlands, ponds, and rivers.

Go outside. Do you see birds? You are now a birdwatcher! Armed with nothing but your senses and curiosity, you are now primed to look more closely at the world around you. And if going outside is challenging, you can always birdwatch right from your window. As you begin to identify species and witness interesting behavior, try to record what you’re seeing. Creating a record of your observations is an invaluable skill for naturalists and scientists, and as you continue to birdwatch, you may notice interesting patterns begin to emerge. Below is a list of optional tools to aid with observation, ID, and data recording to get you started. Following posts will explore particular hotspots more in depth and provide tips and tricks to aid with ID, as well as further resources for those interested in flying into the world of birds. 

A group watches through binoculars from an observation platform

Tools & Resources

  • Binoculars can be very helpful, but aren’t always necessary. Many birds are large enough or have distinct enough markings and colors that they can be identified without the use of tools. 
  • Field guides. These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and popular ones include the Sibley, Peterson, and National Geographic guides to birds. There are even app-based guides!
  • A journal or notebook to write down observations, sketch what you see, or otherwise record your experiences. 
  • eBird – a great resource for exploring regions, hotspots, and individual species. You can also upload the species you saw to a database, the largest of its kind on the planet. 
  • Merlin is an app for smartphones that aids with ID in the field. Just select the date, location, size, colors, and behavior (in trees, swimming, soaring) of the bird you’re looking at to generate a list of possible species. 

Now get out there and start birding! 
They’re not gonna watch themselves.

Post by: Spencer