22nd October 2004 at 01:00
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Prepare class sets of bird outlines for pupils to record quickly the features observed on birds in parks or woodland. Record in colour distinctive plumage, and sketch in tail, foot and beak shape, and estimate size. In class, identify the birds using pictures.

Introduce terms used to describe parts of a bird, eg crown, nape, mantle, wing coverts and flank, so more complex identification keys can be used (eg field guides from Collins or Kingfisher) to identify birds using written keys and descriptions and pictures.

* Collect flight feathers and down (from inside old pillows if all else fails). Get students to use hand lenses so they can see the small hooks which interlock the barbules of the flight feathers. Hooks are absent from down.

* Carry out the cooling experiment with hot water and beakers, using down feathers as one of the insulating layers. You may have temperature probes and software to enable this to run continuously during a lesson.

* Stroke a flight feather towards and away from the quill and see how the feather reforms when the stroke is in the away direction. Link this to the preening behaviour.

* Place drops of water on flight feathers treated with detergent and others that are not. The water wets the treated feather. Discuss the way feathers are waterproofed.

Use the article to reinforce the idea that food chains featuring birds like thrush and woodpecker change according to season. This links to a study of the adaptations of beaks and feet to the main food source.

* Work on the mechanisms involved in the maintenance of body temperature in homeotherms could be extended to include the physiological and behavioural ones mentioned here. The counter-current blood flow in the legs of birds could also be linked to work on heat exchangers.

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