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Activity: Local Bird Guide

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:


  • Table 5.6
  • Table 5.7
  • Access to bird resources including online, books, pamphlets


  1. For each of the bird groups listed in Table 5.6, use the bird resources available to you to determine if there are any species present near your school. Do not include birds found only in captivity. Record in Table 5.6.
  2. Find pictures or diagrams of adults of each of the species.
  3. Create a dichotomous key to identify at least six of the bird species in your area.
    1. Consider the important features of your birds such as color, shape, and structures to create your key.
    2. Ideally a dichotomous key goes from broad to specific choices. Determine which of your bird’s features are similar between different groups and which are specific to just that species.
    3. When creating a dichotomous key, each step should have two choices. The choices can either lead to another step or lead to the identity of a species, as shown in Table 5.7.
  4. Evaluate and revise your key.
    1. Choose 1­–3 species of birds from your key. Show pictures of the birds to your partner without showing them the name of the bird.
    2. Have your partner use your key to identify the bird shown.
    3. Evaluate their success and discuss any steps that may have been unclear.
    4. Revise your key.
  5. For each of the species in your key, provide its native range, identifying features, life history, adaptations to the marine or aquatic environment, and any unique behaviors.
  6. Optional: Create a dichotomous key for aquatic birds present in your area.
  7. Optional: Create a key that identifies morphological differences in male vs. female birds for the birds in Step 1.
  8. Optional: Create a key that identifies morphological differences in juvenile vs. adult birds for the birds in Step 1.
  9. Optional: For one of the bird families listed in Table 5.6. Identify at least six species and create a dichotomous key.


Activity Questions: 
  1. What were the most challenging aspects of creating your dichotomous key? Explain.
  2. What steps in the dichotomous key were the most unclear for your partner? How did you address those in the revision?
  3. When would a field guide be useful? Explain.
  4. What additional information would you like to add to the field guide? Explain.

Table of Contents:

Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.