Lesson Plans: Shorebird and Fish Migration

Unit 2.1 Avian Olympics

CLICK HERE for pdf file (for upper elementary and middle school).

Shorebirds are one of the most migratory groups of animals on the planet. Of 51 species that breed in northern North America, substantial portions of the populations of 40 species (78%) spend the winter in countries other than the United States or Canada. In addition to Latin America and Caribbean destinations, shorebirds breeding in northern North American can be found wintering in Asia, Australia, Polynesia, and northern Europe.

In general, shorebirds spend up to a third of each year migrating from wintering grounds to breeding grounds and back again. While some bird species stop and feed during migration, many build up huge fat reserves in preparation for migration and make the trip without stopping.

Students will be able to:
1. Name two characteristics birds have to successfully migrate long distances
2. Calculate the distance some shorebird migrate
3. Calculate the amount of energy they need to migrate
4. Discuss some reason why some birds may not survive migration

Additional extension activities:

  • An alternate way to gain points would be to draw comparisons or act out comparisons. 
  • Make posters for the lunchroom with comparisons and promote no waste.
  • Weigh lunch waste and graph results for one week.  Post results daily.
Mark Dreaver, a biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Service, talks about bird migration and importance of wetlands. (:56)
Dr. Martin Berg, a biology professor at Loyola University, discusses how climate change could affect the Rusty blackbird. (:56)

Unit 2.2 The Incredible Journey

CLICK HERE for pdf file (for upper elementary and middle school).

During each year of their lives, most shorebirds migrate between habitats located in different geographic areas.
Arctic-nesting shorebirds undertake some of the longest migrations of any animals.

Migratory shorebirds depend on at least three habitats: breeding, nonbreeding, and migratory stopover sites. Shorebirds concentrate in great numbers at their stopover sites. Because shorebirds fly together in large numbers, their populations are extremely vulnerable to threats along their migratory routes.

Most important migratory stopovers are nutrient-rich habitat, like estuaries, which also provide resources desirable to humans, making them vulnerable to alteration, pollution, and destruction.

Students will be able to:

  • List five characteristics unique to shorebirds.
  • Locate the three main flyways in the United States.
  • Name four hazards shorebirds encounter along their annual migrations.
  • Explain why these birds migrate from the far north to the far south of the Western Hemisphere.
  • Explain what “fat loading” is and why it is important to migrating shorebirds.

Additional extension activities:

  • Write about a journey the student took, far or near:  How did they plan?  What did they take?  Were there changes on the way?  Did the journey take longer or shorter?  Was the journey back different than going? 
  • Go around school or the community interviewing people about their favorite journey.   Use the previous or student developed questions for interview questions.  Compile a montage of local journeys in movie format.
Rob Butler with Bird Studies Canada discusses the importance of stopover sites for shorebirds, which are also areas of development.  He asks a key question: How should an important resource be shared? (1:13)

Unit 2.3 Swimming Along a Salmon’s Life

CLICK HERE for pdf file (for upper elementary and middle school).

The life cycle of a salmon is staged in both fresh and salt water habitats, making them an “anadromous’” species.  Hatched in the gravel of streambeds, they make their way downstream to the ocean as they mature through the alevin, fry, and smolt stages.  Reaching a nutrient-rich estuary at the boundary of fresh and salt water habitats, the salmon smolt feed and grow as they ready themselves to be adults in the ocean.

Here is a worksheet on the dragonfly lifecycle:  http://www.kidzone.ws/animals/dragonflylifecycle.htm

Students will be able to:

  • List the steps of a salmon life cycle and place them in the proper order
  • Explain that salmon life in both salt and fresh water
  • List the types of aquatic habitats that salmon live in during their life cycle
Ruth Foster with the Pacific WildLife Foundation gives a tour of a salmon hatchery and shows salmon in the alevin, fry and smolt stages. (3:57)
Bill Lucey discusses the importance of the salmon fishery to the Yakutat area in Alaska. (4:34)
Bill Lucey discusses how salmon are marketed. (4:35)

Other video:
Watch the different stages of the dragonfly lifecycle. Dragonflies provide food for large salmon.

Unit 2.4 Salmon Life Cycle Goes On

CLICK HERE for pdf file (for elementary).

The class uses a game to review the salmon life cycle and discusses activities they can undertake to help more salmon survive. If people make careful decisions and satisfy their needs without taking away from future generations, they will help take care of salmon.
Students will be able to:

  • List the steps of a salmon life cycle
  • Recognize that salmon die at every stage and, on average, only two are left to spawn a new generation.
  • Identify hazards to salmon and describe actions that people, including the students, can take to help protect and conserve salmon and salmon habitat.

Additional extension activities:

  • Involve students to draw similar salmon life cycle game out of chalk on playground.  Revise playing so there are roles for students to play - involving more students in the game at a time.  
  • Have students create a game.  (A well liked game will be seen on the playground again and again.)
USDA Forest Service fisheries biologist Nate Catterson discusses the species of salmon that spawn in Alaska rivers and how the Forest Service promotes healthy ecosystems for salmon. (2:08)
How do salmon know which stream to return to to lay eggs and spawn? Gordie Reeves with the USDA Forest Service talks about salmon migration and life cycle. (2:38)

Unit 2.5 Just Passing Through

CLICK HERE for pdf file (for upper elementary and middle school).

Each location has a unique set of species that migrate through, and each species uses the resources of the local habitats for a variety of reasons.  Whatever the migratory species is in search of, each wetland habitat is unique in the combination of resources that it offers to those passing through.

Students will be able to:

  • List the migratory species that pass through the local area
  • Identify resources that are available and used by migratory species in the local wetlands

Additional extension activities:

  • Develop a game to play outdoors using the concepts of migration.
  • Build a bird feeder.