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Food Webs-Birds of Prey


  • Project TitleFood Webs-Birds of Prey
  • Theme Biology, ELA, Math
  • Submitted ByKathrine Watkevich
  • OrganizationMount Wachusett Community College
  • Brief DescriptionStudents will extend their knowledge of food webs and evolution by exploring some Birds of Prey that are found in their area. Students will dissect owl pellets and identify the types and number of animals consumed. In the process, students will discover other animals and identify their role as a predator or prey in their environment. While visiting Wachusett Mountain Reserve to learn about the food webs there, students will speak with and learn about the career of a Biologist, go on a short hike, and observe and identify Birds of Prey from the summit of the mountain.
  • Materials / ResourcesOwl pellets, probes, gloves and bone identification chart. VHS tape "The Barn Owl...An introduction to owl pellet labs".
    MCAS reading selection: "The Vulture`s Flight", by Lynn Marie Cuny.
  • Team membersMark Kuhlwein, Paul Parillo, Kate Watkevich
  • Pre-requisite knowledgeBasic math and reading skills.
  • Technical support neededAccess to VCR. Contact for tour and career speaker at Wachusett Mountain Reserve.

Key Questions

  • Key QuestionsWhat is a food web? What are primary and secondary consumers? What is a bird of prey? What role do birds of prey play in the food web? How many and what kinds of animals does one barn owl pellet contain? What careers involve using my knowledge about food webs/biology?
  • Connections: How or why was this topic identified? Why is it meaningful?The BIO, ELA and Math MCAS prep classes share many students. After completing the MCAS reading selection "The Vulture`s Flight", by Lynn Marie Cuny, discussion began about vultures and other birds of prey in our area that play a part in a balanced food web. Students were curious about careers that involve working outdoors/with the environment, etc. A field trip was taken to Wachusett Mt. Reserve, where they spoke with a biologist about her career, learned about the animals and food webs at the Reserve, went on a hike and looked for and identified birds of prey from the mountain`s summit.
  • Background Research: What resources were used to find background information for this project?Internet; VHS tape "The Barn Owl..An introduction to owl pellet labs"; The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America; Prentice Hall Biology.
  • Outcomes: What was the outcome? How was it shared or applied in the community?Students understood the concept of balanced food webs and what would happen if a food web were to become unbalanced, learned about and were able to identify some common birds of prey in our area, and gained knowledge of the career of a biologist.

Units / Activities

  • What is a food web? 1 hourWith the attached handout, students participated in a lengthy discussion on what is involved in keeping a balanced ecosystem. The roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers were explored in the context of how they benefit the ecosystem. Students proposed scenarios of how certain animal populations may change with the introduction of new species or the extinction of present species. Figure 3-8 from "Biology" by: Prentice Hall

    Web Link:

  • Owl Pellet Dissection and data analysisStudents had the opportunity to dissect owl pellets in class to examine their contents and determine where owls lay in the food web. This activity was completed with the use of gloves, for sanitary purposes, and Popsicle sticks as probes. Students were advised to "go slowly" so as to not break anything that may be in the pellet. At the conclusion of the dissection, students were able to classify the owl as a secondary consumer, and, with the use of the charts, identify what animals they ate. With this information, students were better able to identify what role the owl plays in its environment. Further, students were asked to discuss what may happen to that environment if the owl population were to decrease. -Owl pellet bone chart (see link) -Questions, observations and conclusions worksheet (see link)

    Web Link:

    Web Link:

  • Graphing data from owl pellet labStudents made a simple bar graph from the data collected of the number of animals eaten by the owl.Students also made a line graph estimating the number of animals that the owl ate during a week, a month and a year.Graph paper, rulers, calculators, data from owl pellet study kit.
  • MCAS reading selection "The Vulture`s Flight", by Lynn Marie Cuny. Approx. 40 minutes.Students completed the MCAS reading selection. Discussion followed about locally found birds of prey.The reading selection can be found on pages 127-132, on the link.

    Web Link:

  • Campus Birds of Prey I.D. GuideDuring class discussion, using The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, students and teacher composed a list of typical, locally found birds of prey. The Internet was used to download images and information about those birds of prey, creating a brief field guide to use as a checklist on our campus Birds of Prey `survey`.The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America; access to the Internet and a color printer.

    View/Download File: /project299_2044/Birds of Prey Campus Id. Guide.doc

  • Campus Birds of Prey survey. Time requirement varies.Choose a warm, sunny day. Using bird identification field guides or images found on the internet, introduce/review images of and facts about typical birds of prey found in the area. Bring a survey checklist and field guide with you on your walk around campus.The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, and or images gathered from Internet sources. Binoculars (not required). Birds of prey checklist and pencils.

    View/Download File: /project299_2044/Birds of Prey Campus Id. Guide.doc

  • Wachusett Mountain Reserve field trip Approximately 3 hoursStudents and chaperones meet with staff at Wachusett Mountain Reserve where they learn about some of the resident animals and food webs; about the career of a biologist; go on a short hike, and look for birds of prey from the summit of the mountain.Wachusett Mountain State Reserve contact information-see link. Field trip transportation arrangements. Bird identification field guides or checklists; binoculars if available.
  •  /project299_2044/Wachusett Mt.-Aquatic Food Web Observation.jpg

    Web Link:

Instructional Techniques

  • Guided discussionUsing an overhead projector/handout to display a common food web, students were introduced to the thought that everything has its place in an ecosystem and that a food web helps us to visualize that. Students explored how to "read" a food web and were posed leading questions as to what may happen to different animal populations if certain species were to die or / arrive.
  • Hands onTo better visualize the role of a secondary consumer in a food web, students participated in a hands on activity where they dissected an owl pellet. As they dissected, they were able to determine what was in an owl`s diet and even start to form their very own food web from what they discovered.
  • Data interpretation and graphingStudents used the data collected in their biology class to construct and label a line graph showing the type and number of animal consumed.
  • Activities 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.7Teacher and student directed discussion; activating prior knowledge; group work/collaboration; Internet research/exploration; informational writing.

Assessment Techniques

  • Teacher observation/student feedback; student collaboration, group observation.test
  • Open response writingStudents were given a food web with multiple open-ended questions pertaining to it. Questions related directly to population growth, roles of members of the ecosystem, as well as coming up with ideas of possible futures of the ecosystem if a population were to die out or arrive.
  • GraphingAssessed graphs for accuracy of data.
  • Activities 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.7Assess MCAS reading selection packet, participation in and contributions to research and creation of birds of prey campus survey identification field guide, observation of student participation in Biologist`s presentation, as well as discussion of the aquatic food web, on site, and student engagement in looking for birds of prey at Wachusett Mountain.

Tags = biology | careers | math | Subject = ELA, Mathematics, Science, CVTE | Grade Level = Elem, MS, HS | Time Period = School Year | Program/Funding = 596/597 |
Direct website link to this project: