• Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

    Black Canyon Of The Gunnison

    National Park Colorado

Die, Adapt or Move

National Park Service Mission

...to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area Outreach Education is committed to: Creating an awareness and fostering an appreciation for the mission of the National Park Service and the natural, cultural, and historic resources of Curecanti National Recreation Area and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.


Curriculum enhancing activities designed to complement national and state content standards across a variety of disciplines.

Title: Die, Adapt, or Move

Grade level: Fourth Grade

Time length: 60 minutes

Subject areas: Science, language arts, and social science

Teacher: Two NPS Education Specialists

Colorado Content Standards:

Science:(3.1) Students know and understand the characteristics of living things, the diversity of life, and how living things interact with each other and with their environment. (3.4) Students know and understand how organisms change over time in terms of biological evolution and genetics.

Theme: All animals have characteristics that help them live in different environments.

NPS focus: Public Law 39-535 (Organic Act),

Public Law 95-250 (Redwood National Park Expansion Act),

Vail Agenda Education Committee Report (Strategic Goal #2; Action Plan 16) and (Strategic Goal #3; Action Plan 52,62),

Curecanti and Black Canyon Themes: Natural Resources/Wildlife

Environmental concepts: Everything must fit how and where it lives (adaptations).

Everything is going somewhere (cycles).

Everything is becoming something else (change).

There is no free lunch (community).

Environmental learning hierarchy: Ecological Principles

Materials: Plate and fork; cup; umbrella; large graph chart (8 1/2" X 11" with 1/4"grid size); slide projector, slides carousel; 25' extension cord; classroom-sized area indoors or outdoors; graph paper; chalkboard and chalk or dry erase board and markers; 2 pairs of chopsticks; 2 strainers; 2 skewers; 2 pair of pliers; 2 pair of tweezers; 2 plastic straws; 4 rubber earthworms; plastic container filled half-way with dry oatmeal; 20 paper clips; 1 gallon plastic container of water; a cup of dry rice; small log (12" X 3"); a cup of sunflower seeds; a cup of styrofoam peanuts; plastic container of water; red food coloring; vase of water; newspapers; laminated labels for each station (station #1 Worms in the Mud, Station #2 Aquatic Animals, Station #3 Insects on a Log, Station #4 Seeds, Station #5 Tiny Aquatic Plants, Station #6 Nectar); 6 "Fill the Bill" work sheets; laminated pictures of a phalarope, blue heron, flicker, grosbeak, duck and humming bird.


Knowledge level: Students will be able to verbally name the four components of a habitat (food, water, shelter, space).

Comprehension level: Students will be able to verbally explain the consequences of diminished, altered or destroyed habitat on an animal population.

Students will be able to verbally describe the characteristics animals have which help them live in different environments.


"Today we're going to talk about habitats. Does anyone know what a habitat is? A habitat is a place where animals make their homes, find their food and water, and raise their young. Plants and people also have habitats. There are four things that make up a habitat. Do you know what they are? I'll give you a clue—they're the things that everything needs to survive." As students identify the components, have them come to the front of the room and hold the appropriate prop (a plate and fork, cup, umbrella, or empty container). "All habitats contain food, water, shelter and space. I'll teach you a rhyme to help you remember the parts of habitat: Food, water, shelter, space, a habitat is a wonderful place!" As you say this rhyme with the students, have the four students raise the props as their component is named.


"There are many types of habitats, but they all contain these four components. Animals are suited, or well adapted to their habitat; they fit in where they live. They can find everything they need to survive within their habitat. Animals have characteristics that help them live in a variety of environments. These characteristics that help an animal survive are called adaptations. One example of an adaptation is a beaver's hind feet. They're webbed, like a duck's feet! Why do you think that a beaver has webbed feet? Because they live in the water, and webbed feet help them swim. Another example of an adaptation is a bird's beak. Different birds live in different places and eat different foods. Depending on where they live and what they eat, their beak is a particular shape to help them eat their favorite foods.

But what happens if an animal is unable to find all the parts of its habitat? What if the river dries up, so the beaver doesn't have water? Or if all the trees get chopped down, so it doesn't have food? If an animal can't find all of the parts of its habitat, or everything it needs to survive, it will be MAD. Instead of just feeling angry, they will "Move", "Adapt," or if they're unable to do either of those, then they will "Die." M-A-D stands for Move, Adapt, or Die."

Now let's explore some of the habitats nearby, in Curecanti National Recreation Area and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park . We'll visit some of the plants and animals that live there, and we can make sure that they have all four parts of their habitat. What are the four parts? Food, water, shelter, and space.

Slide Show:

Slide 1: Colorado has many wild places which provide homes for all kinds of animals. If you take a hike in the mountains, you can often see a herd of elk in the meadow, an eagle high in the branches of a tree, or even a black bear wandering through the forest. The area where each of these animals lives is called its habitat.

Slide 2: A habitat is a place where a plant or an animal can find food, water, shelter, and space.

Slide 3: For example, the habitat of a beaver is a river. The beaver eats the trees and vegetation around the river, it gets its water from the river, and its shelter is a lodge that it builds in the river or along the shore. Do you think that all animals have the same habitat? Is the habitat of a prairie dog the same as the beaver? No. Every animal has different needs, different foods that it likes to eat, so each one may have a different habitat. Let's have a look at the 5 major types of habitat found in Curecanti and the Black Canyon , starting from the bottom and moving up:

Slide 4: Riparian habitat is the area around a river. In a riparian habitat, like at Neversink, we can find fish, ducks, beavers, and birds. It's easy for animals that live in a riparian habitat to find water! Lots of these animals eat fish, insects, or aquatic vegetation. The trees, bushes, grasses, and water provide shelter where they can make their homes.

Slide 5: The sagebrush habitat can be seen all around Blue Mesa Reservoir. Prairie dogs and the Gunnison Sage Grouse call the sagebrush habitat their home. The dry soil makes it easy to dig tunnels underground, and that's where prairie dogs live. The sage grouse hides among the sagebrush for shelter. Sage grouse eat mostly sagebrush during winter and small flowering plants in other seasons. They are not adapted to eat seeds, so they can't easily move to another habitat and find food.

Slide 6: Scrub Oak habitat on the rim of the Black Canyon provides food and shelter for mule deer, chipmunks, and rock squirrels, among other animals. The leaves of the oak are food for the deer. Many other animals, including the squirrels and chipmunks, eat the acorns, which are full of energy. Sixty different kinds of animals eat the purple berry from the serviceberry bush, which grows in the scrub oak habitat. It may be harder for these animals to find water, but they manage, drinking rainwater from puddles, or getting water from the plants that they eat.

Slide 7: The Pinyon/Juniper Forest habitat on the rim of the Black Canyon is home to porcupines, steller's jays, and coyotes. Many of the animals that live in this habitat eat the pine nuts, but some, like the coyotes, eat other animals that live there.

Slide 8: Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir forest habitat is found at a higher elevation, as we can see at Soap Creek, off of Blue Mesa reservoir. This habitat is wetter than the sagebrush habitat, but not by very much. Deer, squirrels, and bear can be found in this habitat. The trees provide plenty of shelter and protection from predators. The plants and animals that live in each of these habitats are able to find everything that they need to survive, including food, water, shelter, and space. But what happens if their habitat changes, and they can no longer find food, or shelter?

Slide 9: This happened to the Gunnison Sage Grouse, a very special bird that only lives in the sagebrush habitat in this region. There used to be lots of these birds, because there was plenty of sagebrush habitat, and they could find shelter and food.

(click to activate the animation) But when the Gunnison River was dammed, it flooded the sagebrush habitat with water, so the grouse lost a lot of habitat. In other areas, the sagebrush is being torn up and houses are being built where the sagegrouse used to live.

Slide 10: What does an animal do in a situation like this? Remember, it gets MAD.

(click to activate the animation) It can Move to another area where it can find the food that it eats and a place for shelter. But since the sage grouse mainly eats sagebrush during the winter, and it can't eat seeds, it pretty much has to live in a sagebrush habitat. Some animals migrate long distances to find food and shelter when the seasons change. If it can't move, it might…

(click to activate the animation) Adapt to the new habitat. Plants aren't able to pick up their roots and move to a new place, so they might adapt to living with less water, for instance. Adaptation takes time, though. If a plant or animal cannot Move or Adapt, and they cannot meet their survival needs in their habitat…

(click to activate the animation) …then they will Die. Many Gunnison Sage Grouse died when they lost their habitat. Now they are a threatened species, which means that if their population drops any more, they might become an endangered species.

Slide 11: Each animal needs different types and amounts of food for their survival. Some animals eat plants, others eat insects, and some eat other animals.

Slide 12: The shelter that each animal needs for its survival may also be very different. A pika may live in a pile of rocks, while a prairie dog lives in tunnels underground.

Slide 13: A swallow builds a small nest on an overhang, while an eagle may build a huge nest, sometimes as big as the room of a house, on the edge of a cliff or in a tree.

Slide 14: All animals and plants need space. Some plants, like the scrub oak, grow very densely together. They need less space than a cactus, which is competing for water with all the other cacti.

Slide 15: A wolf has a territory, or a space, of many square miles, where it wanders to look for food. A rabbit may only need enough space to run quickly from one bush to another, eating vegetation along the way. There is wildlife-plants, animals and insects-wherever there is water. All plants and animals need water, just like we do.

Slide 16: We don't have to go far to see wildlife, but we do need to care for the habitats around us. How can we help protect the habitats of animals? We can be respectful to the wildlife when we're in nature. That means observing the plants and animals from a distance, but not picking flowers or breaking branches off of trees. It means staying on the trail rather than stepping on flowers and bushes. We can plant trees, support national parks, keep the water clean, plant flowers, or build a birdhouse! Together, we can help protect the habitats around us.

END of slideshow

Check for student understanding:

"What are some different types of habitats? What four things are needed in all habitats? What might destroy or change a habitat? What happens to animals when their habitat is altered or destroyed? As we saw in the slide show, some animals adjust to the changes. This is called adapting. But some animals cannot adapt quickly enough to the changed habitat. These animals may move to a different area. But if an animal cannot find food, water, shelter and space, the animal will die. In our next activity, we'll see how important these four components are for survival. We'll also see how wildlife populations change."

Guided Practice:

Oh Deer

(Discuss the symbols inside, and then continue the directions once outside. Walk through one demonstration round before having the students do the activity.) Adapted from Project WILD (Western Regional Environmental Education Council, 1983).

(*Ranger should keep track of how many deer there are at the beginning of the game and at the end of each round on the chalkboard or dry erase board.)

Divide students into two groups, having them stand in parallel lines facing each other, about 15 feet apart. "The students in one line are going to be deer. The students in the other line are going to be parts of the habitat. In order for deer to survive, they need food, shelter, water and space. We'll assume the "deer" have enough space; space will be the area between the two lines. So the "deer" will be looking for food, water and shelter. When a deer is looking for food, he or she will place their hands on their stomach. When looking for water, the deer will put their hands over their mouth. When looking for shelter, the deer will put their hands together over their head like a rooftop."

"The students in the habitat line will represent the components of a habitat - food, water and shelter. At the beginning of each round, students in the habitat line will choose which component they would like to be during that round. The students in the habitat line will use the same symbols for food, water, and shelter that the deer will be using."

"When we start each round, all students will be lined up in their respective line; the deer will be on one side and the habitat on the other. The students in one line will have their backs to the students in the other line. At this point, you will choose a symbol to depict. If you are a deer, you will decide what part of the habitat you are looking for; if you are part of the habitat, you will decide what part of the habitat you will represent. Both the deer and habitat will then make that symbol. When everyone is ready, I will count to three and then you will face the opposite group, continuing to hold your signs clearly. At this point, the deer will WALK to the habitat line to find the part of the habitat they are looking for. The deer must hold their symbols until they find a student on the habitat line with the same symbol. When a deer finds the same symbol, the deer takes that student representing the habitat component back to the deer line. This represents the deer reproducing, as a result of having a good habitat. If a deer cannot find the part of the habitat it is looking for, someone with the same symbol, the deer dies and becomes part of the habitat. If more than one deer reaches a habitat component, the deer that reached the component first survives. Remember that only the deer look for habitat components. Habitats don't have legs; they have to stay in place until a deer takes them back to the deer line. If a deer doesn't need a particular component of the habitat, that habitat stays where it is and remains a habitat component in the next round. This is not a game, a race, or a competition. We'll walk and not run. Since we are trying to find out what happens to a population of deer when its habitat changes, it is very important that you do not change your symbol during a round. You may only change your symbols at the beginning of each round."

Guided practice: Show students the data from the activity. Pass out graph paper and guide the students in graphing the deer population. The number of deer will be on the vertical axis and the round, or year, will be on the horizontal axis. This will help students to visually see how the deer population fluctuated over a period of years. "What did the deer in this activity need to survive? What happened when they didn't find one of the parts of a habitat? Do populations of animals stay the same or do they change or cycle? What causes them to change or cycle?"

Introduce predators, and take one deer out while they are walking toward the habitat. Discuss. After several rounds, have the entire habitat group represent shelter. This represents a drought with no available food or water. For the last round, have the habitat line lay down on the floor instead of choosing a component, representing a flood, fire, or development. There will be no food, water, or shelter; all the deer die or move.

Check for student understanding:

Gather students together and discuss the activity. "What happened when there were only a few deer? When there were only a few deer, these deer were able to find the part of the habitat they need, and the population increased. But what happened when there were many deer? Some of the deer could not find what they needed and died or moved, and the population decreased. This is what happens in nature. Populations don't stay the same; they are continually cycling. There is never a balance in nature. However, there is always a cycle of organisms moving, dying, and adapting."

Fill the Bill

Adapted from Ranger Rick's Nature Scope: Birds, Birds, Birds! (Braus, 1988).

(While students are outside, have one Ranger get the stations set up. Before returning to the classroom, tell the students not to touch anything on their desks.)

Set up six stations with laminated station label, appropriate tools (see below), "food" and "Fill the Bill" work sheet: Station #1 Worms in the Mud - chopsticks, strainer, container of oatmeal and rubber worms; Station #2 Aquatic Animals - skewer, pliers, paper clips in a container of water; Station #3 - Insects on a Log - tweezers, skewer, rice on a small log; Station #4 Seeds - pliers, straw, sunflower seeds; Station #5 Tiny Aquatic Plants - strainer, chopsticks, styrofoam peanuts floating in container of water; Station #6 Nectar - straw, tweezers, red-colored water in a vase. Each set of tools and "food" should be set on newspapers to contain possible spills.

(Demonstrate the first activity using the sheet and tools, to clarify the instructions.)

"In our last activity, changes in habitat caused the deer to die or move. What might also have happened? When a habitat changes, animals may be able to move to another area. Or they may be able to adjust to the changes as we saw in the slide show. Adjusting to changes is one form of adaptations. Adapting means changing to survive. When the season changes from summer to fall, we adapt by dressing warmer and heating our homes. This helps us survive. Animals also adapt to what is around them. In the winter, some animals hibernate and some migrate and some die. In the summer, some animals shed a winter coat, and others spend time in the shade or are active at night when it is cool. These are all examples of adaptations, which help animals survive. Adaptations can be behaviors like hibernating and migrating, or they can be physical characteristics like camouflage or the way an animal's body is designed. Adaptations are special characteristics that help animals live in different or changing environments."

Check for student understanding: "What are adaptations? Can you give me some examples of animal and specifically bird adaptations?"

Guided practice: "Birds' beaks are examples of adaptations. Not all bird beaks look alike. A bird's beak is designed to help catch its favorite type of food. In this next activity, you will be scientists trying to figure out which beak is more useful for catching or eating a specific type of food. There are six stations set up around the room. There is a different type of bird food at each station, along with two different tools. The tools represent bird beaks. Your job will be to try each tool to see which works best for eating that type of food. For example, station one is called ' Worms in the Mud'. You'll have to try both the chopsticks and the strainer and see which tool works better for getting the worms out of the mud. After you have decided which tool works better, write the name of the tool on the worksheet in the space under station #1. Then decide which of the six birds has a beak that might work like the tool you decided on for getting worms out of the mud. You will be working in groups, and each group will share one worksheet. When all of the groups are finished at a station, I will tell you to 'migrate'. This means it is time for you to move to the next station in numerical order. If you were at the first station, you move to the second station when you hear the word 'migrate'. You will need to bring your worksheet to each station as you migrate. One person in each group will need a pencil."

Divide the class into six groups, having each group start at a different station. After all of the groups have finished all six stations, gather the students together to discuss which tool worked best at each station and which bird has a beak resembling that tool. As you discuss these, show the appropriate laminated bird picture. The tools and birds are as follows: Station #1 - chopsticks, phalarope; Station #2 - skewer, blue heron; Station #3 - tweezers, flicker; Station #4 - pliers, grosbeak; Station # 5 - strainer, duck; Station # 6 - straw, hummingbird. "Are birds' beaks examples of adaptations?"


See section III.


See section III.


Not appropriate.


Final check for student understanding: Randomly ask students to name one component of a habitat. After the four components have been named, review these components with the rhyme used in section II. Randomly ask students to explain what happens when an animal's habitat is destroyed or changed. Randomly ask students to give example of different characteristics that animals have that help them live in different environments.


Indicate what you judge to have been the strengths of the lesson, what changes you made during the lesson and what changes you would make if you were to teach the unit again.


Braus, J. (1988). Ranger Rick's nature scope: birds, birds, birds!. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation.

Western Regional Environmental Education Council. (1983). Project WILD. Boulder, CO.



Did You Know?

Did You Know?

The Black Canyon contains some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth. Precambrian, or “basement” rock, is nearly 2 billion years old.