• Curecanti National Recreation Area


    National Recreation Area Colorado

Feathers or Fur?

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: Feathers or Fur?

Grade level:

Time length: 30 minutes

Subject areas: Science

Teacher: NPS Education Specialist

Colorado Content Standards:Science: (3.1) Students know and understand the characteristics of living things, the diversity of life, and how things interact with each other and with their environment.

Birds are animals with feathers; mammals are animals with hair or fur.

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 is connected to everything else (interrelationships).

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

There is no free lunch (community).

Environmental learning hierarchy: Art forms.

Materials: For an approximate class size of 24: one large feather; several feathers from various birds; rubber beaks/bills/noses; synthetic rabbit ears and tail; hollow and solid bone model; bird and mammal specimens; Velcro strips (10" long); owl wings; blue bird wing; flicker wing; Great Blue Heron mount; elk/deer/rabbit fur; prairie dog mount; 24 small plastic fish, mammal and bird puppets.

Casey, Denise. (1987). The Friendly Prairie Dog. New York,NY: Dodd, Mead and Company.


Knowledge level:
Students will be able to verbally identify visual examples of birds and mammals.

Comprehension level:
Students will be able to verbally state, when given a feather or fur, whether it belongs to a bird or a mammal.


Explain who we are, where we work, what we do, using the felt badge on the felt board.

Today we’re here to talk about animals!

Pull out a large feather and hold it up. "What kind of animal has feathers? Some neat birds that you may see flying in the sky or perched in a tree around here are the eagles, a magpie, and a tiny bird that flaps it wings really fast, called a hummingbird. (show laminated pictures of each). All birds have something that no other animal has and that is ... FEATHERS!"


Making a Bird

"Do people have feathers? No, of course not! What kind of animals have feathers? Birds!” Select a student that appears to be outgoing, and ask them to stand up before the group. "Is (child's name) a bird? NO...let's pretend we can turn her/him into a bird. What would be the first thing we need to give (child's name)? - stroke the feather ... FEATHERS!" Using the Velcro strips and feather necklace, put a feather on the student. "Is one feather enough? NO. Let me look in my box ... oh, yes there are a few more." Place them in pockets, over ears, on Velcro strips etc. "Wow, look at that, (child's name) has feathers now. She/he looks a little more like a bird!"

"Do birds have noses? NO. Do birds have lips? NO. What do birds have instead? A BEAK (or bill). Well let's give (child's name) a beak." Place rubber beak on child. "Doesn't she/he look like a bird? Did you know that a bird's beak is a nose and mouth? Can you remember that? Let's all say it together while we point to our noses and mouths. A BIRD'S BEAK IS A NOSE AND MOUTH. A bird's beak is very important. Birds use their beaks to get their food, to build their nests, to straighten their feathers, to protect themselves, and to feed their babies. Different birds have beaks that are shaped differently. Some are long and skinny, some are short and stubby, depending on what kind of food a bird might eat. What are some things birds eat? Can you think of anything? Worms, insects, fish, etc."

"(child's name) still needs some other things to make her/him a bird. Birds don't have fingers and hands, do they? What do birds have where (child's name) has arms, hands, and fingers? WINGS, that's right. We need to give (child's name) some wings." Obtain wings from box and carefully place them in the child's hands where he/she can safely and carefully hold and flap the wings. "What do most birds use their wings for? TO FLY, that's right! Can all birds fly? No, roadrunners and penguins can't fly, but most other birds can fly. Different birds have wings that are shaped differently. A bluebird has small narrow wings." Show students bluebird wings. "An owl has special wings so it can fly quietly through the air. Can you see the fringes along the edges of these wings?" Show the students the owl's wings and let them touch the wings. "These fringes allow the owl to fly through the air without making noise so they can sneak up on a mouse or a snake or even a skunk! Well, (child's name) really looks like a bird because he/she has FEATHERS, A BEAK, AND WINGS!! We said that most birds can fly. Flap your wings (child's name). Why can't he/she fly?" Mention hollow bones of birds versus solid bones of humans. "He/she also can't fly because he/she does not have his/her own FEATHERS, WINGS, AND A BEAK." Thank student for helping and ask them to sit down.

"(Child's name) isn't a bird, but I have a real bird here to show you. It's called a Great Blue Heron (uncover bird). Let's say that together, GREAT BLUE HERON. Did you notice that the Great Blue Heron is covered from its head to its tail with FEATHERS?! So, is this animal a bird? Yes, because it has feathers. Did you also notice this Great Blue Heron has a very long beak, and a very long neck?" Stretch the words out while pointing to the parts. "Its toes are longer than your fingers!"

Designate an open area in the room for the habitat of the heron. "Here's the heron's home or habitat, the river. I'm the heron with a long pointed beak." Draw in the air a beak extending from your nose. "Can you see my beak? Use your imaginations! Here are my long wings." Flap arms then tuck them behind you. "I have two long, skinny legs so I can wade out into the water and my long, skinny toes keep me from sinking in the mud! So the heron (act out being a heron) wades out into the water looking for a good fishing spot. Then, when the heron finds a good fishing spot, it stands very still and quiet; it doesn't move a muscle."

"The fish see the heron's long skinny legs and think those legs look like sticks. Fish like to hide among the sticks in the river, so they swim closer and closer. The Great Blue Heron is standing still and quiet. It doesn't move a MUSCLE! The heron is so still that it almost looks like a statue. The fish swim closer and closer until they're right between the legs of the heron (place a plastic fish on the floor between your feet). Then the heron uses its long neck and its long beak and ZAP, it spears a fish!" Move head down quickly as if to spear a fish. "Now a heron doesn't have hands so it can't pull the fish off its beak. Instead, it has to throw the fish up and catch it." Throw your head back and "catch" the fish. "Then the fish goes down the heron's long BEAK, long NECK, and goes into its stomach. That's how a Great Blue Heron goes fishing. Let's all stand up and be herons." Go through actions with the children a couple of times and then have them quietly fly back to their nests (seats).

Making a Mammal

"Well, now that we know a little about birds, let's learn about another group of animals. Birds have feathers covering their bodies, but some animals have something like this: (pull elk/deer/rabbit fur out of the box), FUR! Animals with hair or fur are called mammals. Let's say that together, MAMMALS. Can you name some mammals, some animals that have hair or fur? Are people mammals? I'm a mammal and (name a few kids) are all mammals, and guess what? (in a whisper) Your teacher and your parents have hair, so they are mammals too.

"Let's learn about mammals that live along the rivers, in the forests, canyons and on sagebrush hills at Curecanti National Recreation Area, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. To do this I need a helper. (Child's name) has hair so he/she is a mammal, but let's pretend he/she is a mammal that lives in the woods. Not all mammals have clothes to keep them warm, but they don't need clothes because they have FUR! Let's pretend (child's name) has hair or fur from his/her head to his/her toes. To help us imagine this, we'll wrap this fur around him/her." Wrap elk/deer/rabbit fur around student. "Now most mammals have a very good sense of smell, because they have to find food using their noses. Do you think you could find food using your nose in the forest? Maybe we should give (child's name) a better nose, one more like that of a wild mammal. What do you think?" Put rubber animal nose on child. "Having a good sense of smell is very important to mammals. We said they find their food using their noses. Can you tell me other ways they use their nose?" Finding a mate, parents, babies, smelling danger, etc...

"There are lots of mammals that live at Curecanti, and one of them is a prairie dog. The prairie dog is a mammal because it has hair or FUR! In fact, the prairie dog is covered from head to tail with fur."

"Prairie dogs have two favorite things to do. They like to eat, and they like to dig holes in the ground. So, if they're not eating they're probably digging, and if they're not digging they're probably eating. Prairie dogs eat nice green plants. What do other mammals eat?" Give examples of what other mammals might eat. "During the day, prairie dogs do a lot of (make eating motions) EATING. Prairie dogs also do a lot of twitching their tails. Other mammals twitch their tails for communication, as a way to talk to each other. Let's learn a song about the prairie dog so you can remember their two favorite things to do!

"Prairie dog, prairie dog (stand on toes with hands [paws] up like a prairie dog standing on its burrow)

twitch your little tail" (wiggle your behind)

(Repeat both lines)

"Dig a burrow in the ground (digging action with hands)

Eat until the sun goes down" (eating actions with mouth and hands)

"Prairie dog, prairie dog (stand on toes with hands [paws] up )

twitch your little tail" (wiggle your behind)

(Have the students sing the song a few times.)


Student understanding is assessed through questioning and by reviewing bird and mammal characteristics. Have them name each animal mount (great blue heron/prairie dog) and name mammal and bird characteristics as each activity is completed. Ask students to name mammals and birds they see everyday near their home and school, OR hold up feathers and fur, asking them if they belong to a bird or mammal. The two puppets may be used here to point out characteristics of each animal.


Divide students into two groups. Assign each group to a bird or mammal station where the Great Blue Heron and prairie dog have been placed (on a table or the floor). Encourage each group of children to take turns dressing up as either a mammal or a bird with the props for a few minutes, then have the students switch stations.


Not appropriate.


Have children sit down after visiting the stations. Read The Friendly Prairie Dog book.


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.


Not Appropriate.

Did You Know?

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