7-12, Unit Four, Activity 4: "Fitting In"

A scavenging game illustrating interspecies cooperative feeding, and an examination of specialization among animals in the old growth forest.

Grades: 7 – 12
Time: 1 hour
Subjects: Life science, social studies


  • Approximately 500 2-inch squares of tagboard or heavy stock paper (cut with paper cutter); divide into five groups of 100 squares; on one side of first 100 squares, mark with “P”, second group “W””, third – “N”, fourth – “C”, fifth – “T” (have students help with the marking)
  • Roll of surveyor’s tape (for boundaries)
  • Narrative about niches and specialized feeding.

1. Outdoors, lay out a playing field with the plastic survey tape. Make the field rectangular shaped -100 feet long and 25 feet wide. The "start" line will be on one end of the rectangle (one of the 25 foot sides) and the "finish" line will be the other 25 foot end of the rectangle.
2. Have the class distribute the paper squares evenly through the playing area, with the letters facing down.
3. The letters on the back sides of the squares represent specific food for specific birds, as follows: “P” - Pileated Woodpeckers “W” – Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers “N” – Red-breasted Nuthatches and Brown Creepers “C” – Chestnut-backed and Mountain Chickadees “T” – Varied Thrushes and Rufous-sided Towhees.
4. Explain to the students that they are going to simulate the cooperative feeding pattern in the old growth forest.
5. Divide them into five equal teams. Each team will be one of the groups of birds above (Team 1 – Pileated Woodpeckers, Team 2 – Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, etc.)
6. Each member of each team must gather 5 food cards specific to the bird (e. g. only “P” for the Pileateds).
7. Each person must turn over cards one at a time, leaving the cards turned up (so the letters show). That is to simulate dislodging food for others during their own feeding process.
8. In the order above, time each team’s run through the playing area, stopping the clock when all members have their five cards and run to the end of the playing area.
9. Before the timed run, ask students to hypothesize about who they think will have the fastest time, and why. Does cooperative feeding benefit every bird? Can you think of an analogy of this progressive feeding pattern to humans and their work? Can you think of any other examples in which one animal makes it easier for another to eat?
10. Have the students read the "Narrative" for this activity. In small group discussion, have students list any other examples they know of animal or plant specialization. Expand with discussion on how human specialists work together or don’t work well together.

Variations and Extensions:
1. Have students outline the habitat and niche of themselves, and members of their family. 2. Field trip to the Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake – highly recommended!

Have the class draw a group mural of everything they have learned about the old growth forest, on butcher paper.

Last updated: November 8, 2017

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