Student Activities

Think Like a Bird

Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade

Students will understand the complexities of nest building by attempting to design and build a nest themselves.


Students will understand the complexities of nest building by attempting to design and build a nest themselves.


Birds build nests just about anywhere, out of just about anything you can imagine. Small owls build nests in cavities in trees. Some even raise their young in burrows in the ground. Old buildings, mud homes, elegant nests that droop from branches, grassy hideouts, and depressions in the sand are all good-enough homes for various species birds. Eagles will carry large branches to their high nests. Other birds will use leaves, mud, saliva, trash, string, and their own feathers to construct homes for raising their young.

Explore Great Sand Dunes' web page on birds to learn more about the wide variety of birds in the park and preserve.


Clay, real eggs or egg-sized stones or pebbles, materials for nest-building (collected from schoolyard or home) large-size test cup for holding the nests


While at the park or in a nearby outdoor environment, have students investigate the local habitats. Make a list of what natural materials are available. Discuss the conditions of the sand dunes and the needs of the birds. For example: it is hot in the day and cool at night, and birds must provide a safe place for their young to mature. Do you think birds live in the dunes themselves, or in places nearby? Why might some birds go out into the dunes for part of the day?

Discuss what kind of a nest would meet these needs. Discuss the types of material birds might use:

  1. Strength material - helps to hold the nest up during strong winds or adverse weather conditions
  2. Binders and adhesives - holds or glues the nest together
  3. Liners - makes the nest cozy, soft, and warm
  4. Predator protection - keeps the eggs and young safe from predators: camouflage, secure structure, etc.

Back in the classroom, students can work alone or in pairs. Allow some time for gathering of materials. Students can gather nest-building materials in your schoolyard, bring items from home, or use things that you supply. Please advise students not to collect natural materials from protected areas. After the materials have been gathered, have the students sort the materials into the four categories listed above. Allow sufficient time for students to build their nests.


Do birds 'think' while building their nests? How do they 'know' how to build their nests? When birds build their nests are they acting creatively?


An extension to this activity would be to construct different kinds of nests for different birds. For example: a hanging nest, a nest on a ledge, a mud nest attached to a cliff or wall, a nest in the grass.


behavior, cavity

Last updated: March 8, 2019