Wildlife Biology for Middle School: Develop Skills with Animal Cams

animalbehaviorWildlife Biologists are scientists that observe and study the behaviors of animals. They frequently observe the features of certain wildlife and determine the role these animals have in their specific ecosystems. Many Wildlife Biologists specialize into a particular area of study defined by ecosystem or species. Some of these fields include: Entomology (insects), Ichthyology (fish), Ornithology (birds), or Marine Biology.

Youth interested in learning more about animals and the study of wildlife can learn a great deal from the comfort of their home via a webcam. Though limited in scope, animal cams can provide a glimpse into the lives of animals and are one tool to help develop our understanding of animal behavior.

I have compiled a list of some of my favorite animal cams from around the world. Take time to browse them all or utilize the printables I’ve provided below to develop a more in-depth wildlife biology study on your favorite animal.

ethologyOur Favorite Animal Cams

Birds

Bald Eagles

Location: Decorah, Iowa
Best time to watch: Eggs may begin hatching between March 25 and March 29 based on a 35 to 39 day incubation period.

The Decorah bald eagles nest atop a large white oak tree in a secluded valley. Their eggs hatch roughly 35 days after they are first laid, which means that three eggs within the nest right now are due any time now.

Location: Turtle Bay Eagle Cam (Redding, California)

We became captivated by this breeding pair when we first moved to Redding in 2011. The female Bald eagle has successfully fledged 14 eaglets and in 2015 had 3 youngsters in the nest!  This is not the first time she has done this, as she did the same in 2009 and 2010.  Only 5% of Bald eagles successfully lay and fledge three eaglets. Though this animal cam is currently offline (the eagle pair have moved), their story is fascinating.

Hummingbirds

Location: La Verne, California
Best time to watch: March (chicks are hatching any minute)

Bella the Hummingbird has been nesting for more than 10 years. Her nest is about the size of a golf ball, and her eggs are only about the size of a mint. Every spring she lays eggs and a couple weeks later the world watches new life being born. This year, she last laid her eggs on the 6th and 8th of March. When I checked in with her as I wrote this post, they’d recently hatched.

Great Horned Owls

Location: Montana
When will you see babies? Due in roughly 2-3 weeks.

The Montana owlets are due two or three weeks from now. Since owls are nocturnal, this is a live feed worth checking out later at night when the other animal cams have little or no activity.

Spotted Owls

Location: High Desert Museum (Bend, Oregon)

When we lived in Bend, the spotted owl pair at the High Desert Museum were receiving a lot of media attention. It had previously been believed that Spotted Owls required old growth forest to survive yet here were a rehabilitated pair who had successfully reared several consecutive clutches of chicks. Sadly, I believe the owl cam is presently offline.

Penguins

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, California)
Best time to watch: All the time.

The above the water cam shows the edge of the rocky beach, where penguins hop in and out of the water. You can watch as they swim and float on the surface. They also have a below the water cam to view the penguins as they dive and dart below the surface.

Mammals

Bears

Location: Katmai National Park, Alaska
Best time to watch: In July when their babies are born.

A mama bear and her three bear cubs is what you’ll get if you tune into the Brooks Falls animal cam, which features big shaggy brown bears catching fish, wading around, and just generally having a good time in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Since bear cubs are only due in July, this cam currently hosts a continual stream of highlights gathered from several live cams.

Manatees

Location: Blue Spring State Park (Maitland, Florida)
Best time to watch: Winter and early Spring
We first discovered the Save the Manatees Club when we were planning a family holiday to the Florida Keys. Though the manatee season has ended, favorite clips are still accessible. The live cams will resume again next season.

Sea Otters

Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)

You can watch sea otters here from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Time. Daily feeding times are 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. And who knows? Maybe you’ll spot an otter pup somewhere in there.

Sloths

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

This sloth cam, part of Zoo Atlanta, lets you become virtual best friends with two-toed sloth Cocoa, his lady friends Okra and Bonnie, and baby sloth Raisin. Though it’s currently offline, you can still log in at 1:30 pm ET every other Wednesday for sloth chats.

Reindeer

Location: “North Pole”
Best time to watch: Holiday season
Reindeer who aren’t employed by St. Nick live in the colder climates of North America and Europe where they feast on a diet of moss, leaves, and grass. They are sometimes referred to as Caribou in Canada.

Fish

Sea Dragons

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Los Beach, California)

Found only in Australian coastal waters, Sea Dragons are bony fish related to seahorses, pipefish, and seamoths.

Invertebrates

Jellyfish

Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Los Beach, California)

Few things are more calming than watching these serene, colorful jellyfish float their lives away.

Ecosystems

Kelp Forest

Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)

Watch this underwater kelp forest cam to see an astonishing array of diverse fish and invertebrates. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a wolf-eel chow down on a squid or some fish.

Coral Reef

Location: National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD)

African Savanna

Mpala Live – Meet the animals that roam Mpala in Kenya’s Laikipia area. Their website also provides field guides, lesson plans, and activities that you can download free to get more out of your viewing.

~ ~ ~

For a comprehensive collection of animal webcams, visit Live Animals TV, the world’s largest collection of animal webcams.

wildlifebiologyWildlife Biology Lesson Plans & Printables

I have put together a simplified ethogram or inventory of behaviors and actions exhibited by an animal. The free printable will be available for my newsletter subscribers later this week. Take a moment to subscribe today. It will be available only for a limited time.

Most aquariums, zoos, and wildlife centers around the country have developed activity guides and animal observation lessons. You’ll find curriculum and materials for many of the animal cams shared above at the original host site. Many of these can be modified for use with animal cams as well as during your site visit. Browse their education links to see what you can find.

e·thol·o·gy
noun: ethology
  1. the science of animal behavior.
    • the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective.

The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois provides a wonderful Zoo Observation Data Sheet whereby students use an ethogram-based data sheet to record animal behavior. Thereafter, students use the data they have collected to develop their own animal behavior research project. Their materials can be adapted to wildlife viewing locations around the world.

You may also wish to download this very informative Animal Behavior slide show presentation to become familiar with the range of animal behavior and understand the methods that ethologists use to study animal behavior.

 

Our NestWatch Introduction: Getting Started with Citizen Science

As has become tradition, I love taking my students outside in the spring for a variety of science activities. Our STEM Club ecology focus one year was on soil ecology and I thereby planned a couple of outings to a small lake in a residential neighborhood not far from my home. Despite the proximity to homes, I am always surprised at the diversity of wildlife we are able to observe here.

We parked on the street adjacent to the lake and immediately became aware of a Killdeer nest just a few feet from the road. The two adults loudly began to distract the kids and lure them away from their nest. Despite my efforts and those of the birds, the ever-so-inquisitive boys in my group managed to locate the nest and excitedly proclaim there were eggs! It was difficult to keep the kids away and get focused on soil. Even as class was underway, one wandered quietly back over to sit closely and watch the birds for several minutes.

Killdeer nest on open ground – often in gravel – using a slight depression to hold the eggs. They don’t line it at all and since there is no structure to stand out from its surroundings, a killdeer nest camouflages marvelously into the background. Even their speckled eggs themselves look like stones.

For more information on Killdeer and their unusual behaviors, I encourage you to read The Precocious Killdeer on Birdwatching.com

NestWatch: How to Get Started with Citizen Science @EvaVarga.netNestWatch

Upon sharing this discovery with a friend of mine, she introduced us to NestWatch. NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive.

By finding and monitoring bird nests, NestWatch participants help scientists track the breeding success of birds across North America. Participants witness fascinating behaviors of birds at the nest and collect information on the location, habitat, bird species, number of eggs, and number of young.

Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Cornell Lab provides a wealth of tutorials and resources to guide you along the way. It is rewarding to know that your observations will be added to those of thousands of other NestWatchers in a continually growing database used by researchers to understand and study birds.

I quickly signed up and recorded our observations. We returned two days later to check on the status of the nest, but were unable to find any sign of the birds. There were no shell fragments or signs of young precocial birds. Despite the uncertainty of our Killdeer nest, we are now excited to find more nests and to share our observations with the scientists at Cornell Lab.

watercolor image of kildeer eggs in nest

Citizen Science with Cornell Lab

More than 200,000 people contribute to the Cornell Lab’s citizen-science projects each year, gathering data on a vast scale once unimaginable. Scientists use these data to determine how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, and disease. They trace bird migration and document long-term changes in bird numbers continentwide. The results have been used to create management guidelines for birds, investigate the effects of acid rain and climate change, and advocate for the protection of declining species.

Using the same login name and password that you create for NestWatch, you can also participate in any of the following citizen-science projects:

Get Started Today

Involvement in citizen science projects enables students to make connections with relevant, meaningful, and real experiences with science.  In turn, their experiences help facilitate their own investigations as they gain confidence.

There are many citizen science projects today and more become available each year. I encourage you to take time to explore some of the opportunities. I am confidant you will find projects that match your interests.

simple graphic image of tree with text The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the The Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month.

We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details and for a giveaway!

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in April:

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Bird Nest/Eggs nature study pages from Barb at Handbook of Nature Study

Eggs: Nature’s Perfect Package from Erin Dean at the Usual Mayhem

Getting Started with Citizen Science – Nest Watch from Eva Varga

From Egg to Sea Turtle Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus

Eggs Nature Study Free Printable Word Search from Faith and Good Works

Egg Scavenger Hunt with Egg Carton from Katrina at Rule This Roost

Felt Bag Handicraft from Melanie at Wind in a Letterbox

Clay Eggs Project from Emily at Table Life Blog

Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Egg Identification Nature Bingo {Free Printable} from Cassidy at Freshly Planted

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly themeParty Rules

  • Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
  • The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
  • You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
  • By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it!
  • Let’s party.


STEM Club: Bird Anatomy

To the delight of the kids, we’ve moved into vertebrate animals in our 10-week survey course this week. I created a chart (similar to the invertebrate chart I shared previously) with which the students could use to compare and contrast the five vertebrate animal classes as they took notes during the lecture portion of class.  However, I was surprised to discover that they could essentially fill it out without any input from me. They were experts on vertebrates.

Birds

Birds belong to a larger group of animals called vertebrates (animals with backbones) and they make up a special group or class of the vertebrates called Aves.  Aves is the Latin word for bird.  All birds share many characteristics.

Feather Lab

Birds are the only animals in the world with feathers. There are two main types of feathers: contour feathers, which are found on the bird’s body, wings, and tail; and down feathers, which are fluffier and softer and lie close to a bird’s body, under the contour feathers. I showed the class a contour feather and explained that the hard center tube is called the shaft and the rest of the feather is the vane.  The shaft is a hollow tube made of a very hard material called keratin (the same material of which a reptile’s scales and our fingernails are made).

The vane is made up of hundreds of barbs that look like skinny hairs coming offing the shaft in rows.  Under a microscope you can see that tiny barbules grow off each of the barbs.  These barbules have rolled edges on one side and tiny hooks on the other that interlock side by side much like a ziplock seal.  We observed a feather beneath the microscope and the kids were encouraged to sketch and label their observations.  Encourage the kids to sketch and label the parts of a feather in their notebook.

Download the lab notebook printable, Feather Lab.

Bird Anatomy

We then talked about the other characteristics that make a bird different from other animals – wings, bone structure, binocular vision, excellent hearing, poor sense of smell, air sacs attached to each lung, and a crop and gizzard to aid in digestion. We played a fun relay game and then focused on bird adaptations using a number of stations that were set up to simulate bird beaks.

fill the bill thumb

We discussed the shape and design of different bird beaks and how the design helps birds to survive.  Eight stations were set up around the room, each with a different type of “food” that fits one of the eight different types of beaks described (e.g. styrofoam peanuts in a small aquarium of water to represent fish, a test tube of water to represent flower nectar). At each station there were three tools (e.g. chopsticks, pipette, tongs, slotted spoon), each representing a different type of bird beak function – one tool that worked well to get the food and two that didn’t work so well.  The students were asked to visit each station and to decide which tool would be the most efficient.  They were then asked to identify which food different birds would eat based on the shape of their beak.

To accompany this activity, I’ve created a slide presentation, Fill the Bill, available as a free download to my subscribers (a thumbnail is shown above).  Following this activity, we gathered in teams to play a relay-style game called Pass the Part.  The kids had a lot of fun.  Both of these activities were adapted from activities described in Birds, Birds, Birds! (Ranger Rick’s Naturescope Series).

Extension Activities

To expand upon what we covered, I suggested many extenstion or enrichment activities and the students were encouraged to choose at least one to do at home.

  • Begin a bird life list and go on a bird outing. You can find numerous local bird checklists online. 
  • Consider entering the US Fish & Wildlife Federal Junior Duck Stamp Program and Scholarship Competition.
  • Find a picture of your favorite bird (or draw one of your own) and then label the parts of the bird (crown, rump, breast, belly, primary feathers, nape, crest, throat, mandible, chest, thigh, chin, eye-ring, tail feathers, etc.)
  • Draw pictures of birds in their nature journal – use a field guide to help with details
  • Use Barb’s Outdoor Hour Challenge as inspiration to observe and study bird feet – Woodpecker Bird Study
  • Do a research report on a bird of choice
  • Create a poster that compares/contrasts the five vertebrate animal groups
  • Do a bird survey in your backyard.  I’ve created a free notebooking page to aid in recording your observations.

Download the Bird Survey Data Form

bird survey notebooking page

I’d like to encourage everyone to do the bird survey.  This is a fun family activity and a great way to contribute to ongoing citizen science.  Get started now and become acquainted with the birds in your area.  You will then be very knowledgeable, and can easily identify most (if not all) of the birds in your backyard for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count in February 2014.  I will be sharing more about this wonderful citizen science project as we get closer.  I hope you will join us.