Saturday, January 19, 2013

The owl food web

We've been busy the last few weeks! After having fun with bar graphs - plotting all the different bird species who have been visiting our feeders so far this winter, students compared time of day (and temperature outside) with number of visitors seen at the feeders (morning vs. afternoon sightings) - we moved onto several exciting lessons on owls. We read a beautiful book about barn owls and then, working in pairs, dissected our own large owl pellets. The trick was to dissect slowly and patiently, the students did a fantastic job and were richly rewarded with several identifiable skeletons from voles and shrews. The lesson went better than I could have hoped, a couple students even decided to skip outside time in order to keep at the dissection! They were careful and attentive, and equally thrilled with finding a skull as they were with finding a tibia or a clump of fur.

Our lead teacher assembled a poster of some of the skeletal remains and she included several gorgeous owl drawings made by students.

During one of our next science lessons, we talked about ecosystems and the interconnections between climate, plants, animals, and microbes, with particular attention to the owl food web. Students were especially interested in the fact the weather patterns that effect conditions of plants, grass, roots, and seeds, in turn help to determine the health of the soil: balance of microbes, earthworms and insects living in the ground. They began to see the interconnectedness of food resources: that voles eat plants, grains, seeds, vegetation, tree bark and roots, while shrews eat voles (as well as worms, insects, snails, fungi, and other small mammals) and from our first hand experience with pellet dissections, they told me that owls eat shrews and voles! Students got so much out of the barn owl pellets, it was a great way for us to review concepts we have been working on this fall and winter - habitat and environment - as well as for introducing them to the communities of decomposers, producers, and consumers that contribute to food chains and food webs.

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