Winter Wildlife Habitat Teacher s Guide February 2011

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1 Winter Wildlife Habitat Teacher s Guide February 2011 Grades: 5, 6, 7 & 8 Time: 2 ½ hours Discover the relationship between animals and their habitats. Explore the impact of limiting factors, such as animals heat loss, cover and food availability. Wisconsin Standards: Students discover how organisms meet their needs in order to survive. They investigate how organisms respond to internal and external cues and cite examples of how different organisms adapt to their habitats. Students show through investigations how organisms depend on and contribute to the balance of populations. Focus Concept: Winter conditions create limiting factors that impact plants and animals. Essential Understandings, Processes and Skills: Understandings: 1. The essential components necessary for animal and plant survival are sunlight, food, water, air, shelter, and space. 2. Limiting factors are physical and/or biological influences in the life of an organism which affect its wellbeing and may even result in death. 3. Food must be available in quantity and quality to animals active in winter to maintain body heat and energy. 4. Competition for food and resources impacts an animal s ability to survive in winter. 5. Cover (ex: snow, shrubs, tunnels, etc.) is necessary to protect animals while feeding, resting or performing everyday activities. 6. Protection (ex: fur, body fat, body size, cover, etc.) from the wind and cold is important during the winter to prevent heat loss through convection, conduction and radiation. Processes and Skills: 1. Identify the essential components of an animal s habitat. 2. Recognize and record animal signs. 3. Identify at least one woody plant being utilized as food during the winter using a taxonomic key. 4. Use scientific equipment to measure, record and evaluate the limiting physical factors of at least two habitats. 5. Recognize the factors that limit an animal s survival in winter. 6. Predict which animal habitat will provide the best shelter. 7. Predict how body size impacts the loss of heat. 8. Evaluate the cover limitations in two habitats as they relate to mice, rabbits, deer and squirrels. Background: Winter in Wisconsin is a time of short days and long cold nights. Temperatures drop below freezing, wind and snow blow, and food is in short supply. Some animals move to warmer climates during the blustery months of 1

2 winter. Many songbirds spend the spring and summer in northern breeding grounds, then migrate south to warmer climates where food is still available. Other animals, like chipmunks, have the ability to lower their heart rates, respiration, and body temperatures in a state of partial hibernation. This allows them to get through the winter using up very little of their energy supply. Insects have to survive the cold as well. Some do this by spending the winter as larvae, while others overwinter as adults in large colonies keeping each other warm. Some insects simply die off after leaving behind their eggs. A few insects have evolved the ability to produce glycerol in their blood that acts as an antifreeze to allow them to survive the cold. Those animals that stay active throughout the winter have also evolved ways to make it through until spring. Birds and mammals have feathers and fur that are good insulators, trapping warm air close to their bodies. Squirrels, for instance, will use their large, fluffy tails as windbreaks to protect their backs and heads. Foxes wrap their long, furry tails around their faces to keep them warm while they sleep. And birds fluff up their feathers to allow for a larger area of warm air around their bodies. Whether they stay or move on to warmer climates, hibernate through the cold winter, or scratch out a meager existence in our winter wonderland, most animals fare better with the return of spring s warmth and bounty. Preparation Activities at School: Riveredge is a partner with you, the teacher, in creating a high-quality educational experience. We depend on you to prepare your students for the inquiry activities they will be doing at Riveredge. Please be sure to cover the following material with your students before your field trip; italicized items are most directly connected to our program. This preparation is essential to meet curriculum goals. We are committed to excellence so if you are unable to meet the minimum expectations of this guide, please contact a Riveredge educator for help at (local) or (metro). *Denotes important activities that should be done before the field trip. *1. To familiarize your students with the vocabulary words (defined at the end of this guide) ask them to use the words to create a mind map showing how these words and concepts are connected. *2. Review the enclosed Animal Tracks handout with your students so that they will be able to interpret the tracks they encounter on their field trip to Riveredge. 3. Divide the class into four groups. Ask each group to be responsible for preparing a report, posters and/or bulletin board about one of the following animals: deer mouse, meadow vole, squirrel (red and/or grey), deer and rabbit. The reports should include information about the animal s food, habitat, tracks and habits 4. Take a walk with your class around the schoolyard. Look for signs of animal life. Try to answer the questions "Why is that animal here?" "How is it meeting its needs for food and cover?" Any outdoor experiences will help prepare them for their Riveredge experience. 5. If time permits practice using the enclosed Twig Key handout with your students. Use the key to identify common shrubs or trees on which animals have been browsing. The out-of-doors in winter is not a good place to begin to learn how to use a key! Please. The Riveredge key (included) is not a dichotomous key, but a polychotomous key with several options at some steps. Bring in samples of twigs from some common trees such as maples and oaks to identify for practice. Note that our key is restricted to plants found at Riveredge do not select sample twigs for horticulturally altered or introduced species. At Riveredge: 1. Please be sure your students are well dressed. This is an outdoor program. All the discoveries awaiting your students are outdoors. If your students do not have boots, mittens, hats, etc., they will be very uncomfortable! We strongly urge you to be firm with your students and leave at school those students who do not come adequately dressed. 2. Please meet the Riveredge Teacher Naturalists in the main parking lot in front of the Visitor Center. Classes will be divided into smaller groups, each with their own Teacher Naturalist. This is best done upon arrival at Riveredge when the number of students and Teacher Naturalists has been finalized. Please have your students wear name tags. Riveredge will provide all necessary equipment. 2

3 3. In small groups, the students will search for signs of the wild animals of Riveredge. The students will evaluate the habitat for its ability to provide cover and will decide on the habitat s overall quality for mice, deer, rabbits and squirrels. The students will also do a number of activities based on the idea of food preference and limiting factors. Follow-up Activities at School: 1. Review experiences at Riveredge and compare the information from different groups and different sites. Prepare a large chart or graph to show the different signs found in each habitat. Some of the questions you might ask are: a. Are some animals finding food and/or shelter in only one habitat? (Meadow voles are virtually never found in thickets or forests.) b. Are some woody plants favored for browse, while others are untouched? (Oak is seldom browsed if other food is available--it tastes bitter.) c. Where do you find the most browse available? In which habitat? Is there any correlation between food availability and animal signs? d. Are there any animals that travel to more than one habitat to meet their needs? (Deer will travel to a variety of habitats to meet their needs.) e. Do any of the animals compete with each other for food? Where does this happen or why doesn't it happen? (The size of the animals helps distribute the pressure on preferred food plants, but mice, rabbits and deer overlap somewhat in their feeding styles.) 2. Discuss what will happen in the spring to a large animal herd when they deplete their food supply during the fall and early winter. 3. Do a follow-up activity to the Warm-Bodied Animals experiment done at Riveredge by having a contest to see who can prevent Jell-O from congealing the longest. Give the students the problem the day before the contest and show them their animal (use either a clean baby food jar or half pint milk container). Explain that the next day their animal will be put into a "home" that they design and build at home. They cannot spend any money on the "home", but they can use any "found" materials from their house. When they bring their "home" to school, you will pour into each "animal" an equal amount of hot Jell-O. They will then insert their animal into their "home" and place the animal outside in the schoolyard in a place of their choosing. Every half-hour (or hour) they are to check to see if their animal has jelled. Keep a chart of each person's jelling time. At the end of the day eat your jelled animals. Discuss what factors or designs kept the animals warmest the longest. 4. Forests are always changing through the process known as succession. Discuss what the maturation of a forest means to various animals. As trees mature they become too large to be used by deer and rabbits, but gradually become valuable as food and shelter for squirrels and deer mice. 5. Explore how carrying capacity applies to people and our limiting factors. Discuss a growing world population and the problems of world starvation and disease. 6. Challenge students to design a project to improve wildlife habitat in their community. See the National Wildlife Federation website for more information at Vocabulary: adaptation A form or structure that a plant or animal has which helps it survive in its environment. bounder An animal whose track pattern is paired, front or hind feet. carnivore An animal that eats other animals. carrying capacity The total number of a species that a given area of habitat will support at any given time. Carrying capacity varies throughout the year and from year to year. community All of the plants and animals that live in a particular habitat and interact with each other. consumer An organism that cannot make its own food; it must find other living or non-living things to eat. decomposer An animal or fungus that gets its energy from dead plants or animals. ecosystem All of the living and non-living things that interact together in an area. environment The total surroundings of any living thing; all the things in or around a place where a plant or animal lives. 3

4 food chain The system in which living things eat or are eaten by other living things. habitat A place where an animal or plant lives or grows. herbivore An animal that eats plants interdependence The relationships of living things to one another and to the various parts of their environment. limiting factors Physical and or biological influences in the life of an organism which affect its well-being and may even result in death. omnivore An animal that eats both plants and animals. photosynthesis The process in which green plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to make sugar and oxygen. predator An animal that hunts and kills other animals for food. prey An animal that is killed and eaten by a predator. producer An organism that makes its food through the process of photosynthesis, usually a green plant. waddler An animal whose track pattern alternates between front and hind feet. walker An animal whose track pattern resembles a straight line. Resources: American Forest Institute. Project Learning Tree. AFI Washington D.C. revised 1993** Miller, Dorcas. Track Finder. Nature Study Guild. Rochester, N.Y Miller, Dorcas. Winter Weed Finder. Nature Study Guild. Rochester, N.Y Rezendes, Paul. Tracking & the Art of Seeing. Camden House Publishing, Inc. Charlotte, Vermont Stokes, Donald. A Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior. Little, Brown and Company. Boston, Mass. l986. Watts, Mary & Tom. Winter Tree Finder. Nature Study Guild. Rochester, N.Y Western Regional Environmental Education Council. Project WILD revised 2001**. **Curriculum Guides available only through workshops. Reference copies available at Riveredge Library 4

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