Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The MIGRATORY PATTERNS of BIRDS of PREY: Using Scientific Data to Inform Students about the Ecological Profile of the Broad-Winged Hawk (Buteo Platypterus)

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The MIGRATORY PATTERNS of BIRDS of PREY: Using Scientific Data to Inform Students about the Ecological Profile of the Broad-Winged Hawk (Buteo Platypterus)

Article excerpt

In this lesson, students apply real-world data within ecosystem dynamics as they explore the migratory patterns of broad-winged hawks, medium-size birds of prey who cut across geographical borders. After the summer nesting period, broad-winged hawks are known for migrating nearly 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) each fall from their breeding grounds in North America to tropical biomes in South America, where they spend the winter (Goodrich, Crocoll, and Senner 1996; Furmansky 2009). The International Union for Conservation of Nature has labeled broad-winged hawks as a species of "least concern," though they could still face threats in years to come (Goodrich, Crocoll, and Senner 1996; Urquhart 2011). Studying these birds while they are abundant in nature is the best way to secure their future on this planet. Using this species in a curriculum also encourages students to learn about new parts of the world, thus increasing cultural awareness. This lesson also aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013; see connections box, p. 51).


The activity was implemented in an urban high school classroom during the primary author's clinical field experience and as part of her education prep program requirement. It was also part of a project module design for a conservation organization, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, where the primary author served as an intern. The full unit module (see "On the web") promotes a multidisciplinary, guided-inquiry approach that weaves ecology with geography and mathematics, and includes extension projects for integrating social studies, physics, and engineering design. In the module, students use Google Earth Pro (available for free) to analyze the migratory route of a broad-winged hawk named Abbo. This article presents an overview of the introductory lesson within the full module, followed by the connecting lesson that describes how teachers can incorporate biology components into physics and engineering design parts of the lesson. The full curriculum is available for free (see "On the web").

Lesson overview

We designed the lesson for an llth-grade environmental science class of 24 students, located in an urban, public, northeastern high school. It targeted the school's pre-existing curriculum unit on ecology and lasted for two 75-minute class periods. Students were asked to complete a preassessment to gauge their prior knowledge of the topic (see "On the web" for a sample preassessment). After the lesson, students engaged in a postassessment (see "On the web") to measure their understanding of the following ecological concepts: carrying capacity, the maximum number of living organisms that an area can sustain (Bailey 2013); factors that affect carrying capacity; and logistic growth, the point at which the growth rate decreases as the population reaches carrying capacity. The following content and performance outcomes of the lesson module emerged from the NGSS.

* Content outcome: Students will be able to understand the migratory pattern of the broad-winged hawk.

* Performance outcome: Students will be able to use real data of the broad-winged hawk's migratory pattern to visualize, on a poster, factors impacting carrying capacity.

* Academic language outcome: Students will be able to use the words "carrying capacity" in their appropriate context when describing factors impacting broad-winged hawk migration.

Getting started

The lesson began with the essential question: In what way does the survival of a special type of hawk, impact the environment! After a brief discussion, and to spark interest, students viewed a PowerPoint presentation about Abbo (see "On the web"), an adult female broad-winged hawk (Figure 1) who raised three chicks in New Ringgold, Pennsylvania. In August 2014 she was fitted with a tracking device (Figure 2, p. 48) that she wore until the following May. After her chicks fledged in August 2014, she began her migration south while her satellite device tracked her movements. …

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