Students will be able to:
- explain how some animals use each other to survive in the winter; and
- identify animals that gather in herds and flocks in order to survive.
Students become ptarmigans in an active game of survival.
scarves or ribbons; hats, headbands, or masks; food tokens, such as large coloured disks (three or four per student); and start/ finish lines or cones, placed about 60 metres (or the length of a gym) apart
Birds and other animals sometimes gather in flocks and herds to protect themselves from predators. In a herd or flock, there are many eyes, noses, and ears to detect sneaky predators. Often an animal will give a warning signal to let others know when danger is near.
Huddling together also allows animals to stay warm. Many species, such as mice, live alone as adults, but will curl up together for warmth in very cold weather. Bad weather will force other animals into herds. For example, once the snow is too deep for deer to walk in, they will gather in areas called “yards.” Within these areas, they will tramp down a series of trails to make their winter travels easier.
The ptarmigan survives quite nicely through severe winters. Ptarmigans snuggle together in flocks in short tunnels under the snow. There, they can avoid predators and also keep warm. When a predator comes sneaking round, the birds burst out of their snowy shelter. Their whirring explosion of wings startles the predator and lets the ptarmigans escape.
- Choose two students to be predators, and have them wear hats, headbands, or masks to identify them. Remaining students are ptarmigans and are identified by a scarf or ribbon trailing from their back pockets. Sprinkle food tokens throughout the play area. Explain the object of the game: ptarmigans try to be first across the finish line or collect the most food tokens; meanwhile, predators try to capture as many ptarmigans as possible by yanking free the scarves or ribbons.
- Predators stand in the middle of the play area, while ptarmigans line up at one end (start line).
- Ptarmigans must walk heel to toe (each student places their heel just in front of their toe and so on) toward the other end (finish line), collecting food tokens as they go.
- When predators try to grab a scarf or ribbon, the birds can link arms, back to back, in groups of three or more. When ptarmigans have linked arms, they are safe. (They must remain still while they have arms linked.) If a bird is caught (ribbon or scarf is removed), it has to drop its food tokens and go back to the start line.
- The first bird across the finish line becomes a new predator. At that time, the bird with the most food tokens becomes another predator, and a new game can begin. The activity continues until the class has completed a designated number of games, or has played for a designated period of time.
- Before students begin, sketch on the blackboard a diagram of how the game is to be played. An example of a diagram is provided below:
- After the game, discuss winter adaptations of ptarmigans and the advantages of flocking. Why is this a successful strategy? Are there other animals that use similar herd or group strategies? Can students think of human examples where there is safety in numbers?
Play the game without the food tokens. The first two students across the finish line become predators in the next game.
- Have students research the ptarmigan and its predators, then develop a presentation or research paper.
- Have students research different names for animal groups, such as a covey of quail, a gaggle of geese, and a pride of lions.
Ask students to:
- List three wildlife species that gather in flocks or herds for winter survival.
- Explain how herds and flocks help creatures to survive.
- Describe three animals that use snow to hide and keep warm.
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