Observations and results
Different birds have very different beaks. Over many generations, hummingbirds have evolved beaks that are long, thin and well adapted to reach into flowering plants and extract nectar. Hawks, on the other hand, have evolved beaks that allow them to tear meat and eat the prey found in their environment.
How did these two types of birds develop their different types of beaks? Natural selection and evolution usually happen very slowly. For hawks, individual birds that had sharp beaks were better able to catch and eat enough food to survive and reproduce in their environment and so, over time, this trait became common in the hawk population. The same thing goes for early hummingbirds trying to reach deep into flowers for nourishing nectar.
If the environment were to change, how do you think it would affect which individuals are better able to gather food, survive and reproduce? Could this affect the kind of beak that becomes common in a population and a species? The famous scientist Charles Darwin, who wrote about evolution and natural selection, based some of his ideas on observations of the differently shaped beaks of finches he saw eating various foods on several islands.
Of course adaptation isn't limited to birds and their beaks. Examples of adaptation can be found in all living organisms. For example, if you compared the ear of an extinct woolly mammoth with that of an African elephant, you would see that an elephant's ear is much bigger! Why is this so? To understand why a creature is the way it is, you first must understand the environment in which it lives. Is it warm or cold where elephants live? How about woolly mammoths' old environment?
As it turns out, having big ears increases the surface area of an elephant's body. It is thought that this might help elephants to cool down in the heat. But because woolly mammoths lived in a cooler environment, would it be beneficial for them to have big ears or small ones?
Some adaptations can be quite strange looking. For instance, have you ever seen a picture of a star-nosed mole? It lives in dark tunnels underground. It is blind and senses its environment with a big, fleshy nose that looks just like a star. With this special sensitive smeller, star-nosed moles can navigate their dark, underground world. A star-shaped nose would be a strange adaptation aboveground where there's light and it's easy to see. But in dark underground tunnels, this fancy nose is quite a useful adaptation!
Share your beak adaptation observations and results! Leave a comment below or share your photos and feedback on Scientific American's Facebook page.
Put away the "beaks," the seeds, and the rest of the materials.
More to explore
"Beaks, Songs and Speciation" from Scientific American
"Darwin's Living Legacy--Evolutionary Theory 150 Years Later" from Scientific American
Animal Adaptation game from Earth Day Canada's EcoKids
"Wild Animals" from Earth's Kids
How Do Animals Adapt? The Science of Living Things by Bobbie Kalman, ages 4–8
Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kristan Lawson, ages 9–12
Make Craters with Mini-Meteors
What you'll need
• Large shallow pan or tray with edges
• Dry pudding mix, dry drink mix or cocoa powder or another powder that is a different color
• Roundish nuts, seeds and/or small fruits (such as raisins, almonds, peanut halves, cherries, and so on)
• Sifter or sieve