Bountiful Birds

Coastal Habitats & Species—Bountiful Birds

Summary: Estuaries support an abundance of life, and a diversity of habitat types. How have birds adapted to survive in estuary habitats? This curriculum from the NOAA/NERRS Estuaries 101 website contains two exercises that address this question. In the first exercise, students engage in a role-playing activity to model different bird beaks and discover that differently shaped beaks are needed by birds to acquire the many different food sources found in the different estuary habitats. In the second exercise, students compare and contrast the great blue heron and osprey with other birds living in estuaries. Plan to observe adaptations of birds in estuaries while on a field trip to the coast.

Concepts to teach: Adaptation, estuary habitats, diversity

Goals: Bird species have adaptations that help them survive in particular environments. Estuaries are excellent places to look for different kinds of birds due to the diversity of habitat types within estuaries, and because estuaries serve as good stopping areas along migratory routes.

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Specific Objectives: Students will understand that:

  1. Birds have basic needs for air, water, food, protection from predators, and a place in which to breed.
  2. Estuary habitats, such as the salt marsh and the mangrove swamp, meet the survival needs of many birds.
  3. Birds have adaptations that allow them to efficiently feed in specific estuary environments. Beaks differ in design depending on where the bird feeds and the function for which the beak is used.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Bountiful Birds from the NOAA Estuary Education website—Estuaries support an abundance of life. Discover how birds are adapted to live in estuaries.
  • The International Brant Monitoring Project—Through observation and field monitoring, students learn about the ecology of shorebirds, and in particular the estuary-dwelling Brant goose, along the Pacific Flyway.
  • Christmas Bird Counts—Become a citizen scientist by contributing to this longest-running annual wildlife census.
  • International Migratory Bird Day—Find educator resources and local events that support learning about migratory birds and their conservation.
  • Find birds on your field trip! The Audubon Society of Portland provides a map and site descriptions for Important Bird Areas in Oregon. Remember to bring binoculars, spotting scopes and bird identification guides.
    • The Estuary Nature Trail in Newport is located adjacent to the Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Access the trail from the south entrance.
    • The Cape Arago Audubon Society gives detailed directions for a variety of birding sites in Coos County.


  • Assessment questions based on content can be downloaded on the Estuaries 101 web page for the Bountiful Birds activity.
  • Identify and count birds at a coastal field site. Observe and describe how the behavioral and structural characteristics of the birds fit with the environment in which the birds were found.