Based on the activity ‘Winter escape’ in Natural Leaders - Environmental Games and activities (SNH & NTS), available from the National Trust for Scotland
- To learn about the natural world through play
- To learn about flocking behaviour and bird calls
You will need
- bird cards (see template in the downloads)
- rope or cones as markers
Did you know?
The Greenland White-fronted Goose flies an amazing 3,200 km (2,000 miles) non-stop to Scotland and Ireland in 48 hours.
Before the activity
Explain that many small insect-eating birds migrate from Scotland< in the autumn to southern Europe and Africa, like swallows, swifts, chiff chaffs, martins and warblers. They do this because their food supply is much harder to find in Britain in winter. Some birds like moorhens stay where they are, however other ducks like wigeon move to the coast or go South as their lochs and reed beds freeze over.
Ask the class to imagine that they are a young swallow setting out to Africa for the first time! How will they know where to go? How do they find other similar birds to fly with?
Photocopy the template bird cards. Cut them out and give one card to each member of the class. Ask them to illustrate the card with a drawing of the bird described.
Choose a large flat area, outdoors with plenty of room for running about. Divide the area into 3 Zones. The middle zone is the HOME Zone, where the birds gather to flock. The two outer zones are the MIGRATION zones. On the outer edge of each migration zone are finish lines - one line is Africa, the other is the Coast.
Hand out one bird card to each child. The children then mingle in the home
zone making their bird sound until they find all the other birds of the same species to band together into
a flock. The moorhens stay in the home zone making their bird call and just try to confuse the
other birds. Once there are 4-5 birds together they can flock to the finish
line: the swallows and chiff chaffs to Africa
and the wigeons to the coast.
After a practice run, shuffle the cards and hand them out again. This time choose two children to be Jack Frost and the Ice Queen. This time round any straggling bird in the migration zone and not in the flock, can be caught by Frost or Ice. If touched the bird is ‘frozen’ and falls down dead. Any birds left in the home zone when the three flocks cross the finish lines (other than moorhens) are also ‘frozen’. ‘Frozen’ birds become the Ice and Frost the following round.
Suggested Follow up
Visit a site to see winter or summer migrants. The Montrose Basinholds 50,000 migrating birds coming from all directions, stopping to refuel and rest on their long journeys. The Eden Estuary, Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve, Southwick Coast, the Loch of Strathbeg and Loch Leven National Nature Reserve are all very important sites for migrants with hides and viewing facilities.
Find out which of the birds in the school grounds or park are residents, which are summer visitors and which are winter visitors. Keep records of, for example, the first time the class hears migrating geese flying high overhead, the first cuckoo, the first swallow and the first signs of swallows flocking again in the Autumn.
Ask your local ranger to take the class for a walk in the Spring. See if you can hear and spot birds singing to claim their territories. See if the class can imitate the bird calls!
Try the activity Migration Tag in the section Sea, Shore and Sand
- BTO bird guide
- RSPB bird guide
- Wetland Wildlife information, including a migration factsheet, from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
- Satellite tracking ospreys, maps and details, from British birds
Science - main