Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

This lesson plan–developed by the BirdSleuth K-12 project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology–is adaptable for grades 3-12 and features Flap to the Future, a game designed for students to explore and understand how bird adaptations have evolved over millions of years.  In this lesson, students will use and apply knowledge of adaptations to create a future bird that is well-suited for a specific habitat.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Think critically about the functional advantages and disadvantages of certain anatomical structures
  2. Apply knowledge of adaptations, functionality, and fitness by creating a futuristic bird
  3. Explain how certain adaptations increase an organism’s fitness in a specific environment


adaptation, fitness, functionality, Microraptor, natural selection, theropods, Tawa


Build background knowledge or reinforce the topic with these BrainPOP movies: Birds, Dinosaurs, Extinction, Natural Selection and Charles Darwin.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Tell students that in this activity, they will create a future habitat and a bird that is adapted to that environment. Share the following background information with the class: The Earth’s surface and climate are always changing. Plants and animals continuously evolve over time or go extinct in response to changing habitats. In millions of years, our planet and its lifeforms will be very different from today’s world.
  2. Divide the class into group of three. Give them 15 minutes to create a habitat that they think will exist in 10,000, 20,000, or even 100,000 years. The habitat may be drastically or subtly different from today’s habitats.  

    When creating the habitat, students should consider climate (temperature, precipitation, humidity, seasonality, availability of light etc.), plant types, predators, food sources, places for shelter, and landforms (mountainous, bodies of water).

    Instruct them to make a short list of the habitat characteristics.

  3. Once students are finished creating their habitats, collect and randomly redistribute the futuristic habitats. Have students assess the new habitat and design a bird, or bird-like animal, which would successfully survive in the environment. Have them reflect on the types of adaptations from the Bird Flight lesson. Encourage them to consider the following questions:  
    • What does the bird need to survive in your habitat? (food, water, cover, etc.)
    • What adaptations would allow the bird to survive?
  4. Next, have students draw the bird in a circle and label its adaptations.
  5. Have students present their work by describing the environment and their bird. Students should explain why the bird’s adaptations enable it to survive in its environment. Encourage students to take questions or suggestions from their classmates about how to improve the bird.
  6. Finally, have students write a story describing the life of their futuristic bird in its habitat.