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Ornamentation in birds


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In this investigation students explore the connection between competition for mates and the evolution of elaborate traits in birds. Using the online database Birds of North America, students develop and test a set of hypotheses to explain the variation in sexual dimorphism among bird species.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Grade level:

90 minutes

Teaching tips:
An excellent lab for focusing on the process of science while learning about evolutionary concepts. Students should be familiar with social mating systems (at least monogamy and polygyny) as well as the concept of extra-pair paternity (EPP). Computers with multimedia software (Flash or QuickTime) required. Access to access to Birds of North America recommended.

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Sexual selection occurs when selection acts on characteristics that affect the ability of individuals to obtain mates.

  • Sexual selection can lead to physical and behavioral differences between the sexes.

  • Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as we come up with new ideas and discover new evidence.

  • A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.

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