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Lesson #5: Finding Their Way--The Mental Map

In this lesson, students find themselves in the same situation as a young bird who must somehow find its winter home using only internal resources. Students should work alone on the first step of this project to emphasize the fact that the young travel unassisted, without help. How these young birds actually navigate is still a mystery, but scientists believe they have an internal compass and a mental map that guide them. This lesson explores the notion of a mental map.

Winter Destinations of Your Symbolic Songbirds
We have arranged winter homes for your birds in the following places. For scientific accuracy, please choose one of the bird species that actually breeds in your region as your symbolic bird.

Your Region



Eastern U.S. and Canada

Baltimore Oriole or
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The birds fly across the Gulf of Mexico and land on the north coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. There they'll stay with students who live beside the United Nations Biosphere Reserve Celestun (near Merida).
Western U.S. and Canada Western Tanager
The Western Tanagers will head for the Transvolcanic Mountains in Michoacan, Mexico. This is the same region of the Monarch Butterfly Overwintering sanctuaries! Schools caring for symbolic monarchs will also watch over your Western Tanagers.

A. Before revealing the destination of your species (and giving students a chance to consult an atlas) have them take out paper and a pencil.

B. Give students the name of their bird's final destination. (Younger students may only be told the country, whereas older students could be given the specific locations above.) Using only information in their heads (as if by instinct) have students draw the best mental map they can.

The maps should answer questions such as:

C. Now allow students to consult an atlas. Make a good, detailed map for your bird's survival kit, so it's equipped to find its way.
Draw a detailed map of the route your songbird will take to the neotropics

D. (Optional) Enclose your map in your fledgling's survival kit. But watch its weight!
Remember: Your full bird and survival kit can weigh no more than 140 grams (5 oz.) or it can't migrate!

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