This role-playing game puts students in the role of any of four different birds as they migrate south to their winter homes. Students experience what it takes, and what hazards exist, to arrive alive.

Up to four can play the game at the same time. Each of the four birds has different challenges, and takes a different strategy to get your bird to its destination.



Four birds make the trip south in this game:

Rufous Hummingbird

Distance: They breed in Alaska, SW Canada, and NW United States and winter in Mexico. Their journey length is anywhere from 300-3,750 miles. They have the longest route of all the hummingbirds.

Elapsed Time: Roughly 145 hours, not counting sleep, 6-7 days for full journey

Food: plant nectar, pollen, and tiny insects, fruit juice, sap from sapsucker wells, (during fall migration they rely largely on late-blooming mountain flowers)

**They use up a lot of energy, with flight taking on different purposes. Sometimes flight is used to obtain food and other times it is used solely for straight migratory flight.

***Since these birds breed in northern regions they tend to be more cold hardy than any other North American hummingbird.

Swainson’s Hawk

Distance: They breed in the North American grasslands, and winter as far south as Argentina. They migrate through the Isthmus of Panama, since they must stay over land to ride the thermals (less energy use/ very little refueling, partial fasting) down into South America. Their journey may take anywhere between 3,750 to 7,500 miles. They have the longest route of any North American hawk.

Elapsed Time: Migration starts in August and ends in October, definite time lapse for each bird is up to 1 month.

Food: Rodents, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and insects (during fall migration they rely on locust swarms or insects that have been stirred up by farmers cutting their crops)

**These hawks sometimes travel in large flocks called kettles (thousands).

***Hawk numbers have dropped due to pesticides. Hundreds of hawks eat grasshoppers and other insects by following farm equipment. These ingested insects are coated in insecticides that kill the hawks.


Distance: They breed in North American grasslands and wet meadows (Prairie Pothole), and winter in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Their journey may take anywhere between 5,000-6,800 miles.

Elapsed Time: 2-3 months for migration

Food: Seeds, insects, and rice (primarily rice and crop seeds during migration)

**These birds are night migrants that use the stars and the earth’s magnetic forces. They also utilize frequent rest stops for refueling. Some Bobolinks cross the Gulf of Mexico on their migration route.

***These birds experience nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Red Knot

Distance: They breed in Northern Canada along coastal estuaries and lagoons, and winter in the Gulf of Mexico. Their journey is either short or very long. The mileage is 1,500-10,000 miles. On average 2,500 miles is flown non-stop.

Elapsed Time: 60 hours for non-stop flights, approximately 2 non-stop trips are taken for the total migration.

Food: Seeds, invertebrates, mollusks, insects, and horseshoe crab eggs (stop over point in Delaware Bay/ horseshoe crabs nest here)

**High tide forces them inland to forage for food.

***These birds fly in huge flocks that reach speeds of 30-40 miles per hour.


Migratory Habits and Weather Patterns


Students collect and analyze data to investigate any correlation between the migratory habits of the American Robin and the weather patterns, (temp, wind speed, and moisture)


  • Calendars for recording data (one for each student plus one class calendar).
  • Weather station, newspapers, or internet access for gathering weather data.
  • Calculators (if desired
  • Graph paper
  • Colored pencils


  1. Discussion: Did you ever wonder if the early departure of robin is indicative of an early winter? Or conversely, if their early arrival indicates an early spring? What correlation, if any, exists between migratory birds habits and the weather patterns? Record student predictions (hypotheses) about this question prior to the next step.
  2. In the fall, starting in September, have students start keeping track of robins observed daily on their calendars. Also have students keep track of daily temperature, rainfall, and wind speeds. Continue this process throughout the school year.
  3. In November, begin to gather students' individual data into an overall collection (but continue collecting and recording data throughout the winter) With the weather data, compute weekly averages, means, medians, modes, and range. With robin data, calculate the average numbers of robins sighted each week.
  4. 3. Next, have students create graphs for the averaged class data and also for their own individual observations. Older students may choose to make one graph with weeks on the x-axis and on the y-axis have the average temperature in one color, average rainfall in another color, average wind speed in another, and number of robin sightings in the brightest color. Discuss any patterns or correlations. Discuss how closely individual observations parallel those of the entire group. Have students calculate what percent of the total observations they contributed on a monthly basis.

  5. Repeat this process in the spring and see if a pattern emerges. This lesson should ideally be done annually to make comparisons from year to year. Thus patterns and trends can be observed in an ongoing process.


Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day throughout your school. Visit to learn what you can do.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service IMBD Web Site

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Birds Web Site

Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology


Partners in Flight

  Hunters & Hunted
  What's for Lunch?
  How's the Water
  Beaks are Tools
  Backyard Birdfeeder
  Shapes & Sizes
  Lift Off
  A Big Enough Wing
Migration Hopscotch
  Sing Out Loud
  Virtual Incubator
  Dance of Love
  On the Egg
  Becoming a Bird
  The Big Deal: The Feather
  Dead or Alive
  Are Birds Dinosaurs?

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