Migration Mishaps

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Overview: Migration Mishaps is a game that helps to demonstrate why animals that migrate, such as hummingbirds, are threatened by habitat destruction.

Subject areas: science, physical education, math, geography

Key concepts: habitat, migration, survival, competition, limiting factors, population dynamics

Skills: graphing and map skills (extension activity)

Location: outdoors

Estimated time: 20 minutes

Materials: 2 paper plates or pieces of cloth ('habitat havens') for every 3 students plus 3-5 extra; migration cards; 3-5 soft foam balls (for adaptation); wipe-off board and marker (for extension activity)

Preparation: Review with students the definition of habitat (food, water, shelter, and space suitably arranged) and explain that many factors limit the survival of populations of hummingbirds, including changes in the two habitats on which they depend. Have students research wintering and breeding habitats of hummingbird species in your area. (Ruby-throated hummingbirds winter mainly in Mexico and Central America, and their nesting habitat is in eastern United States and southern Canada).


1. Select a large area up to 70 feet (20 meters) in length. Designate one end of the area as the wintering grounds and the other end as the nesting grounds. Distribute the 'habitat havens' (paper plates or cloth pieces) equally in the wintering and nesting grounds.

2. Begin the activity with all students at the wintering grounds, assigning no more than three players to each habitat haven. Explain that at your signal they are to migrate to a habitat haven in the nesting grounds.

3. Read aloud a migration card, and remove or add habitat havens in the area to which the hummingbirds will be migrating (in this round, the nesting grounds).

4. Give the signal to migrate. If players cannot find space at the new habitat (remind them that only three birds can share one habitat haven), they must die and move to the sidelines temporarily. These 'dead' birds may re-enter the game as hatchlings when favorable conditions make more habitat havens available in the nesting grounds. Safety note: Even though hummingbirds are aggressive and territorial, caution students that there should be no pushing or shoving over habitat. You may want to require students to migrate in slow motion by walking instead of running.

5. Play several more rounds, beginning each round by reading a card, and adding or removing habitat havens in the habitat to which students will migrate.

Wrap-up: Ask students to summarize what they have learned about some of the many factors that affect migrating birds and their habitat. Discuss what students can do about habitat loss and degradation. What can they do to improve hummingbird habitat?

Adaptation: Hummingbirds face perils along the migration route as well as in wintering and nesting grounds. Soft foam balls can represent such perils as storms or running out of energy. Let students in the 'dead bird' zone take turns tossing the balls into the path of 'migrating' students. When a ball makes contact with a migrating student, he/she becomes a 'dead bird.'


 Use a wipe-off board and marker to graph the shifting hummingbird population after each round. Students in the 'dead bird' zone can help with this while they are waiting to re-enter the game.

Examine maps to chart the actual migration routes between the wintering and nesting areas of hummingbird species. Use the map scale to determine distances traveled.

*This activity is adapted from Migration Headache, Project WILD Aquatic Activity Guide. It was written by Kim Bailey, was originally published in Green Teacher magazine (Spring 2002) and is also included in Green Teacher's book, Teaching Green: The Middle Years.

Migration Cards for Migration Mishaps Activity



A large habitat was designated as a wildlife preserve. Gain 3 habitat havens.



A wetland is filled so a new highway can be built. Lose 2 habitat havens.



Pollution severely damaged a riverside habitat. Lose 2 habitat havens.



The construction of a new subdivision and golf course destroys a forest habitat. Lose 3 habitat havens.



A concerned school group improved a damaged habitat by creating an outdoor classroom and garden. Gain 2 habitat havens.



A neighborhood creates backyard wildlife habitats. Gain 2 habitat havens.



Drought killed some flowering plants. Lose 2 habitat havens.



An apartment dweller plants hanging baskets with hummingbird-attracting flowers. Gain 1 habitat haven.



Tougher laws are passed to protect bird habitat. Gain 1 habitat haven.



A homeowner plants a row of trees for shelter. Gain 1 habitat haven.


Pesticides contaminated the flowers' nectar. Lose 2 habitat havens.



A late frost killed the first spring flowers. But sap is available through a sapsucker's holes in some trees. Gain 1 habitat haven.



Insecticides killed insects needed for protein. Lose 1 habitat haven.



A school hangs up hummingbird feeders. Gain 2 habitat havens.



Trees used for shelter and nesting are cut down to make paper. Lose 2 habitat havens.



A city-dweller hangs up a hummingbird feeder. But there are no trees for shelter in the area. Sorry, no habitat haven.


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