Piping Plover, Atlantic Coast Population
Northeast Region

Lesson Plans

Nest Construction and Area Management Activities

nest illustration


Students construct a nest for a fictitious ground-nesting bird on school property near an area high in human activity. They then create models of the bird (along with its eggs) that might theoretically live in this habitat. Given that the nesting area is in close proximity to a lot of student activity, they then develop and implement a management protection plan for the area where their fictitious bird is nesting.


  1. Designing and implementing an area management plan.
  2. Balancing the needs of humans and wildlife.
  3. Creating birds and eggs that are adapted for a particular habitat.


For creation of EGGS and BIRDS:
  • 4 per group eggs, white (hard boiled or blown)
  • egg cartons or cardboard boxes that can be cut up
  • paper, colored
  • scissors
  • glue
  • stapler
  • tape
  • paint, tempera or acrylic
  • markers
  • crayons, craypas, or oil pastels
  • completed Teacher Prep Sheet (click here to view, can be printed)

For Management Program: (Various optional materials to be provided by teacher and/or students)

  • rope
  • wire
  • fencing
  • poster board
  • string
  • other materials as determined by students

NOTE: Prior to beginning the activity, complete the "Teacher Prep Sheet." This will establish important criteria for carrying out this activity.

Part 1- Build a Nest

Divide the Class
Divide the class into groups of six. (This assumes that the class has 24 students. For smaller classes decrease group size.) Review with them what they learned during the Plover Survival Simulation Game and slide presentation in terms of where piping plovers nest, feed, how they are camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings, the problems they face because of where they nest, and their need for habitat that is also in great demand for human recreation. Explain that over the next few days they will be learning more about how birds are adapted to their environment and how we can manage an area so that the needs of both humans and birds are met. It may be that some of the ideas the class came up with during the simulation game be put to use here.

Go On-site
Go out to potential nest sites. (These will have been determined beforehand by you - see Teacher Prep Sheet). Give the students an overview of what they're about to engage in. Explain that they will be creating nests, model birds, and eggs for a ground-nesting bird that might live in this habitat. Describe to them the habitat needs of this bird (which you determine previously in the Teacher Prep Sheet).

Construct a Nest
Ask each group of students to select a nest site and construct some sort of nest with available materials (twigs, pebbles, leaves - their choice).

Talk About Camouflage
Discuss the advantage of being camouflaged if you haven't already done so. (Essentially, the birds are hidden from predators to some degree.) Explain to the students that they will be designing, in their groups, both birds and eggs that will blend in with this environment. This will be done in class tomorrow and they should be noting vegetation and surrounding colors in order to do that.


Optional Extension: Insert activity to determine potential food sources if you planned on this with the students. See "Determining Your Bird's Food Source."

Return Inside
Bring students inside. Four students in each group will be responsible for constructing four eggs, and two for constructing the nesting pair of birds. The students should brainstorm as a small group how to approach this task. Have them discuss such things as:

  • the kind of markings to put on the eggs in order to best blend in - (lines, dots, single tone, multi-tone)
  • the kind of markings to put on the bird
  • should male and female birds be different?


Optional Extension: If you did the activity on determining the bird's food source, and want to tie that in with specific adaptations, also have them discuss:
  • the kind of beak this bird would have, based on the food it eats
  • the kind of feet it should have given its habitat and behavior
  • Students must come to an agreement within the group. Creativity should be encouraged; these do not have to resemble a real bird or actual eggs, but should be should be based on camouflage (and structural adaptations, if you’ve chosen to include this) for the habitat.

    Part 2- Invent a Bird

    Create the Birds
    Use cardboard from boxes or backs of pads of paper to make it stiff enough to stand up. (Use sticks or pieces of wood to make it stand up in the earth.)

    Students can create a two or three dimensional model and choose how to color and adorn it, (tempera paint, markers, crayons, colored paper, etc.)

    Create the Eggs
    Use white, hard-boiled eggs (or blown out eggs).

    For color: oil pastels, craypas, crayons, tempera paints, acrylic and/or water color paint can be used. Provide a variety of materials from which the students can choose.

    Note: Regarding the use of color on eggs, colored pencil won't adhere to egg shells. Markers will work only if you have a full range of colors. Water colors are very light in color on egg shells.

    Part 3- Manage the Area

    Develop a Management Plan
    Ask the students about the types of problems their species of bird might have being camouflaged and living in an area of high human activity. What exactly does camouflage do for you if you’re a ground-nesting bird? What problems does it pose in terms of nearby human activity? What kinds of problems might their nest, model birds, and eggs encounter? Students should discuss such things as: predation of the eggs by animals; balls landing in the nest site; people stepping on the nest by accident; vandalism, etc.

    Tell the students that it’s their job to protect and manage their nesting area with the eggs and birds in it. They need to develop a management plan for their area, and so each group needs to develop a plan of action. Students should discuss this in small groups. Encourage the use of varied plans. Each group must reach a consensus on this. (Discuss this decision-making process with them. Talk to them about listening to each others' ideas, supporting their own and compromising.)

    Examples: Possibilities for management plans include roping or fencing off the area, posting signs, publishing information, monitoring the area during peak use times (recess, lunch, and before and after school), etc,


    Optional Extension: Consider adding an area with no management as a control.

    Carry Out the Plans
    Place eggs in the nests and carry out the plans that have been developed. Given the fact that students may want to bring in material from home, the plans may not actually be implemented today.

    Keep a Journal
    Keep a daily journal of what happens in the area. Do the nest, birds, and eggs stay intact? Has any vandalism or predation taken place?

    Discuss as a class what happened. What worked? What didn’t? Why?

    Some thoughts and topics for discussion:

    1. Were eggs stolen by other students in the school? If so, discuss the fact that this can very well happen with real piping plover eggs.
    2. Did an area get destroyed? Why? How could ths be prevented?
    3. If an endangered species was discovered on the school's property, could the area be adequately protected "forever"? How? Where will the birds go if they can't nest at this site?
    4. Discuss how each group felt about what happened to their site.
    5. Discuss protecting endangered species. It's important for the students to realize that species are interdependent and the extinction of one organism may lead to the extinction of many others. This should be easy get across to them if they have already studied food webs in ecosystems. In addition, each species, no matter how small, is an intricate part of the diversity and beauty that exists in nature.
    6. Finally, discuss how each one of us can help protect the piping plover.
    Optional Extension: Consider mounting a public awareness campaign in the school as to what you were doing and what's happening to the piping plover.


    Last updated: March 21, 2012
    All images by FWS unless otherwise noted.