Department of Environmental Conservation

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Dining Out With Fishes and Birds of the Hudson

Lesson Plan

Students examine photographs of fish mouths and bird beaks to draw conclusions about these animals' eating habits and their roles in food webs.


Students will examine photographs of living creatures to:

  • observe external physical features necessary for taking in food;
  • understand how these animals are adapted for survival in their environment.

Grade level:

Elementary (Grades 3-6)

Subject Area:



Mathematics, Science, & Technology Standards 1, 4


  • Observe characteristics of creatures native to the Hudson.
  • Predict each animal's role in the food web based on these observations.


Preparation time: 5 minutes
Activity time: 30 minutes per worksheet


Each student should have:


Fishes and birds are the most abundant and diverse of the vertebrate animals found in the Hudson River Valley. They display an amazing variety of adaptations for survival in habitats along the estuary. Adaptations for obtaining food are among the most obvious features of these animals; they offer insights into how each species relates to others through food webs.


  • Introduce the concept of adaptation by having students read the selection "Adapting to Estuaries" from the Hudson River Estuary Program's Readings in Natural History lessons.
  • Go over each worksheet with the class or hand out as an in-class or homework assignment.
  • Extension: Use the Estuary Program's pictures and information about Hudson River organisms to have students create their own food webs or to research and write short reports about one of the fish or birds.



  • adaptation: a feature that allows an organism to deal with environmental conditions
  • algae: single celled, sometimes colonial, plants without a vascular system - the tubes that move sap and water through plants
  • barbel: fleshy "whisker" on fish
  • crustacean: one of a class of mostly aquatic arthropods such as shrimp, crabs, and Daphia
  • decay: decompose; break down chemically into constituent compounds
  • energy: the ability to do work, to power activity; the sun (solar) and food are sources
  • food chain: the path by which energy in food moves from one organism to another
  • food web: interwoven food chains linking organisms to many food sources
  • habitat: the particular sort of place where a given plant or animal lives
  • invertebrate: an animal without a backbone
  • larva: an early form or life stage of an animal; plural is larvae
  • organism: an individual living thing (plant, animal, bacteria, etc.)
  • predator: an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals
  • prey: an animal taken as food by another animal
  • specialized: adapted for a particular function or lifestyle
  • zooplankton: animals, mostly tiny, that drift in water, unable to swim strongly

Answer Key:

Available in the pdf version of this teacher's section and in the package that bundles all of the readings.


The Department of Environmental Conservation posts pictures and information about freshwater fish in this lesson at At this writing there is not a similar site for the saltwater fishes - lined seahorse, Atlantic needlefish, and northern pipefish. However, an internet search for each fish's name will find useful websites.

A broad array of information about birds is available on the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's website. Worth noting are the Educator's Guide to Bird Study and the Bird Guide at All About Birds (See Links Leaving DEC's Website section). Additional links to DEC fact sheets and information pages about birds.