Exploring the effect of black-billed
magpie presence at bird feeders
following information will provide you with the steps for setting up
your bird feeder experiment.
Observe and gather background material
Bird feeder background
Think of a question
When scientists see something they don't understand, they ask
questions. Why?, What if? What is causing this to happen?
As you were observing black-billed magpies, you probably noticed
that magpies are large and noisy. You might have also read that they
can be aggressive, unafraid of humans, and predators of smaller
birds? Did these descriptions make you wonder if a
magpie's presence at a bird feeder could keep smaller
birds from approaching?
Predict answer (hypothesize)
A hypothesis is the scientist's best guess as to the answer to a
question based on observation, research, and careful thinking.
To make your hypothesis, you need to remember the magpies you have
observed and the background material you have read.
Remember that a hypothesis needs to meet the
It must be a statement.
It must be testable. You must be able to
prove your hypothesis true or false by performing an experiment.
And remember, sometimes the experiment will support
your hypothesis and sometimes it will not. There are no wrong
hypotheses, just added opportunities to learn!
Plan the experiment
Scientists plan experiments to test their hypothesis. It is
important to do the experiment several times to see that the results
remain the same. Scientists organize their experiments in several
steps that are like a recipe. This is a called an experimental
design or procedure. That way, if others repeat the experiment
the results should be the same. You will need to:
List materials needed to complete your experiment.
You will probably need:
A bird feeder. You can decide the type you
think will work the best. You may decide to simply scatter
the food on the ground.
Note: Nature Probe has feeders for loan to registered
schools upon request, depending upon availability. Contact Alana
Bird food. Magpies like suet and meat best.
A data sheet to record information.
Decide where to place your feeder.
Decide what time (or times) of day you will
observe your feeder and record your data. You should also
decide on an observation location. It is best to observe the
birds from a little bit of a distance, so that they do not fly
Decide on the variables. Variables may
include the location of the feeder, what time of day you will
observe the feeder, or
the type of bird food you use. Scientists change only
one variable in each experiment. The other variables should
all remain the same. Because we are investigating the effect
of magpies in this experiment, the changing variable will be the
presence of magpies.
Write down the steps of your experiment including
your materials, your procedure and your variables. You
may want to follow these steps:
Place feeder in the location you have chosen.
Choose a type of bird food to be placed in the
Fill the feeder at least 15 minutes before your
observation period begins.
Observe your feeders at the same time and the same
amount of time every day. Use the same observation point
Keep a tally of the number of magpies visiting the
feeder and the number of other birds visiting your feeder.
Record your findings.
Collect and record data
Scientists collect data (information) and measure results. They
record and chart their data to support predictions and draw
conclusions. A data sheet might look like this:
(Click to enlarge or download Word file)
Once you have looked at the data from the experiment, you can
draw conclusions. You can ask yourself questions such as, "What do
the results tell me? Did my experiment support my hypothesis?" These
could be as simple as "yes" the hypothesis was supported, or "no"
the hypothesis was not supported.
If your hypothesis was not supported, you need to think about what
might have gone wrong. Maybe your hypothesis was incorrect and
you need to make further observations and conduct more research
(return to Step 1). Or maybe your experiment design needs some
reworking (return to Step 4). Don't be discouraged! The
Scientific Method is a cycle that helps us better
understand the world around us.
Submit results to Idaho Nature Probe
You will need to submit the following data.
School latitude and longitude (if known)
Materials used in your experiment (Type of feeder,
type of food, etc.)
Steps followed (your experiment design)
Number of days the experiment was conducted
Number of days magpies were observed
Average number of birds when magpies were present
Average number of birds when magpies were not
Did your experiment support your hypothesis?
Results from Other Schools
ESER Program |
Idaho Fish and Game |
Wildlife Conservation Society