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Black-billed magpie background

Bird feeder background



  • Observe

  • Think of a question

  • Predict the answer (hypothesize)

  • Plan the experiment

  • Collect data

  • Analyze results
























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Exploring the effect of black-billed magpie presence at bird feeders

The following information will provide you with the steps for setting up your bird feeder experiment.

  1. Observe and gather background material

    1. Black-billed magpie background

    2. Bird feeder background

  2. 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? 

  3. 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 following criteria.

    1. It must be a statement.

    2. 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!

  1. 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:

    1. List materials needed to complete your experiment.  You will probably need:

      1. 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.
          Nature Probe has feeders for loan to registered schools upon request, depending upon availability. Contact Alana Jensen,

      2. Bird food.  Magpies like suet and meat best.

      3. A data sheet to record information.

    2. Decide where to place your feeder.

    3. 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 away.

    4. 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.

    5. Write down the steps of your experiment including your materials, your procedure and your variables.   You may want to follow these steps:

      1. Place feeder in the location you have chosen.

      2. Choose a type of bird food to be placed in the feeder.

      3. Fill the feeder at least 15 minutes before your observation period begins.

      4. Observe your feeders at the same time and the same amount of time every day.  Use the same observation point every day.

      5. Keep a tally of the number of magpies visiting the feeder and the number of other birds visiting your feeder. 

      6. Record your findings.

  2. 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)

  1. Analyze data
    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. 

  2. Submit results to Idaho Nature Probe  You will need to submit the following data.

    1. School

    2. Contact Name

    3. Email Address

    4. School latitude and longitude (if known)

    5. Your hypothesis

    6. Materials used in your experiment (Type of feeder, type of food, etc.)

    7. Steps followed (your experiment design)

    8. Constant variables

    9. Changing variable

    10. Number of days the experiment was conducted

    11. Number of days magpies were observed

    12. Average number of birds when magpies were present

    13. Average number of birds when magpies were not present

    14. Did your experiment support your hypothesis?

    15. Any comments

  3. See Results from Other Schools

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