Idaho Nature Probe

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Getting Started

To take part in this program, you will need to become an Idaho Nature Probe member. Membership is free, providing you with your own password that allows you to access your data, compare it with similar experiments throughout Idaho, and allows us to keep track of repeat records from the same location.



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Will the type of food offered at a feeder influence the number of birds using the feeder?

The following information will provide you with the steps for setting up your food type  experiment.

  1. Observe and gather background material

    1. Bird feeder background

    2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology

  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? 

    You might have observed different birds eating different types of foods.  In the background material you have gathered, you might have read about the foods that certain species of birds prefer.  Did these descriptions make you wonder if there is one type of food that will be eaten by the greatest number of birds?

Note:  Because we will be comparing our results with other schools, choose from from the following:

  • Black-oil sunflower seeds

  • Striped sunflower seeds

  • Packaged bird seed

  • Cracked corn

  • Thistle Seed (sometimes called niger)

  • Oatmeal


  1. 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 birds 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!

  2. 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. At least three identical bird feeders.  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 Jensen,

      2. Three types of bird food.  Choose three foods from the following list:

        1. Black-oil sunflower seeds

        2. Striped sunflower seeds

        3. Packaged bird seed

        4. Cracked corn

        5. Thistle Seed (sometimes called niger)

        6. Oatmeal

      3. Each feeder you use should contain only one type of food, including the food you selected as the "preferred food" from your hypothesis.

      4. Measuring cup or container.  Food preferences will be compared by measuring the volume of food consumed.

      5. Re-sealable plastic bags to transport and store food.

      6. A data sheet to record information.

    2. Determine the locations where the bird feeder(s) will be placed. They will need to be placed in similar locations.

    3. Decide what time (or times) of day you will fill your feeders and how long you will leave the food in the feeders before collecting it for measuring.

    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.   Because scientists change only one variable in each experiment, the changeable variable in this experiment will be the type of bird food.  The other variables should all remain the same.

    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 feeders in the location you have chosen.

      2. Choose a type of bird food to be placed in each feeder.  Make sure to include the "preferred food" from your hypothesis.

      3. Place measured bird seed in each feeder.  Make sure you fill your feeder at the same time every day.

      4. Leave the bird feed in the feeders for the same amount of time every day.

      5. After the set amount of time, collect the left-over seed from each feeder.  Make sure to keep the leftovers from each feeder in a separate bag and label the bag.

      6. Measure the amount of leftover food from each session.  (beginning volume - ending volume = amount of food eaten)

      7. Record your findings.

      8. Fill each bag with the same amount of food and repeat the experiment.

  3. 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. Food types used in experiment

    12. Total food consumed by type

    13. Food preferred in feeders

    14. Did your experiment support your hypothesis?

    15. Any comments

See Results from Other Schools 
Graphed Results

ESER Program | Idaho Fish and Game | Wildlife Conservation Society | Idaho NatureMapping