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The Ecological Role of Birds

Student Handout

How do Birds Affect Other Species in an Ecosystem?

Ecosystem Services

Birds play an important role in an ecosystem. Some are important because they pollinate plants so that flowers are fertilized and can produce new seed. They eat seeds and poop them out so that plants can grow in new areas. They can also act as scavengers returning nutrients into the ground to be recycled. These roles provide a service to other animals. Ecologists often refer to this as an ecosystem service. The following case studies are just two examples of how birds provide important services to other organisms in their ecosystem.

Case Study 1. Flamingos

Birds are fascinating to study because they are such world travelers. Birds that summer in Alaska come from every continent in the world. This makes birds an important link among ecosystems. Scientists all over the world study birds. Let’s meet some of those scientists and find out how birds connect ecosystems throughout the entire planet.

Marita Davison in Bolivia

In the Field
from Crossing Boundaries Project on Vimeo.

Video Reflection Questions

1. What is Marita Studying? What is her research question(s)?

2. Why is she interested in excluding flamingos from parts of the lakes in her study?

Case Study 2 Clark’s Nutcrackers

In this next video, Taza is tracking Clark’s Nutcrackers to see what they eat, how far they move around to collect food, and how they socialize with each other. She wants to understand the birds dependence on plants and how insects affect that relationship.

Taza Schaming in Wyoming

In the Field from Crossing Boundaries Project on Vimeo.

Video Reflection Questions

1. What is the purpose of Taza’s research?

2. What will happen to the ecosystem if the pine trees disappear?

3. Why is the Clark’s nuthatch important to the ecosystem?

4. Why are scientists worried about this bird?

Complimentary Lesson plan – Discovering the Ecological Role of Birds, Crossing Boundaries. Available for free at