Changing climate conditions pose challenges for many migratory birds, and their responses to these challenges can depend on their biology. To illustrate these impacts, I developed a board game to help elementary school students understand these challenges. The use of the game provides an opportunity to further discuss changes in phenology, the timing of life cycle events, in response to a changing climate.

Introduction

There are approximately 2,000 species of migratory birds worldwide, and over 300 of those can be found in North America (Kirby et al., 2008). Migrations allow birds to access resources year-round and can range from short to long distances. The phenology (timing) of these migrations coincides with resource availability, whether that be food or nest sites, and can be initiated by an assortment of cues. These cues can include changes in day length, food supply, temperature, or genetics (Berthold & Helbig, 1992; Gwinner, 1996; Ramenofsky & Wingfield, 2007). Variation in arrival date at breeding sites exists between year classes (Gill et al., 2014); however, these variations are not observed across all bird species.

A change in temperature can cause changes in timing of insect emergence (Sardiña et al., 2017) and the flowering of plants (Menzel et al., 2006), both of which serve as food sources for birds. However, species responses to changing temperatures are not uniform throughout the food web, which may result in phenological mismatches (Both et al., 2009; Marra et al., 2005; Visser & Both, 2005). In recent years, some species have experienced these mismatches, such as discrepancies in the timing of migration and food availability due to climate change (Carey, 2009; Rubenstein & Glennon, 2015). Interestingly, some bird species have adjusted their migration timing in response to changing temperatures (Carey, 2009; Charmantier et al., 2008).

Although climate change is commonly linked to impacts on bird phenology through increasing temperatures, climate change also alters precipitation patterns and contributes to sea level rise, which can also impact migrating birds (Galbraith et al., 2002; Walther et al., 2002). Changes in precipitation have the potential to impact migrating birds by altering food availability and influencing migration timing (Studds & Marra, 2011), while sea level rise can also limit habitat availability, particularly for coastal bird species (Galbraith et al., 2002).

Conveying the temporal component of bird migration and the varying impacts of climate change in an activity lends itself to the creation of a board game. Board games have been used to teach a suite of concepts from mathematics to citation use (Cavanagh, 2008; Laski & Siegler, 2014; Miller, 2014). Additionally, literature on the use of game-based techniques to teach scientific concepts suggests that games can be an effective teaching method (Al-Tarawneh, 2016; Liu & Chen, 2013; Trevino et al., 2016). Game-based teaching techniques are one way to increase active learning, in which students are engaged in the learning process through reading, writing, or solving problems (Bonwell & Eison, 1991), and studies demonstrate that active learning is an effective way to teach material (Akingolu & Tandogan, 2007; Handelsman et al., 2004; McCarthy & Anderson, 2000). Therefore, the use of a board game to engage students may be an effective way to convey the impacts of climate change on migratory birds.

I developed the Migration Mismatch board game using four species found in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States that varied in their preferred habitats, diet, and migratory distance. Migration Mismatch was developed for use in an informal education setting (a science camp geared toward 8- to 12-year-olds, see Figure 1, hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey in partnership with the Reston Association), but it can be used in classroom settings to complement the Next Generation Science Standards, specifically, 5-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics, which addresses the interdependent relationships among organisms and how shifts in population abundance and composition lead to changes that affect the “stability and resilience of the entire system” (National Research Council, 2012).

Figure 1.

Science Camp participants playing Migration Mismatch. Photo by C. Romulo.

Figure 1.

Science Camp participants playing Migration Mismatch. Photo by C. Romulo.

This Tips, Tricks & Techniques piece describes how to set up and play the Migration Mismatch board game, designed to demonstrate to elementary-aged children the challenges, both climate-related and not, that birds face during their annual migrations. Prior to game play, players participate in a brief discussion to learn about the impact of climate change on temperature and why birds migrate. Then, they are assigned the bird species that they will represent during the game and are provided with the associated game piece and information card. Following discussion, participants play the board game, where they encounter challenge cards that present obstacles to successful migration, and players must determine how their species responds to the challenges using the information cards provided for their species. Players then participate in a short post-game discussion to recap what they learned and address any questions. A list of materials needed can be found in Table 1, and printed materials are freely available for download on the U.S. Geological Survey website at https://go.usa.gov/xnfuT. Game pieces can be purchased separately, and the spinner will need to be assembled.

Table 1.
Materials needed for set-up of board game. The game materials listed, with the expectation of the game pieces, are available online at https://go.usa.gov/xnfuT.
MaterialsNumber Needed
Instructions One 
Game board One (can select from two backgrounds) 
Spinner One 
Challenge cards One set of cards 
Species information cards Enough for each participant to have the card for their assigned species 
Game pieces One per species 
MaterialsNumber Needed
Instructions One 
Game board One (can select from two backgrounds) 
Spinner One 
Challenge cards One set of cards 
Species information cards Enough for each participant to have the card for their assigned species 
Game pieces One per species 

Pre-Game Discussion and Set-Up

The pre-game discussion describes how excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes increasing temperatures using the heat trapping blanket analogy. The discussion also addresses different species of birds that migrate, and the costs and benefits of these migrations by posing questions to participants: Can you name a bird that migrates? Why do birds migrate? Next, participants are assigned a bird species as their game piece and provided with a species information card describing the preferred habitat, foods, climate change impacts, and a fun fact about the species. The information card also includes a range map and the mnemonics for the bird's call. Prior to game play, ask the participants to review their species cards and practice making their bird's call. Order of play is determined by playing bird call recordings, and the first player (or team of two) to correctly identify their bird's call goes first. Bird calls can be played from a cell phone app or a website.

How to play

The objective of the game is to be the first species to successfully migrate from the wintering ground to the breeding ground. Participants select their route (shorter and more challenging or longer but safer) and, beginning with the player (or team of two) that correctly identified their bird call, take turns using the spinner and moving their game pieces the designated number of spaces. If players land on a challenge card space, they select a challenge card from the pile and move the indicated number of spaces in response to the challenge presented (Figure 2). If players land on the “Safe Resting Place” spaces with the connecting arrow, they have the option to change to the other route to complete the game. The first team to arrive at the breeding grounds wins!

Figure 2.

Example of how to link a challenge card to the species information card to identify the appropriate number of spaces to move the game piece.

Figure 2.

Example of how to link a challenge card to the species information card to identify the appropriate number of spaces to move the game piece.

Post-Game Discussion

The post-game discussion about changes in phenology of different bird species is an excellent opportunity to address how species are responding differently to climate change (e.g., advancing arrival or laying date) and why there are differences in these responses across species or within species that have resident and migratory populations. Examples of post-game questions to ask participants: What kinds of challenges do increasing temperatures create for migrating birds? Can you think of a challenge that impacted some species negatively and some species positively?

Summary

Migration Mismatch can help students build their understanding of biological processes and how species, birds in this case, interact with their environment. Although the effectiveness of this game on student's understanding was not studied as part of game development, it does provide an interactive element to learning about adaptations of different bird species to environmental changes, and provides a link to birds they may encounter in their local environment. In 15 minutes, Migration Mismatch can give participants an introduction to the climate-related challenges facing migratory birds in an engaging, fun, and unique way.

Online Materials

Teachers can print the materials at https://go.usa.gov/xnfuT.

Migration Mismatch was developed with input from Abigail Lynch, Bonnie Myers, Zeenatul Basher, Laura Thompson, Andrew Battles, Chelsie Romulo, Sarah Weiskopf, Madeleine Rubenstein, and Shawn Carter. Printing and board game layout assistance was provided by Doug Spencer.

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