BirdWords Around the World: Activities for a Global Classroom

A series of activities/ lesson plans to engage students in the lives and meanings of birds


Activity 1 materials: WHAT DO WE CALL THEM?

Bird Cards:

Hoopoe (picture, call, and names in various European languages)

Barn Owl (picture, call, and names in various European languages)

Cuckoo (picture, call, and names in various European languages)

Nightjar (picture, call, and names in various European languages)

Mallard (picture, call, and names in various European languages)

Nightingale (picture, call, and names in various European languages)

Lapwing (picture, call, and names in various European languages)

Toucan (pictures, videos, calls)

Chickadee (pictures, videos, calls)

Swallow (pictures, videos, calls)

Penguin (pictures, videos, calls)

Dodo (pictures) [sorry, audio and video will NEVER be available]

Sooty Tern (pictures, videos, calls)

Monk Parakeet (pictures, videos, calls)

Crow (pictures, videos, calls)

Ostrich (pictures, videos)

Swiftlet (pictures, videos, calls)

Stork (pictures, videos, calls)

Wagtail (pictures, videos, calls)


How do people name birds? Most bird names, in any language, come from one of the following: 

--the bird names itself (its call or song or other noise it makes is imitated in the name--also called onomatopoeia)

--the name describes a notable aspect of its appearance 

--the name describes something the bird does 

--the name describes a place where the bird lives or where it comes from 

--the name is related to a season or plant or other ecological relationship

--the name is borrowed from another thing, or from another language


To find lists of common local birds, search your internet browser with "What are common local birds in [my home area]"


Activity 2 materials: WHAT DO WE THINK OF THEM?

Modismos pajareños en español...Spanish bird idioms:

  • Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando
  • Andar como pájaro de rama en rama
  • Tener pájaros en la cabeza
  • En los nidos de antaño, no hay pájaros hogaño.
  • [En ese banco te cobran unos intereses altísimos,] son unos buitres.
  • [No tiene ningún coraje, ningún valor,] es un gallina.
  • [Con los chicos más pequeños] se pone muy gallito (gallo) [pero con los mayores se acobarda].
  • [Deja de] hacer el ganso, [ya estamos hartos de tus gracias].
  • [Hacia tanto frío que se le puso] la piel de gallina.
  • Pagar el pato [Padecer un castigo no merecido o que ha merecido otro].
  • Estar más feliz que una perdiz
  • Hablar más que un loro.


Activity 3 materials: HOW DO WE GROUP THEM?

Some of the ways people group birds: by genetic/ family relatedness; by use (e.g., edible/ non-edible; domestic/semi-domestic/wild; working birds/ non-working); by colour or shape; by where they live; by whether they can fly or not; by whether a bird is powerful or magic or not; by whether it used to be a person or not. Can you think of other ways? 

In some societies, bats are considered to be birds. Why do you think that is?

An example of a way to classify birds that you may not have thought of:


A down-loadable pdf version:

Activity 4 materials: WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?




in German:

in Mandarin Chinese:

in English:

in French:

cocorico.mp3, by fwyndham


in Hindi:




in German:

in Mandarin Chinese:

In French:

ouh ouh.mp3, by fwyndham





in German:

in Mandarin Chinese:

In French:

coin coin.mp3, by fwyndham




in German:

in Mandarin Chinese:

in French:

cot cot cot.mp3, by fwyndham





in German:

in Mandarin Chinese:

in French:

cou cou.mp3, by fwyndham


Mixed bird calls (Georgia, USA): 


What is warblish? A playful term for the way people 'translate' bird calls into their own languages. (Coined by Sarvasy 2018 in J. of Ethnobiology)

Some examples:

  • (English) The Horned Owl says “Who’s awake? Me, too!”; the Eastern bluebird says, “Cheer, cheerful charmer.”
  • (Arabic [Morocco])—The Rock Pigeon says, “Ama lmut, ama lmut?”: What about death? What about death?
  • (Ayoreo) The Tinamou says, “Ocoí dowá, ocoí dowá”: There are tortoises here! There are tortoises here!

Do you know of other examples in your language? Contribute an entry to

Activity 5 materials: WHERE ARE THEY GOING?

A storymap with details about the migrations of Swallow, Stork, Cuckoo, Swift can be explored here [To be embedded in this page eventually]

A map of swallow migrations Africa-Europe:


A map of swallow migrations in Central-North America: 



NASwallows.jpg, by fwyndham


Do you or your school lie along a swallow migraton route? Would you like to participate in a communication art project in which people will create swallow postcards and send them to schools or organizations along 'their' swallow migration flightlines? If so please get in touch through this sign-up box [forthcoming].


For SWALLOWPOST activity: suggestion to write a synthesis poem (e.g., using if possible the local names for swallows and any observations or things they know about them. Lots of European folk names for swallows can be found in the Storymap above, or here:  Additional information about swallow migration:

bird words_revisions