This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop. The cases, resources, and implementation strategies were developed by participants for use with their own students. We invite you to adopt and adapt the following materials.

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is committed to the reform of undergraduate biology instruction through an emphasis on engaging students in realistic scientific practices. This approach is sometimes characterized as an inquiry driven approach and is captured in BioQUEST's three P's (problem-posing, problem-solving, and peer-persuasion). As part of this workshop groups of faculty were encouraged to initiate innovative curricular projects. We are sharing these works in progress in the hope that they will stimulate further exploration, collaboration and development. Please see the following links for additional information:

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Investigative Cases
The Case: European Starlings and Woodpeckers

News Release: September 1997

Parks and Wildlife sell refuge acres to developer

Despite protests from environmental groups, the Kansas Department of Parks and Wildlife has decided to go ahead with the sale of riparian woodland acres in Pratt County. Wichita developer, Sam Morrison, hopes that the transaction will end a fifteen month long legal battle between the state and environmental groups over the Arkansas River site. The development, to be known as "River View", will be subdivided into two and three acre lots with water access. Previously the land was part of the state owned Cottonwood Wildlife Refuge, known for its biodiversity of birds and one of the last virgin stands of timber in the county. Sewer lines and road construction will begin next month. Says Morrison, "We have no intention of cutting down all the trees however the woodland will be fragmented". The gallery forest has been a favorite spot for local birders and an outdoor classroom for area schools.

News Release: June 1999
Local Audubon group notes
recent decline in woodpeckers

Audubon chapter president Dorothy Waugh reports that various woodpecker species are unusually scarce or absent this summer. This conclusion is based on reports by club members who have monitored the species diversity in the area through the spring and summer. Attention has focused on the continued development of the River View housing area started in 1997. Says Waugh, "When the River View riparian zone was a refuge it provided a niche for healthy numbers of woodpeckers typical for that climax habitat. Downy, Hairy, and Red-headed Woodpeckers were always well represented. We would even find a few of the rare Lewis' Woodpecker's nesting in old snags".

Weekly counts since early May have documented only three pairs of Downy Woodpeckers and none others. However species of other birds have remained at carrying capacity with the non-endemic European Starling increasing.

News Release: September 1999 Feedlot owners complain of grain loss to birds

Local feedlot owners have noted a sharp increase in numbers of blackbirds among their cattle pens. While blackbird flocks are a common occurrence within feedlots due to the availability of feed, the large late summer increase has caught managers off guard. Says Ray Crockett of Poky Feeders; "In the past we just put up with them and accepted the grain loss but this year we'll have to do something different. Killing them all would be the quickest solution, but I don't know if these birds are protected by federal law. They just ignore the plastic owls and air guns that have worked in the past." Crockett estimates there are over 10,000 birds scattered over the feedlot at any one time and most are starlings.  

Case Author:
Arthur Nonhof Garden City Community College

Case Analysis

What is this case about?

What do we already know?

What do we still need to know?  

Option: Include a know / need to know chart like the one below:

What do you know?
What do you need to know?

Learning Goals


An exploration into Niche Competition and Population Ecology

  • Are there any possible long-term solutions to restoring woodpecker numbers?  Use a hypothesis and collect evidence to support your ideas.
  • Show why these restoration strategies could be successful.
  • Students will develop a plan to sample nests and bird populations in field settings.
  • Students will use skins and museum exhibits to learn to identify relevant bird species. 



Investigations and Activities

Field Activity

  1. Devise a plan to collect data on nest cavities, woodpeckers, and starling density along the Arkansas River.
  2. Devise a plan to determine starling numbers at a local feedlot.


Examine various museum study skins of birds displayed for field identification. 



Printed materials

Regional bird identification guides
Birds of Kansas by Thompson and Ely
Birds of Texas by Peterson
Birds of the Western U.S. by Peterson
Kansas Breeding Bird Atlas
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Breeding Bird Survey Data (Internet)
Journal articles: The Auk; The Wilson Bulletin; J.of Field Ornithology
Ecology Textbooks with emphasis on niche and population dynamics
Life Histories of North American Birds by Arthur C. Bent
Audubon Magazine
CD-Thayer Birding Software
County Extension Publications
Trade Magazines: Kansas Stockman; Farm Journal
Videos: Local footage of starlings and woodpeckers

Internet Web Sites


feedlot manager
local bird club member
county extension agent 

Students will usually obtain additional references or resources
to help answer or explore their questions.

Special Data Items

1. starling1.jpg
2. starlings2.jpg
3. woodpecker.jpg


Student Products

1. Working within your group construct a poster board presentation focusing on the above case. Each group will present their poster board to the class as an oral report of their research with all members taking part.

2. This display must include the following elements:

a. Stated problem
b. Hypothesis
c. Procedure
d. Data: including at least one graph or data table
e. Results
f. Conclusion

3. Each of you will submit a written paper of no less than one page focusing on one aspect of this research that was especially meaningful to you and explain why.

4. Each student will submit three essay questions relating to this case to be used for unit test.  

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

1. Students will be evaluated within their group on a daily basis as to participation.

2. One member of the group may be quizzed at the close of each daily session.

3. Poster board and oral presentation will be evaluated by the entire class based upon specific criteria.

4. Exam will be given at the end of the unit.



Course name:
Ecology, Ornithology
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Time during term:
When field sampling is possible, near migration time. Consider weather and bird population patterns.
Two class periods, two lab periods
Lab, field
Students in course:
Upper level majors
Collaborative elements:
Students will work in small groups for the lab, field and poster development activities
Additional notes:



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