Lesson Plans MMoCA Collects

Deborah Butterfield: Birds from Found Objects

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Deborah Butterfield, Dapple Gray, wire and steel, 1980.
Sample image
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This project combines art and science. Students will learn about birds and their physical adaptations as they create art. Deborah Butterfield's sculpture, Dapple Gray, will be used to inspire students and encourage their use of creativity as they learn about birds found in their area.


  • Students will illustrate their knowledge of birds and their physical features and adaptations through the creation of a bird sculpture
  • Students will look at the sizes and shapes of objects and visualize how they could represent body parts of birds
  • Students will be able to identify several kinds of birds found in their geographic area
  • Student will learn that beaks vary from one type of bird to another based on what the bird eats
  • Students will learn the proper terms for bird legs and feet, and will learn that the terms vary from one type of bird to another based on where it lives and what it eats


Discuss Deborah Butterfield with students. Show examples of her work. Talk about Butterfield's love of horses and how she studied different types of horses, their shapes and even their movements. Explain how Butterfield used "found" objects to create her horse sculptures. Students then study birds that live around them, and create sculptures out of "found" objects.


  1. Using pictures and/or bird taxidermies, introduce various birds found in the area.
  2. Explain what is meant by adaptations (features that allow an animal to survive in its environment).
  3. Point out the shapes of various bird beaks, and discuss that the shape of the beak relates directly to what it eats. Compare various bird beaks and what it eats.
  4. Point out the shapes of bird feet/legs. Introduce the term "tarsus" as the proper name for a bird's leg.
  5. Compare the talons of birds of prey and the toes of songbirds. Discuss the need for different types of feet.
  6. After showing many examples of birds found in the area, instruct students that they will need to choose a bird to create out of junk. They will need to know its name, and what it eats.
  7. Instruct students to pick out objects from provided boxes of "junk" to use for the creation of their chosen bird. Ask them to put their chosen objects into a plastic bag labeled with their name. This step could easily happen on the day before the actual construction begins.
  8. Students construct their bird out of the objects they chose, getting more items as necessary.
  9. Students use glue, twist ties and hot glue (under the control on an adult) to construct their bird.
  10. After completion of their bird, students will make a name placket identifying the type of bird.
  11. Students will share their bird with the rest of the class, telling its name and what it eats. They should point out beak and/or leg adaptations.
  12. Birds can be put on display for others to enjoy.


Various bird guidebooks and photos of birds.

Curriculum Connections

Art (sculpture)and life science


Elementary and middle


Various types of "junk"
Pictures of birds
Bird taxidermies
Bird Guidebooks
Small bags
Glue guns/glue sticks
Twist ties


the development of physical and behavioral characteristics that allow organisms to survive in their habitats

the creation of a three-dimensional work of art, especially by carving, modeling, or casting

the strong horny outer parts of a bird\'s mouth that protrude from its head

the term used for the leg of a bird

a hooked claw, especially of a bird of prey


This lesson meets the following Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for Science:

Grade 4:

F.4.1 Discover how each organism meets its basic needs for water, nutrients, protection and energy in order to survive.

F.4.2 Investigate how organisms respond to both internal cues and external cues.

Grade 8:

F.8.2 Show how organisms have adapted structures to match their functions, providing means of encouraging individual and group survival within specific environments.

This lesson also meets these National Science Education Standards:

Content Standard C: AS a result of activities in grades K-4 all students should develop understanding of the characteristics of organisms.

Content Standard C: AS a result of activities in grades 5-8 all students should develop an understanding of diversity and adaptations of organisms.


Deborah Butterfield, Dapple Gray, 1980. wire and steel, 25 x 40 x 12. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant with matching funds from Mr. and Mrs. Julian Harris. 81.0.9 Art © Deborah Butterfield/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Reproduction of this image, including downloading, is prohibited without written permission from VAGA, 350 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2820, New York, NY; telephone: 212.736.6666; fax: 212.736.6767; email: info@vagarights.com; web: http://vagarights.com




Elementary, middle

Art, life science