Little Auk Survival Challenge



Dividing the class into Little auks and predators, students complete survival game for several seasons. After tallying up total volume of food collected, survival rates of the chicks can be graphed and analyzed.


Students will be able to experience the hazards that Little auks must avoid in order to survive. Students will understand the value of different food sources and their availability and how the quality and quantity of available food determines chick survival. Students will learn the possible consequences warmer ocean currents may have on Little auks worldwide.


Students will:

  • research what is currently known about Little auks, including their geographic distribution, their ecological niche and their life cycle.

  • learn what invertebrates and calinous copepods are and find out the optimal marine conditions they live in.

  • use the PolarTREC website link to the Greenland Seabird Ecology Expedition to find out current research being done on this species.



Little auks need to collect food to take back to the nest. Every pouch of food is weighed before the Little auk leaves for another forage trip. At the end of the season, the total amount of food is weighed to determine if the chick received enough food to allow their chick to successfully fledge that season.


Divide up the group so that for every 32 students, 30 become Little auks, 1 becomes a glaucous gull, and 1 becomes an arctic fox.

Identify an area that will be the nesting slope where each Little auk parent brings their bag back to, and picks up another bag. The Little auks must mark their bags so that after they lay the bags down in that area, it is where each parent must return to, laying down a full food bag and picking up an empty bag.


Glaucous Gull

  • One glaucous gull will be identified. Their role is to walk back and forth through the breeding grounds. Every time a glaucous gull comes nearby the Little auks, within a bodys length, must all run away in a large circle, and return to the nest. If a gull can reach out and touch one that Little auk returns to the gulls nest and is eaten, and so is removed from the game.

Arctic fox

  • Every two minutes an arctic fox can move through the nesting area once. If a Little auk is not present, he can pick up the food from that nest and take it back to his den. That signifies that one chick is gone. After two minutes he can move back to the nesting area and repeat.

Beginning the Game

Begin the game by dividing the group into the number of Little auk parents, Glaucous gulls and Arctic foxes. Little auks must pair up to raise one chick. Assume that each two Little auk parents have one chick back at the nest. Tally up the number of chicks at the beginning of the season. Have each Little auk put the marked paper in their store of bags. Make sure each pair of parents knows the exact location of their nest.

One of the parents runs out with a marked bag and collects a full bag of food. When he/she returns to the nest and drops off the load of food the second parent moves out and does the same. Alternating, each parent flies out to forage enough food for their chick. The parent staying behind must watch out for the Glaucous gull. When it begins to move through the nesting site, remaining Little auks must fly out before it comes nearby to avoid being eaten. The gull must fly across the entire nesting site before turning around. If it tags a parent it must take that parent back to its nest to be eaten. That Little auk parent is gone from the game.

Eating takes 1-2 minutes. When the remaining parent returns it must fly out again to collect food for its chick. Once eight food loads have been brought back to the nest and placed in the paper bag, the parents can stay at the nest, except when a gull is hunting.

On a whistle, let the game begin. Each pair of Little auks sits at a nest. One of the pair grabs a bag and runs to the food collection area trying to get enough food to fill the bag. Pass out 4 small bags to each Little auk. They need to mark their bags-by placing the paper in each one. Also leave the bags visible so it is known where each nesting site is.

Scatter food. Begin by scattering the lighter food close to the area designated for nesting and the heavier food further away. Students are not to know whether there is any significance to the different types. After a bag is full, fun back to the nesting site, drop the food into the paper bag and rest. The other parent must get up and run to the food location and fill their bag. The parent remaining must watch out for gulls and arctic foxes. After the designated time (5-8 minutes) the game stops. Each pair of parents collects and weighs their bags. Record the combined weight of the bags, then take the food, scatter it in the sea, and return to the nest.

Any bags collected by a fox mean that the chick has died. Then the parent is only foraging for him/herself. If a gull has taken one parent, then the food will need to be collected entirely by the remaining parent. If the food collected weighs at least 20 or 25g then the parents have fledged a healthy chick and there will be one more parent for the next year. If the food was taken by the fox, the chick died. If a parent was taken by the gull, then it dies. If the total food is less than 20 g then the chick was not given enough food and it does not survive to the next season. After the tally is completed for one year, the remaining parents can pair up in new pairs so that for the next round there are two parents feeding a chick. Everyone’s roles need to stay the same for the next few rounds.

Play this game for 5 rounds. After that, total the number of chicks that fledged, based on enough food being delivered. Create a line graph of the total food collected by parents each season for the five seasons. Answer the following questions.


  1. Graph the results; years v/s population numbers
  2. Why are there two different types of food? What does each type signify?
  3. Was the population stable over the five year period examined?
  4. What might happen if the only food available was popcorn?
  5. List 5 ways this simulation was similar to real life


Conduct a web research assignment on Little auks. Search for Little auks and find out what the most recent research indicates about their population stability. Research additional arctic seabirds and other forms of arctic wildlife.



Students will graph results and correctly respond to the questions correlated to the activity.


[Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly](mailto:mdonnell [at] [Ann Harding](mailto:aglionby [at]


  • K-4
  • Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry:
  • Content Standard C: Life Science:
  • a. Abilities
  • b. Understandings
  • a. Characteristics of organisms
  • b. Life cycles of organisms
  • c. Organisms and environments
  • a. Personal health
  • b. Characteristics and changes in populations
  • c. Types of resources

Other Standards

National Science Standards for Life Science grades 5-8 Content Standard C: All students should develop understanding of the: Structure and function in living systems Regulation and behavior Populations and ecosystems Diversity and adaptation of organisms Content Standard D: All students should develop an understanding of: Structure of the earth system Content Standard E: All students should develop: Abilities of technological design Understandings about science and technology

Resource Details

Author(s): Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly
Related Expeditions:
Related Members:


  • Cones and rope or means to mark the perimeter of the breeding area
  • popped popcorn and dry beans of same size, or cheerios or kix (similar size) and raisins or other
  • Pennies or t-shirts to identify glaucous gulls
  • Film canisters or small paper or plastic bags (snack size) for Little auks to collect food to bring back to the chicks
  • t-shirt or means to identify Arctic fox
  • 5-8 pieces of paper with each student’s name on it to be placed in the baggies for personal identification



Completion time

About 1 period

Grade Level

Elementary and Up


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Ecology | Organisms and Their Environments