Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Squirrelly Behavior

3. Outside Explorations

In this activity, you will conduct a behavior watch on squirrels in the wild—on your school’s grounds or in a local park. Through this study, you will discover something about how squirrels spend their time. You will also learn how to collect, analyze and evaluate animal behavior data.

Your teacher will give you a Student Handout on “Common Squirrel Behaviors” and a copy of the student worksheet, “Behavior Watch Checksheet”, which includes a filled-in sample checksheet and an empty checksheet for you to complete.

You will need the following supplies:

  • Clipboard
  • Pencils
  • Stopwatch or wristwatch that displays both minutes and seconds

This Behavior Watch checksheet offers an efficient and consistent way of recording data on behaviors. A checksheet helps you focus on the animal’s behavior and not on writing long notes. It lists behaviors you can observe in squirrels, and the time intervals at which you will record your observations. Afterwards, you’ll convert the checkmarks into numbers that are easily analyzed.

Across the top of the table are the behaviors you might observe and the actions that define them. It is very important for each observer in a behavior watch to understand and agree on the definition of each behavior.

Running vertically down the left side of the table are the trial times. For this study, you will observe for 5 minutes, recording data at 30-second intervals, for a total of 10 observations.

Every 30-second interval is known as a “trial,” and only one single observation is made per trial. In other words, every 30 seconds you will take a mental snapshot of what your animal is doing at that exact moment and check that behavior on your checksheet. You will make only one checkmark per trial.

It helps to work in pairs. One person uses the stop watch and calls the time every 30 seconds. The second person makes the observation at that moment, checking the appropriate box.

After finishing your behavior watch, continue to the next page of this lesson to analyze your data.