Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Squirrelly Behavior

1. Building Background Knowledge

In this activity you will learn how Smithsonian scientists conduct animal behavior studies. You will then observe animal behavior yourself, record your observations, and analyze and evaluate your findings.

Animals are fascinating to watch. Their behaviors amaze us, amuse us, and sometimes confuse us. We wonder: What is the animal doing? How does it do the things it does? Why does it behave that way?

Scientists conduct behavior watches to gather the information they need to understand an animal’s behavior. Some scientists study animal behavior to satisfy their curiosity about this part of nature or to help us better understand human behavior.

Start with a question

First decide what question about an animal’s behavior you wish to answer through your behavior watch. A good, testable question for a squirrel behavior watch of this activity is, do squirrels spend most of their day gathering food?

Then decide what behaviors you will observe and record, and carefully define what actions each behavior consists of. Some typical behaviors might be resting, grooming, eating or drinking, searching for food (foraging), and socializing.


In your classroom, work in small groups to share your knowledge about squirrel behaviors and talk about what you want to learn in a squirrel behavior watch. Your teacher will give each group a student worksheet “Building Background Knowledge” to guide your discussions. You will use the worksheet again after viewing the video and after the outdoor activity.