Rescuing a Bundle of Birds

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

Rescuing a Bundle of Birds

February 28, 2018

They say birds of a feather flock together — and sometimes they stick together. These 2 swans in Russia somehow got tangled up while swimming, when their wings became wrapped around each other’s necks. A couple of hikers saw the struggling birds, and filmed them on video. Amazingly, when the people reached the edge of the water, the swans swam right up to them in search of help. One hiker carefully untangled the birds, gently bending each wing, neck, leg and webbed foot to unhook all those fluffy feathery parts. Then the swans happily splashed on their way. Swans are among the biggest flying birds as well as the biggest floating ones: they can weigh more than 30 pounds and spread their wings 10 feet wide. That’s a lot of wing to tangle up, so we’re glad that humans could come to the rescue.

Wee ones: Who’s heavier, you or a 30-pound swan? Find out your weight in pounds!

Little kids: How many wings do those 2 tangled swans have together?  Bonus: How many more swans would you need to have 8 wings in total?

Big kids: If 28 swans go for a swim, and each swan gets tangled with 1 other, how many floating bundles do you have?  Bonus: If all swans weigh 20 pounds and all their babies — “cygnets” — weigh 3 pounds each, how many of each bird do you have if you have 76 pounds of bird?

The sky’s the limit: How many ways can you bundle up 30-pound swans and 3-pound cygnets if you have 120 pounds of bird? (Hint if needed: There’s more than one answer this time!)




Wee ones: Different for everyone…see if your weight is more or less than 30.

Little kids: 4 wings (2+2).  Bonus: 2 more swans, since you need 4 more wings.

Big kids: 14 bundles of birds.  Bonus: 2 swans and 12 cygnets. Since the cygnets weigh 3 pounds, you have to carve off sets of 20 pounds and still have a multiple of 3 left. Taking just 20 for a swan, we’re left with 56, which doesn’t work, and if we take off 60, we’re left with 16, which also doesn’t work. The only answer is to have 40 pounds of swan (2 x 20), leaving us 36 pounds of babies (12 x 3).

The sky’s the limit: 120 is divisible by 30 as well as 3, so you have 5 choices, from no swans at all to 4 swans. That gives us:
– 0 swans and 40 cygnets (120 pounds of them)
– 1 swan and 30 cygnets (now just 90 pounds of babies)
– 2 swans and 20 cygnets
– 3 swans and 10 cygnets
– 4 swans and 0 cygnets.


And in tomorrow’s Bedtime Math, find out if there are more penguins or people on Earth!

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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