It’s amazing that any bird can fly, but the toucan is really surprising. How does this bird lift off with that bright huge beak? Well, even though the beak can be 9 inches long and make up 1/2 the bird’s entire surface area, it doesn’t weigh much. That’s because it’s made out of keratin, the same stuff in your fingernails and hair. This big beak also helps toucans stay cool. And it’s great for their favorite activity: hopping around branches and plucking fruit. Since toucans weigh just 2 pounds at most, they don’t need to eat much. But with that giant beak, we bet they can peel an orange faster than you!

*Wee ones:* If a toucan peels 3 oranges and you peel 1, who peels more?

*Little kids:* The toucan can croak, rattle, and clack its bill to make noise. If it croaks first, then clacks, then rattles, and keeps repeating the pattern, what will the 8th noise be? *Bonus:* If you get into a fruit-peeling competition with a toucan and you peel 3 pieces in 1 minute while the toucan peels 8 in the first 2 minutes, who has the faster pace to start?

*Big kids:* If a toucan’s total length from tail to the tip of its beak is 24 inches and the beak makes up 1/3 of the length, how long is the beak? *Bonus:* Another amazing South American bird is the sword-billed hummingbird, which has a 5-inch long body but a 4-inch long beak! Does the beak of that bird make up a smaller or bigger fraction of the bird’s total length than a toucan with an 18-inch long body and a 9-inch long beak?

*The sky’s the limit:* If you put out a plate of fruit and attract some number of hummingbirds with 4-inch beaks and toucans with 8-inch beaks, and there is a total beak length of 48 inches, what are all the possible combinations of birds? (And what’s the pattern?)

Answers:

*Wee ones:* The toucan peels more – but maybe they’ll share!

*Little kids:* A clack, because another round of the pattern starts at 7 with a croak. *Bonus:* The toucan, because it’s peeling 4 pieces per minute versus your 3.

*Big kids:* The beak is 8 inches long, because 24 / 3 = 8. *Bonus:* The hummingbird’s beak makes up a larger fraction of its length. The hummingbird’s total length = 5 + 4 = 9, so the beak is 4/9 of its total length. The toucan’s total length = 18 + 9 = 27, so the beak is 9/27, or 1/3 of the total length. 1/3 can also be expressed as 3/9 for a direct comparison.

*The sky’s the limit:* You are dividing 48 by either 8 or 4, so every time there is 1 less toucan, there are 2 more hummingbirds:

6 toucans, 0 hummingbirds

5 toucans, 2 hummingbirds

4 toucans, 4 hummingbirds

3 toucans, 6 hummingbirds

2 toucans, 8 hummingbirds

1 toucan, 10 hummingbirds

0 toucans, 12 hummingbirds

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.