Structures for animal shelters

  • How does a little weaver bird or a swallow build such a complicated nest? I do not think I could even do it!
  • What different kinds of animal structures do you get?
  • How do I build an animal shelter?

Natural and man-made shelters

Natural shelters

Remember earlier you dealt with living and non-living things. Living things need some shelter to protect them from harsh weather conditions.

Some animals live in natural habitats for their homes. Other animals build their own homes. Some animals even live in other animal's homes. A natural shelter is a home that the animal has made for itself. Animals live in different kinds of homes like:

  • holes in the ground
  • caves
  • nests
  • trees

Look at the following picture of a few places where animals live.

Let's take a look at a few shelters that animals build and the materials they use.

Nests are built by birds and other animals in trees, on the ground and even in buildings. This is used as a home for them and especially for their eggs. Nests are usually bowl-shaped and made of twigs, leaves and grass held together by mud or saliva (spit).

Swallows build their nests from mud, and often on the under side of roofs where they are protected from the rain.

Bees live in very large colonies. The hive is made up of many six-sided cells (hexagons) stuck together. The queen bee lays all the eggs in a hive and each egg is put in a cell.

A natural bee hive in a tree
Meerkats burrow and dig huge networks of tunnels underground to live in.

Small rodents such as squirrels, rabbits, mice and moles dig burrows in the ground or under logs and rocks to provide them with shelter. These burrows often form a underground network of tunnels in which these animals live.

Ants and earthworms also live in the ground.

Spiders spin webs from silk that they make in their bodies. The web isn't only a home for the spider, it also helps the spider to catch it's prey.

A spider web between the twigs of a plant.

Man-made shelters

Other animals live in shelter that were built by humans. These shelters are normally for our pets or animals that we farm.

Below are the names of three types of animals which we keep as pets or farm. We have to build shelters for them. Write down the name of the shelter next to each animal and describe it briefly.




Kennel. A small house often made of wood with an entryway in the front.

Hive. A box, often made of wood, with layers for the bees to make the honeycomb on.

Pig sty. An enclosure for pigs, often with an outside area with some mud and an inside, closed area where they sleep.

Describing man-made animal shelters


  1. Look at the examples of man-made shelters on the next page.
  2. Complete the table by filling in the answers.

Animal that will live in this shelter

Materials that the shelter is made of

Why will it be a good shelter for this animal?

Animal that will live in this shelter

bats or birds

cats or dogs


Materials that the shelter is made of




Why will it be a good shelter for this animal?

It is safely placed high up on a pole where predators can't get to the bat or bird; the box is dark inside so the bat can sleep during the day.

It is waterproof so rain cannot wet the cat; the cat can come and go as it wants to; the box inside probably has a lovely soft pillow for the cat.

It protects the bees from rain and wind; the bees can get in and out as they want to; the roof can be lifted off to get the honey out.

Structures and materials for animal shelters

Structures are built by joining different parts together. Different materials are used to make structures. These structures come in different sizes and shapes.

Structures do four kinds of jobs (functions):

  • protect
  • contain
  • support
  • span a gap

Each of the structures shown in the following pictures do one or more of the functions or jobs of structures. They are made from different materials. Carefully look at the different shapes that are used in the structures.

A bridge is an example of a structure that spans a gap.
The shape of an egg shell is an example of a protective shell structure.
A support structure holding up a water tower.
A bird cage is an example of a structure that contains an object (the bird).

The way structures are put together or constructed depends on the type of materials used.

Looking at structures


  1. Work in pairs.
  2. Look at the photographs of structures above.
  3. Discuss each photograph with your partner.
  4. Look at the shape, size of the structure and the materials used to construct it. (Use the S, M, L and XL to describe the size as you did in the previous activity on animals.)
  5. Record your findings in the table provided.

Size of the structure

Shapes used in the structure

Materials used in the structure

Water tower

Egg in a shell


Bird cage

Size of the structure

Shapes used in the structure

Materials used in the structure

water tower


triangles, rectangles


egg in a shell



calcium deposits (learners are not required to know this, so teacher help may be advisable)



arch; triangles, columns

metal and concrete

bird cage



metal and plastic base

Let's learn more about different kinds of structures.

Shell and frame structures

Shell structures mainly contain and/or protect the contents. A bird's egg protects the little chick growing inside it. A car gives some protection to its passengers. A pot holds the food inside it.

A frame structure gives support. There is a frame structure inside your body! Your skeleton supports your body! Your knees and elbows are places where the bones join.

A frame structure must carry a load in the right places without it collapsing or falling over.

Frames are made of members and joins. The members are the long parts and the joins are where the long parts get together. Sometimes longer tubes can be joined to make triangles. The tubes are called the members. Where the tubes come together that is called the join.

List three types of structures.

What is the difference between shell and frame structures?

What kind of functions do shell and frame structures serve?
  1. Functions of Shell Structures:

  2. Functions of Frame Structures:

Designing an animal shelter

Learners need to research, design, and draw a shelter for an animal. This is the first time that learners are doing a Technology activity where they have to follow the Technology Design Process. However, they are not doing the whole process (ie. making and evaluating), as this would be quite demanding for the first time. Later on in the year, in the other strands, they will be taking the Technology Process further and actually making their products. So, for each Technology project you are building up their skills and reinforcing the process and the steps to follow. It is probably best to let learners work in groups so that they can discuss how they are going to make the shelter, especially as this is their first time designing something.

The educational value in Technology lies in the investigating, thinking and designing that children must do. Technology aims to make children capable; capability means the children's ability to turn thinking into doing and completing. When they learn new science knowledge, the learning has a purpose: they must use that knowledge in producing good designs. When they have made a product, they should be able to explain to you all the reasons why they designed it like that (even if they could not make it in the way they wanted to).

Some very important learning happens during a Technology project, and you need to guide them through all the stages. If you trained as a technology teacher, you will recognise the NCS pattern of technology projects -- do you remember IDMEC?

I stands for Investigating the problem which some people have, investigating existing products, and investigating concepts and skills that you will need to solve the problem.

D stands for Designing -- that means using what you learnt from investigations to think of good ways to solve the problem.

(For this project the Technology Process will stop after Designing and drawing, but you can tell the learners what would come next so that later in the year when you actually do these steps, they are already familiar).

M stands for Making -- when you make your model, you use materials and tools, you make your model look good, and you show the teacher what you learnt in your investigating.

E stands for Evaluating -- after you have made your model to solve the problem, you have to ask, does it work? Is this what the people wanted? Could we make a better one?

C stands for Communicating -- you must show other people how you decided on your solution to the problem. You need to write and draw your ideas. When they are getting new ideas they often enjoy writing because they are writing about their own ideas; this is a great strength of technology in school. A technology project gives the children reasons for reading and reasons for writing. This is very important - we can address the literacy problem through the subject of science and technology.

The Technology Process

When we design and make products and structures we use a special way to do this. It is called the Technology Process. The Technology Process helps you to design and make products.

We use the Technology Process to investigate a specific problem. We then use this information to design and make something to help us solve this problem. While we work on the design and make the product, we constantly evaluate it to see if it is working and if it does what it is meant to do. We also talk to our friends or the other people working with us to tell them what we plan to do and to explain how we want to design or make the product.

Many people use the technology process every day. If you want to design and make something to solve a problem, you can also use it!

The Technology Process has 5 steps:

  1. Investigate
  2. Design
  3. Make
  4. Evaluate
  5. Communicate

Whenever we do a Technology project in Natural Science and Technology, we will be following these steps!

Let's use the Technology Process to help some birds in your area! Remember you need to start by first identifying the problem and then you can start to design and make a solution!

This sounds like fun! I am excited already to see how to follow the Technology Process to design and make something!

Design and make a shelter for wild birds


Many of the trees in your town have been chopped down to make space for homes and other buildings. The birds that used to make their nests in the trees now have nowhere to safely lay their eggs! There are many more rats, mice and other pests in the city because their are fewer and fewer birds to catch them! This is because many birds left to find safe places to build their nests and raise their chicks. Some of the birds that stayed behind tried to make nests on rooftops but the people did not like the mess they made on their buildings and destroyed the nests. Other birds tried to build their nests on tall radio and television towers. But then the people could not get their televisions or radios to work properly so they also broke their nests and chased the birds away. The people are complaining about all the pests that are in the city and the birds want to come back but do not have a safe place to build nests - they need your help!

In the previous section we learnt about animal homes. We need to help these birds by making homes or places for them to roost.


A design brief is a short description of what you plan to do. an example of a design brief for this project could be "Design and make an animal shelter that can be used by wild birds."


The next step in the Design Process is to investigate and do some research about the shelter that you are going to make. We have actually already done this in the activities in this chapter when we looked at different man-made animal shelters.

So let's get on to designing!


We now need to design the animal shelter. In your groups, discuss the following questions which will help guide your design and make you think about what your bird shelter should look like.

  1. What is the purpose of the bird shelter?

  2. What shape and size will the shelter be?

  3. How will the birds get inside?

  4. What are the best materials to make the shelter from?

  5. Will there be a place to provide the birds with food and water?

When we design something there are some things that the product or structure you are making need to do or some things that it cannot do. We call these specifications (what it must do) and constraints (limitations of the design).

We need to show the specifications or things that your product must do or have before we start to design or make it. You have to make a list of all the specifications otherwise you might not make your product in the proper way.

When we list specifications and constraints, we answer certain questions. you answered some of these questions above.


  1. Purpose of bird shelter:

  2. Size of bird shelter:

  3. Materials used to make bird shelter:


Some constraints for your bird shelter could be:

  1. The materials used must be able to withstand the weather outside, such as wind and rain.
  2. A constraint could even be that you have to design and make it in class.

Teachers need to encourage learners to use recycled materials. An easy design is to make the bird shelter from a recycled 2 litre plastic juice bottle. They can push string through a hole in the lid and screw the lid onto the bottle to hang the bottle in the tree. Then they make holes in the sides to let a dowel sticks through for the birds to perch on. They also cut open a smallish flap to let birds leaving space at the bottom of the bottle for the bird to make a nest in. The flap should therefore be at least 15 cm from the bottom. They can paint the bottles to blend into a tree habitat to hide the bottle from predators.

Drawing the Design for the Bird Shelter

In this step you draw what you want your bird shelter to look like. You might need to make many drawings until you decide which design you want to use. It is a good idea to use scrap paper for this. Label the different parts of your design and say what material each part is made of.

Make it clear to learners that the drawing may be different from tha actual product that you make in the end due to certain reasons, such as a material not working as well as was planned, or you get a better idea for something. This being the first opportunity for learners to design and make, they will chop and change a lot of things and learn in the process. They should not be penalised for changing their design as this is part of the process. Perhaps use scrap paper for them to experiment on and draw many different designs. When they have a design they are happy with, they can draw it in the space provided.


Once you have a design drawing that you are happy with, you can proceed to make the shelter. We are not going to do this now. Later in the year you will get a chance to make some of the designs that you do.

For now, let's evaluate the design that you did. This means you must decide whether your product will be able to solve the problem you identified at the beginning.

To do this you go back to the problem and ask the following questions:

  1. Has my design solved the problem and how?

  2. Did I stick to the specifications and constraints? (Ask this question of all your specifications separately.)

  3. If you changed some of the specifications, such as the size or materials, why did you do so?

  4. Is there any way you think you could improve your design?

If you have time in class you could make the bird shelters, or encourage learners to do it on the weekend at home if they want to. If someone makes a shelter, you could put it up in the school somewhere and see if birds use it. Do not worry if you do not have time to make the shelter in class as this is not specified in CAPS.

That was fun! I am going to try make my bird shelter at home and put it up outside our house!

  • Natural structures are made by animals, like nests and shells.
  • Human-made structures are made by people.
  • There are different kinds of structures, like frame and shell structures.
  • Structures can have different shapes and sizes.
  • Structures can be made from different materials.
  • Humans can make shelters for animals, especially pets and birds.

Name four types of natural animal shelters.

Nests, shells, hives, hollow trees, spider webs.

Explain the difference between man-made and natural shelters.

Natural shelters are when the animal makes the shelter itself out of materials that it finds in its habitat. A man-made shelter is not made by the animal, but it is used by the animal. Humans make man-made shelters for animals.

Use the table below to compare the shelters of rabbits, pigeons and tuna fish.




Tuna fish

Where will I find the shelter?

What is the shelter made of?

Does the animal have to make the shelter?

Does the animal use a naturally occurring shelter?




tuna fish

Where will I find the shelter?


in trees

in the sea

What is the shelter made of?


sticks and grass


Does the animal have to make the shelter?


Yes, if it is a nest, otherwise it just perches in the trees


Does the animal use a naturally occurring shelter?


No, if it has to make a nest


Why do rabbits, pigeons and tuna fish have different habitats and shelters?

There are many reasons. The first is that it depends on what the animal is adapted to live in. Fish need to live in water and so cannot live anywhere else. The water is already there and so the fish does not have to make a shelter. Rabbits need to make shelters often to raise their young, sleep at night and hide from predators. They have to dig holes in the ground and these are not naturally-occurring. Pigeons often sleep in trees which are naturally-occurring, but they need a shelter when they lay eggs and have chicks so they have to make nests.

Do you think it is fair to keep a pet rabbit in a cage where it cannot burrow? Give a reason for your answer.

Learner dependent answer.