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Here’s something fun for you and your little one to do—backyard bird watching. That’s right. Bird activities are a great way to get your kids outdoors. And with just a little guidance, your young birder will be off observing in no time.
The benefits of backyard bird watching
The benefits of bird watching are pretty obvious. You get outside with your kids and have an opportunity to learn about nature. But some underlying good things are happening:
- As young children discover birds’ diversity, they learn to appreciate new aspects of nature they may not have experienced in detail before.
- Enjoying the outdoors is one thing. But when young children are allowed to be fascinated by their own discovery, they get to internalize their learning, and it becomes more meaningful to them.
- Children who find treasure in the natural world are more likely to want to become good stewards of nature and care for it.
Bird watching guide for kids
If your backyard is not a prime spot, try going for a walk or visiting your local park. Let’s first look at some steps before you’re on your way.
1. Build a bird feeder
We’ve got instructions how to do this fun craft activity with your kids.
2. Find the best binoculars for children
Binoculars can be challenging for young eyes to look through. If you want to get bird-watching benefits, you’ll need to help your child work on focusing. Making your own binoculars is a great start. All you need are a couple of toilet paper rolls, some tape, yarn, and a hole punch. The Audubon Society has a great DIY project on how to make your binoculars.
Wearing binoculars is fun for older kids who are ready for their own, but it’s a learned skill that may take time. To help with any exasperation, you should make sure you’re using the right tool for your child’s age. These are some of the best starter binoculars for children.
When your child has his 1st pair, take him out for a practice run before you do any real bird watching so there’s less frustration if the bird flies away just as he attempts to get focused. Ask your birder to start by looking at a specific object like a tree, rock, or bench with the naked eye and then slowly raise the binoculars without moving his head. It’s an excellent way to get used to being still and focusing attention through a lens.
3. Practice observation skills
Bird watching for kids can introduce fantastic learning opportunities. Charting bird behavior, bird colors, or creating a bird counting game can be done with a simple clipboard, blank paper, and crayons. You can create a bird-watching checklist for kids that you can refer back to at the end of your day to discuss all the things you discovered.
- Draw a chart on your paper with 1 column separating the left from right, and then add 5-6 rows.
- In column 1, you can put your labels down the rows. Write down eating, sleeping, flying, singing, or write colors such as black, brown, and blue.
- Help your blossoming bird watcher understand that a quiet voice and a calm body will help the garden birds feel safe and not fly away.
- Let your child take the clipboard outside and start observing. Each time she sees a bird, she can place a hash mark or line to denote the behavior of color she sees.
- Count how many birds she spotted at the end of the adventure.
4. Teach your kids about bird identification
Birds’ bodies are uniquely designed for the job they have in nature. Water birds such as ducks have oil glands to waterproof their feathers and repel the cold temperatures of the water they live in. Owls’ feathers give them silent flight features to help them quietly and quickly catch their prey at night. The American kestrel is a tiny falcon that uses its feathers and wings to hover in one place like a hummingbird.
Bird beaks give away what types of food the birds eat. Look closely and you will see beaks built for catching fish, sifting through plants in the water, and grabbing bugs.
Finally, a bird’s feet tell you what they do. A Canada goose’s webbed feet paddle their way through life while the powerful talons of a great horned owl can crush the spine and skull of its prey.
5. Search for bird nests
Birds’ nests are one of the most impressive feats of construction. While out observing birds, see if you can spot some. There are many different types of nests:
- Bald eagles make a giant nest that is 5-6 feet in diameter.
- Hummingbirds make a nest that is about 0.125 feet wide and it stretches as the young bird grows bigger.
- The oriole builds a unique pendulum nest that hangs.
- Other nests include mud nests, stick nests, floating nests, and even nests that sit on a cliff’s ledge.
6. Educate kids on the role of each bird species
While you’re out in your backyard bird watching, take your birding a bit further by discussing how different animals have different jobs in the natural world. Birds of prey help keep rodent populations down, while birds such as the woodpecker are part of nature’s insect control. Vultures are nature’s cleanup crew.
Every bird species has a role to play in the ecosystem it lives in. Ask your child why she might think animals having different jobs in the wild might be essential to keep nature healthy.
Beyond the backyard
Suppose you want your kids to be part of something bigger to connect them to nature, birds, and each other beyond the backyard. In that case, annual bird activities are ideal.
Every winter, there’s a Great Backyard Bird Count event that happens around the world. Being a part of this exercise helps scientists understand bird behavior, species population health, and the impact those numbers have on the rest of their ecosystem. Some areas have a bird of prey count that you and your kids can join too. These take you a bit further away from looking for birds beyond what we can see from our backyards, but it’s well worth it for older birders ready to try something new.
Another birding opportunity to involve your kids is the World Migratory Bird Day in Spring. Check out the events happening all over the world that celebrate migratory bird species.
Bird books for kids
If you want your kid to explore more about birds across America, the book National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America has detailed drawings, descriptions and fun activities. For more about nest structures, bird eggs, and the nesting habitat, this pamphlet from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a wonderful resource.