12 Fun Ways to Get Kids Involved in Bird Watching
In the Year 2000
When my nephew was 4 years old, we introduced him to his first nature walk in our woods. Since he lives about 2 hours away, it wasn’t often we had such an opportunity. My Mom was babysitting him that weekend, and she lived only 20 minutes away.
I had used a card making computer program to make a checklist of things I knew he would likely see, as well as a certificate of achievement to be presented when he had completed his first introduction to nature.
That weekend was filled with beautiful sunshine and ideal temperatures. I fixed him a sandwich and he had his water bottle, a pencil and his checklist. He had chosen for his outfit of the day his cowboy chaps, vest and hat. Robbie was ready for his adventure.
We spent about half an hour walking in the woods and searching for those items on the checklist. He found quite a few, but seemed to be distracted by the birds more than anything. Soon after this first nature walk he requested a pair of binoculars for Christmas. It was then I knew that he would be a part of the next generation of birdwatchers. To say I was ‘tickled pink’ would be an understatement!
I signed him up as a member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology so he would receive their newsletter every month. He told me that he looked forward to learning all he could about birds, insects and all animals. Rob and his Dad (my brother) went on to become an Eagle Scout and Scout Leader respectively. My nephew is now in college studying to become a veterinarian. I like to think that first nature walk had something to do with sparking his love of the outdoors, animals and birds, and his interest in stewardship of this planet.
Take a Backyard Nature Walk
Beginning Birdwatcher Book with Stickers
Here is my list of fun things for children to help spark their interest in nature and especially bird watching.
· 1. Go on a nature walk looking for birds, wildlife and bugs. There are several good books for young or beginning bird watchers.
Things to take along on your nature walk: pencil or pen, checklist or tablet on which to note your sightings, time of day and weather conditions; camera and or binoculars; water bottle; healthy snack; trash bag and gloves to pick up any litter or garbage, and help keep our Earth clean.
2. Kid-friendly Bird Guides. Again there are several very good ones just for kids that help them to identify birds they see. Check at your favorite bookstore or online. I'm very partial to Peterson's Bird Guides because of all the wonderful illustrations. One that I am told is very good for kids is entitled: "Young Birders Guide by Peterson" .
3. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has programs geared toward kids, as well as a downloadable pdf file of common birds they would most likely see. This is a great free reference and learning tool.
Do You Know Any Kids Who Would Enjoy Becoming Bird Watchers?
· 4. Binoculars made for children. These should be powerful enough so that they can actually make a good identification, but not so heavy or cumbersome as to render them unusable by small children. Be sure the binoculars have cushioned or rubberized eye cups to protect the lenses and their eye glasses.
· 5. Audio cd’s for identifying birds by their songs. Even if children are not able to actually see the bird, they can learn to identify it by listening to the bird calls. For instance, a scarlet tanager loves to stay high up in the canopy of trees. But I know absolutely when it is around by its "Chip-Bang" call! An ovenbird is difficult to spot because it is the same color as the leaf litter in which it nests and hunts. But if I hear "Teacher, Teacher, TEACHER", an ovenbird is nearby!
· 6. Purchase an inexpensive 4”x 6” photo album where kids can tuck in pictures, feathers, etc from their walks. They can also add bird stickers, and or images and articles from magazines for future reference. A small scrapbook or journal would work for this as well.
This is a great way to introduce children to planting things and watching them grow. When I was very young, I learned all about planting vegetables and flowers from my grandfather. He had an amazing garden that my brothers and I helped to plant and maintain. I can still taste the ears of sweet corn we harvested and hurried to Grandma’s waiting pot of boiling water!
· 8. Purchase a simple bird house and show kids how to approach carefully to check on whether or not a bird has nested. Make sure to buy one that has an easily accessible door that can be securely closed after observations are done!
· 9. To entice birds to nest nearby, cut lengths of twine or cotton yarn 4” to 8” long and drape them over branches where birds can find them. Do this on a dry day because they don’t use wet materials when making their nests. Most birds nest between March and June.
· 10. In order to make a soft liner for their eggs and baby birds, Mama and Papa bird use animal fur, moss and other birds’ feathers. You can use an old feather pillow or find one at a thrift store. Open up the pillow and pick out the curly small feathers. These can be stuffed into a mesh produce bag so that the birds can pull them out of the holes in the mesh. Hang your feather bag in a protected area to keep the feathers dry.
You can also make a nesting ball by purchasing an open grapevine ball from the craft store. Collect clean animal fur from brushing your cat, dog or rabbit; use cotton batting that has been pulled apart into small pieces, or add small curly feathers from an old feather pillow. Hang the nesting ball in a protected area where birds will see it.
· 11. Window-mounted bird feeders are a wonderful way for kids to watch birds up close without disturbing them. Because birds have to slow down to approach this type of feeder, there is no danger that they will be injured by hitting the window. So you can feel safe using this kind of feeder. To insure the feeder suction cups stick securely to your window, clean the window thoroughly with one part vinegar to 2 parts water. Make sure the window is dry; rinse the suction cups in warm water, then dry thoroughly. The warmth makes them more pliable and easier to attach. Mounting a window bird feeder is best done when the outdoor temperatures are above freezing.
In order to attract a variety of birds for kids to enjoy watching, add a hummingbird nectar feeder or an oriole nectar feeder. You can also install a peanut feeder that will attract all kinds of nut lovers!
· 12. Make some popcorn and share it with your bird friends. Or fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; cut it into small bird-size pieces and leave them on a feeder for your birds to discover. There are lots of alternative foods that birds will love.
Our newest generation of bird watchers is just ‘waiting in the wings’ to be inspired. Help them spark that interest to enjoy and protect our wild birds, and all wildlife for that matter. We’ll all benefit in ways that will reach far into the future.