Birding with Children
Make Your Own Milk Jug Bird Feeder
Thoroughly clean out an empty gallon milk jug. Let it dry completely and replace the lid. On the side of the jug opposite the handle, draw about a 4-inch circle or square about 2 inches from the bottom. Carefully cut out the shape with a knife or sharp scissors (adults only!). Fill the bottom with seed and hang from a branch or a shepherd's crook-type pole. Be sure to place feeders near a window or porch for easy viewing.
What You Need
Birding or birdwatching with children is an activity that everyone can enjoy. In an age where so many young people are glued to the television, electronic games and cell phones, activities involving nature are welcomed. Such an entertaining and educational endeavor as birdwatching should be shared by all ages. I didn't pick up the hobby until I was an adult but have enjoyed teaching my son and a couple of classes of five-year-olds the birding fun. It's very inexpensive (if not free) and is something the whole family or a classroom can do together.
A lot of what you do and how you do it depends on the age of your child(ren). When teaching birdwatching to five-year-olds, I started off with the basics:
* buy or make a couple different birdfeeders
* get some birdseed or other food
* borrow or buy binoculars
* acquire several bird identification books
* use a camera
* buy a hummingbird feeder and make some nectar
* teach the "shhhh and point" method
Birdfeeders - Plan on one or two feeders. You can buy them or make your own. Scatter some seed on the ground, too, as some birds prefer eating this way.
Birdseed - There are so many things birds like to eat. Stale bread crumbs, half an orange or apple, raisins, black oil sunflower seed and suet draw a variety of birds. I don't, however, recommend the cheap, mixed seed that is readily available almost anywhere. I have found that the birds eat very little from the mix and the waste falls to the ground and sprouts.
Binoculars - These definitely aren't necessary if you have younger children, but older ones should get a kick out of being able to see and identify birds at a distance. Each of my family members has an inexpensive pair of binoculars that measure about 10 x 30.
Bird Identification book(s) - Again, this is not needed for the younger ones, but can be so fun. I picked up several used books at yard sales and at discount book stores for the kindergartners. They loved looking at the pictures even if they couldn't identify most of the species. If this is something you are going to pursue, a bird guide for adults should be included. The library is a great place to try out a few books to see if you like them enough to purchase them. My personal favorite is the guide by Stokes and my dog-eared copy proves it! Students in my classroom were able to identify about a dozen local birds by the end of the year and were thrilled with their knowledge.
Camera - I have a really hard time photographing birds. They just won't stay still! I keep trying, though, in hopes of getting a great shot. It might be fun to take pictures of the kids watching the birds or filling the feeders.
Hummingbird feeder and nectar - The young children in the classroom were entranced by the ruby-throated hummingbirds that stopped by our hummingbird feeder for a quick sip of nectar.
"How could something so tiny beat its wings so fast? What a long beak!" they exclaimed.
I have two hummingbird feeders. Ready-made nectar is available for sale but I make my own. A simple rule of thumb is 4 to 1. Dissolve 1/4 cup plain white sugar in 1 cup lukewarm water and pour in the feeder. Be warned that a hummingbird is very territorial and fiercely protects its feeder.
Teach the "shhhh and point" method - Many children are so excited to see a bird, their antics frighten the bird away. Teach children to be very quiet when seeing a bird and slowly point to the creature. Obviously this works a little better when at a distance or from inside the house.
Keep a journal to record the different species that visit.
Birding with children is a fun and relaxing activity for everyone. You're never too old to learn and you're never to young to start a hobby that could last a lifetime!