We have been dedicated bird watchers this winter! Needless to say I was thrilled to hear that Annie, from Alphabet Glue, and her daughter share the same pastime. Annie is with with us today to share some of her tried and true tips for successful birdwatching for the budding young ornithologists in our lives.
Here in Northern Vermont, we have famously long, cold winters. Which is one of the reasons why it was such a surprise to me, upon relocating here from temperate Northern California, to discover that we also have a colorful and interesting population of backyard birds who live here year round. Both my daughter and myself have always had great enthusiasm for birds, and our excitement over the prospect of sighting the brightly colored cardinals and goldfinches that live here has made us into proper armchair ornithologists. But birdwatching is an activity that requires some amount of patience; something that can be in shorter supply for people under a certain age. Here are a handful of tips that I have found useful for making birdwatching accessible, easy and yes, even entertaining, for the small set.
Be aware of your immediate surroundings (and feel free to fancy them up a bit).
You might be really surprised by just how many birds are in your very own yard or neighborhood if you take the time to see them. Make some predictions about how many birds you might find if you sit in the yard or look out the window for five minutes, or even less time if you have especially wiggly little ones. Want to stack the deck a bit? Hang a bird feeder near an accessible window in the house. This will bring birds to the house and easily allow kids to gather near the window to watch when they arrive- without scaring any flying friends off before getting the chance for a good look.
Have a field guide at the ready. Part of the excitement for bird spotting kiddos comes from being challenged to make an accurate identification.
Having a field guide handy allows your kids to immediately start flipping pages in hopes of finding a match for the bird that they have just seen- a fun activity that lets them be both naturalists and detectives. It can easily be turned into a whole family game of “find that bird” and you can even give yourselves points for great guesses. Keep a family “life list,” or list of all of the birds that you have seen, in a prominent location in the house (such as on the refrigerator) and update it with new birds as you find them.
Binoculars aren’t bad either.
My daughter is of the opinion that even if you don’t use them while you are in the field, having a pair of kid sized binoculars is awesome when it comes to making you feel official. She absolutely recommends having a sturdy, plastic encased pair at the ready, and I am inclined to agree. If you choose to leave the backyard and hit the trail to look for birds, you might also make sure to pack things like water and a really tasty snack. This may seem obvious, but remembering this detail can make a few minutes of patient trailside sitting go much more smoothly, increasing the odds that you’ll get the reward of a sighting.
Join the bigger birding community.
Although birding is a bit more old-fashioned as hobbies go, the advent of the internet has meant great things for birdwatchers. It is easier than ever to find out about local bird walks, talks and guided tours, many of them designed for kids. Taking part in one of these organized events can be a great way to get kids into the community spirit of birding. You might also think about having your family participate in events such as the Great Backyard Bird Count or other community counting events. You can read up on some of those here.
Get excited about birds by spying on some really amazing ones!
Part of getting kids excited about the idea of birdwatching is getting them excited about birds! Your local science or nature center may have birds that you can view up close, particularly if there is an aviary nearby that rehabilitates wild birds. You can also view some really interesting birds through the cameras run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Watch herons build nests and hatch eggs, or view hawks feeding their chicks. Pretty cool stuff! You can find the cameras here.
For some more bird watching goodness make sure to check out…
Good birding luck to you and yours!