Today’s post comes from Eva Paleczny, Ontario Parks Learning and Education Specialist.
One morning last month, while driving to work, I noticed a group of mourning doves sitting in a row along a power line. As I continued driving, I wondered why birds gather in groups like that. Are they being sociable? Is it advantageous for your survival?
Birds are among the most commonly seen wildlife in our parks and cities, but probably among the most difficult to observe and identify, due to their intricate color patterns, rapid movements, and their ability to remain hidden from view. Not to mention the HUGE variety of bird species that exist!
Despite this, I have seen many young children express wonder and excitement when they see a bird fly or land on a nearby window sill. These are new sightings for them and they are curious… but eventually, they become ordinary sightings.
How can you take advantage of the discovery of birds with your children at home? How can you spark a lifelong curiosity about birds and other creatures?
Here are some fun ideas you can try in your own backyard:
Engage your children’s imagination by pretending they are birds who need to build nests for their babies.
Ask lots of open-ended questions to inspire them, such as:
- What kind of bird are you?
- Are you a small or big bird?
- What type of habitat/home do you live in?
- Do you need to keep your nest warm?
- Do you think the nest should blend in with its surroundings?
Explore your backyard for the perfect materials to build their nests! When everyone is happy with their nests, ask lots of questions to encourage sharing, such as:
- What did you use to build your nests?
- Why did you decide to use these materials?
- How many eggs do you think fit in each nest?
Before or after sharing, you could even draw a picture of the bird that could use the nest. Next, be sure to return all materials (except trash!) together to the natural environment.
place to sit
Find a place to sit quietly and observe the world around you. This can be a short daily or weekly activity that also generates independent reflection in their lives. This is a great backyard activity.
Decide with your children how long they will stay in their sitting spots. If you wish, carry journals and colored pencils to draw or take notes about what you hear, feel, see, smell, and even taste.
Take note of the different sounds you hear (traffic noises, people’s voices, bird sounds, airplanes), things you feel (the wind blowing in your face, the ground beneath you), things you see (birds, plants , insects, berries, houses). and things you smell (the neighbor’s dirty clothes or food, a nearby plant or tree with a strong smell).
When time is up, share your observations with each other. If you want, bring the conversation back to the birds by asking a few questions:
- Did you see or hear any birds?
- What did they look like?
- What do you think they were doing?
- What bush did you see them in?
Challenge your kids to sneak around the backyard with you in search of birds! Look for movements, sounds, and signs they have left (a feather, a nest, or droppings). Bring journals to draw or write about your discoveries.
Before you begin, choose a time period (such as 10 minutes) and agree not to talk or make any sounds while moving around the garden. Rehearse a callback sound, such as an owl’s hoot or a wolf’s howl.
After exploring, you can ask questions to stimulate observation and memory, such as:
- How many birds did you see flying over your head?
- Were they big or small?
- What colors did you see?
- Which was your favorite?
- Did you see any birds in the trees?
- What do you think they were doing?
- Did you see any signs of bird activity, such as a feather?
- What does this pen remind you of?
- Did you hear any bird sounds?
- What do you think he was saying?
- What was your most surprising discovery? Your best discovery?
Do you want to take your bird watching adventures to the next level?
Binoculars can really enhance your discovery of birds by allowing you to observe their intricate color patterns and movements up close! Learn more about how to choose binoculars for kids.
Find out how you and your children can contribute to scientific research and become community scientists.
Additionally, some interesting bird watching apps include eBird to record their sightings, and the free Merlin application as accompanying field guide. Merlin provides information about the birds you are most likely to see based on your location and season, and provides tools to help you identify your bird quickly.