Bird Watching: How to Cultivate a Fun Family Hobby is a post from contributing writer, Julianna, of Petunia June.
When my oldest, who is now approaching high school, was still a bubbly little pre-schooler, I loved to watch him climb up onto my dad’s lap so they could flip through the bird guide together. He frequently ran to the window, pointed his chubby finger toward the trees and announced, “Look, Papa! A Chestnut-backed Chickadee!”
And that was all it took to get the whole family hooked on birds.
Ten years later, my son still frequently calls me to the window. “Hey, Mom! A Bald Eagle!” And we all rush to the window, awed and reverent.
A habit has been formed which permeates our lives. We have been trained to keep our eyes peeled as we drive so we can point out red-tailed hawks on the way to piano lessons. I still squeal like a little girl when the jeweled flash of the Red-winged Blackbird appears in our yard.
Just the other day my husband looked at me with mingled amusement and delight as we sat at a stoplight and I shouted, “A hummingbird! Look! It’s an Anna’s Hummingbird!”
We are definitely hooked.
Bird watching and identification is an ideal family hobby. It’s beautiful, relaxing and entertaining. And it’s a perfect way to find daily joy in the Lord’s diverse creation. Here are a few ideas for developing the birding habit in your own family.
Bird Watching: How to Cultivate a Fun Family Hobby
Invite the birds to your yard.
Hang a few bird feeders in your yard, and before long you’ll have regular customers. Do some research about your region to determine which seeds will attract the local birds.
Learn More: Soda Bottle Recycled into a Bird Feeder
Keep bird guides within reach.
We keep a stack of bird guides on the counter in the school room. They’re well worn and filled with penciled-in dates according to when we’ve sighted certain birds.
Because birds flit so quickly in and out of the yard, learn to pay close attention to some of the distinguishing characteristics of birds and discuss them with your children. Binoculars are handy for this! (This is an excellent and inexpensive pair of binoculars.)
Physical Characteristics to Be Aware of When Bird Watching:
- What size is the bird?
- Is its bill long and thin or large and triangular?
- What are the prominent colors?
- How about the tail shape and length?
Both you and your children will learn to quickly memorize that which your eye can only see for a few moments. With these details etched in your minds, refer back to your bird guides to see if you can identify the winged visitors.
Some of our favorite bird guides include:
Read bird stories together.
Young children will enjoy the delightful stories of writers such as Thornton Burgess, Arabella Buckley, and Clara Pierson. Burgess invites readers into the imaginary world of Jenny Wren, King Eagle and many others, sprinkling informative bird facts along the way.
Buckley and Pierson, whose century-old works are now available through Yesterday’s Classics, wrote a number of nature readers that will captivate a younger audience. Older children will enjoy the works of William J. Long and Ernest Thompson Seton, also available through Yesterday’s Classics.
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Visit the wildlife refuge.
If you happen to have a nearby wildlife refuge, then you truly have a treasure at hand!
Teach your children to slow down, watch and listen. They’ll become accustomed to the birds’ songs and eventually learn to pick out the distinct conk-a-ree of the Red-winged Blackbird or the fairy-like trill of the American Goldfinch.
We’ve found this book to be a great resource for learning to identify birds’ songs:
I recently stumbled across this resource, too. Although we have yet to add it to our library, it looks quite promising:
Birding by Ear: Western North America (Other volumes available according to your region.)
Take advantage of local and online resources.
Hook up with your local Audubon Society for expert tips on birding in your region. Through their local websites, you may also be able to link to “bird cams” which allow you to watch nesting birds — live — in your area and around the world.
eNature is another great online resource which includes a fun “bird call challenge” that pairs your zip code with local bird songs.
Encourage your children to sketch birds.
At least once a week my children add a nature sketch to their notebooks. I don’t give them any rules for this activity, but they frequently grab a bird guide, prop it open, and start sketching.
This exercise gives them a greater sense of the many colors that are actually present on a sparrow that, at first glance, we might call “brown.” (It’s a great exercise for Mom and Dad too!)
Bird watching is a rewarding family hobby that’s simple and inexpensive yet absolutely delightful. It teaches the importance of watching and waiting, listening, and observing.
Before you know it, your children will be scrambling to the window shouting, “Look, Mom! It’s a Rufous-sided Towhee!” And your heart — like the bird — will trill with the beauty of it all.
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Julianna writes over at Petunia June with one eye on the bird feeder and the other on her laptop. Rumor has it that she occasionally shrieks with glee over sighting the elusive Pileated Woodpecker and has been known to veer toward the roadside while counting Great Blue Herons.
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Originally published June 4, 2012. Last updated April 2017.