Bringing Backyard Birds Into Focus
We often think that the birds have wisely journeyed to fairer weather during the cold of winter. You might be surprised to find, upon looking more closely, how many birds actually stick around. One of the simplest and most rewarding ways to learn about animals in winter is bird-watching. It can be done indoors or out, and is a great activity to engage little ones. Try creating your own bird-watching basket or station and creating an inviting backyard for your neighbourhood birds. You'll be set up for hours of educational bird-watching fun!
Ideas to Get Started
A few years ago we purchased two basic bird identification books and started a little basket with the books and a set of nice binoculars (which were very affordable at under ten dollars). The binoculars come with us on nature walks and have taken quite a beating over the past four years or so! Well worth the small investment. Just be sure to not buy toy binoculars - kids appreciate quality tools that work just as much as grown-ups do.
Oddly enough, both of our recommended bird-watching books are titled Backyard Birds. One is the Peterson Field Guides For Young Naturalists: Backyard Birds, and the other is Backyard Birds: An Introduction. The first is a fantastic resource, with colour coded sections according to the main colour of the bird. It is easy for kids to navigate and has a digestible amount of information for beginners. We love the second one for its beautiful paintings of birds by Robert Bateman. Round out your basket with some story and picture books about birds from your local library.
I created a mini ‘life list’ for the kids back when we first created our bird basket, and the kids check off birds they spot and identify using our books. It turned out to be a really fun pastime for the whole family. Recently, I updated our bird-watching checklist to share with others, and I truly hope you and your little ones will enjoy it as much as we do. There are two versions available – one is designed to work in partnership with the Peterson guide and the other can be used on its own or with another book. Print if off and keep it in your own birding basket, or in your backpack to go along on nature walks. You can download it here.
So, now you’ve got all the tools you need to watch birds – but what if there are no birds in your yard? There are a few things you can do to create an inviting atmosphere for your neighbourhood birds to enjoy. If your yard isn’t frozen in the winter, try to maintain at least a buffer of taller grasses, where a little eco-system of bugs and grubs can develop to help support the birds' diet. Try leaving your plant’s seed-heads intact, rather than chopping them all down, to provide even more choice. You can also make some tasty treats for your feathery pals – head over to our article on Coconut Oil Bird Feeders for a simple and fun project to add to your bird-learning journey. Be sure to hang your feeders in a sheltered area, to provide the birds some protection from the elements and predators.
For an added activity and educational adventure, check out the Great Backyard Bird Count. The bird count is a citizen science project that collects data on the distribution of birds across Canada. According to their website, you and your kiddos can “Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days." The next one is February 15-18, 2019. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world!
See our Spring 2016 Extras page from "Who are the critters in your Neighbourwood?" by Jacob Rodenburg to learn some bird-calling techniques like 'pishing'!
If you're really loony for birds, check out The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Bird Watching! Lots of tips, tricks, facts, and resources to keep you and your binoculars as busy as a Band-tailed Barbthroat!