Winter Birdwatching Fun!
Birdwatching provides lots of fun and exciting ways for young children to learn during the Winter, both indoors and outdoors! Here are some ideas:
Go for a Winter walk.
Keep an eye out for migrating birds like ducks and geese that fly in a "V" formation. When you see one, point it out to your child. Explain that the birds are flying south for the winter where it is warmer. The birds are "migrating." Not all birds migrate. The ones that do, fly to where it is warmer and easier to find food. Birds fly in a "V" formation because it is easier.
(Depending on your child's interest and ability to understand you can offer further explanation:)
Why do birds fly in a "V"?
The "V" formation lets the birds glide more often, instead of pumping their wings, and that helps them save their energy. The air currents are strong. The bird in the lead -- at the point of the 'V' -- works the hardest as it flies through the air first. It leaves a trail or wake of 'smoother' air behind making it a little bit easier for the other birds to fly. Watch a "V" formation carefully and you will see that the lead bird will drop back into the formation when it tires. Another, less tired bird takes the lead. The birds act like a tag-team, and their teamwork helps them all arrive safely at their destination.
What do birds eat?
All birds need to find food so they can stay healthy and strong through the winter. Some birds eat seeds that they find on plants. Some birds eat insects. Some eat berries. If you can find berry bushes (like pyracantha and junipers) in your yard or neighborhood, sit down and quietly watch for a while. You'll probably see birds feeding on the berries.
You can help the birds by feeding them.
Make a Pine Cone Bird Feeder:
Use a spoon or craft stick to spread some peanut butter into the openings in a pine cone. Sprinkle or press birdseed onto the peanut butter. Tie a string to the stem of the pinecone and hang it from a spot where you can see it (like a tree branch or bush outside your window).
Mix together ½ cup of vegetable shortening or lard with 1-cup cornmeal, 1-cup uncooked old-fashioned rolled oats, ¼ cup chopped nuts or sunflower seeds, ¼ cup chopped dried fruit (apples, dates, raisins, etc.). Cover the pine cone with the mixture. Then roll the pinecone in birdseed. Tie a string to the pinecone and hang it from a spot where you can see it (like a tree branch or bush outside your window).
Simple Bird Treat
String popcorn and fresh cranberries on a long, sturdy piece of thread. Hang the string on a tree or bush in your yard.
Milk Carton Bird Feeder
Take an empty milk carton and rinse it out. Cut a 2" - 3" diameter hole in each of the four sides of the carton, about 2" from the bottom. Then, poke two small holes at the top of the carton and thread a long piece of string through them. Fill the bottom of the carton with birdseed and hang it from a tree or shrub. Scatter some seeds on the ground below the hanging bird feeder. It will help the birds find the feeder.
Note: Be sure to tell your children that whenever you hang bird feeders, it can take a little time for the birds to find the food. If no birds find it after a couple of days -- change the location. Don't forget that birds can become dependent on your food source. If you start to feed them, try to continue providing food for them throughout the winter so they won't starve.
More Helpful Bird Tips
- Keep a Bird Field Guide on or near your windowsill. Use it to identify the birds that visit your feeder. It doesn't matter if you know the names of the birds or not -- you can look them up and learn right along with your children. My kids, like most children, were just naturally curious about birds -- and they had better memories than mine too! They noticed and remembered distinguishing features about different birds and could name a variety of them much more easily than I could. Most kids like knowing things that adults don't know -- and they love to show off what they know. Through birdwatching kids can learn about sorting and categorizing through distinguishing features, color, and shapes of the birds.
- To help your preschoolers with birdwatching, try making some "binoculars" out of cardboard toilet paper rolls. It will help to block out some visual distractions and help your kids to concentrate on a particular field of vision. These toy binoculars are easy to use, and not as frustrating as real binoculars can be for tiny hands. Here's how to make...
How to Make Birdwatch Binoculars
Decorate 2 toilet paper rolls with stickers or markers. Spread some glue along the entire side of one roll. Attach the other roll to it and let it dry. Your child can use them "as is" or you can punch a hole in the outer top portion of each roll. Tie a long piece of yarn or string through the holes to make a long necklace so that your child can hang the binoculars around their neck. (Make sure that you use a long piece of yarn or string so there isn't a choking hazard. Adult supervision required when child is wearing the binoculars in this manner.)
Bird Watching Activities
- When you're birdwatching listen for bird calls and songs. Try to find the bird that is making the noise and watch it. Can you imitate the noise it makes? Notice how it moves when it's not flying. Does it hop or walk? Try to move like the bird moves.
- Watch birds collect stuff for their nests. Notice what kinds of things birds pick up in their beaks. Dried plant material, leaves, and twigs, even bits of pet hair. You can place some dog or cat hair near the feeders and see if the birds pick it up. Try putting out some bits of cotton balls or wool fabric too.
- If your yard or neighborhood just doesn't have many visiting birds, then head out to the park, nature sanctuary, or go to a local pond or lake. Many parks offer birdwatching hikes for families -- so be sure to inquire about it.
Just can't get enough of birds? Free, Printable, Bird Coloring Pages
Visit Acorn Naturalist for bird-themed books, videos, DVDs, CDs, puppets, games, and bird activity kits for little kids.
Have fun birdwatching with your little ones!
Updated: March 22, 2008