Birds are easy to study because they are found almost anywhere at all seasons of the year and don’t require much stealth and quiet to observe. Backyard birds will come to feeders year-round, but the best time for feeder projects involving birdseed and suet is in the winter. Hummingbirds are often seasonal, appearing only in the summer months, but can be year round residents in some parts of the country.
Birds sing when they are nesting (spring and early summer), usually in the morning and early evening, so spring mornings are the best times to listen for birdsongs and late winter is the best time for bird house projects. Fall is the least productive time for bird study unless you live in a migratory pathway.
The basic tools of the trade for studying birds are: a good pair of easy-focusing binoculars; a field guide, such as the Audubon Pocket Guide to Songbirds and Familiar Backyard Birds; and an audio of common bird calls. Once you have these, you can begin doing the following:
Contact your local nature center, ornithological society, and/or wildlife resources agency. They will have lists of birds found in your area, often by frequency of occurrence. The library may have a “birders guide” to your state. These agencies may also have free literature about birds or even movies.
For example, the Tennessee Ornithological Society has a convenient checklist of all the birds in Tennessee, so we make a game of seeing who can check off the most birds on his or her list.
Armed with a list, begin looking for birds—first in your backyard, then on nature walks, and so on.
Make or buy bird feeders for your yard. Put bird feeders where you can watch the birds eat. Most birds that come to feeders will eat black oil sunflower seed. Don’t waste your money on commercial birdseed mixes because they contain a large percentage of seeds that only attract the less interesting birds. Be sure to put up a hummingbird feeder in the summer and plant red, nectar producing flowers.
Begin learning the birds one at a time. We have had great success making our own field guides by cutting out or copying pictures of birds we see from the Field Guide to the Birds Color-In Book and allowing the children to color each bird while listening to an audio of its calls. Soon the boys were able to identify many birds by their songs.
Put up bird houses. This is a good way to learn nesting preferences. Easy to Build Birdhouses is an excellent guide to building birdhouses. The major groups of birds that will use bird houses are bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, titmice, sparrows, and starlings. Starlings are considered undesirable, so be sure the bird houses have the right sized entrance holes to exclude them.
Participate in bird counts. When your children are beyond the beginner bird-watching stage, arrange with your local ornithological society to go along on their spring and fall bird counts.
Move on to a study of bird anatomy & physiology.
Resources for Studying Birds
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00005AXIV” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41dpnXVMZ%2BL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]Bushnell Perma Focus 10×50 Wide Angle Binocular. These are great binoculars that I use myself. Most all-purpose field binoculars are only 7×25 or 8×40 magnification but these are a whopping 10×50! However, they are best for high school ages and up because of their size and weight. These binoculars also have a “prema focus” feature that helps you stay locked on the image. Plus they are from Bushnell which produces fine optics.
[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”B001C1QY6K” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41j42YaIECL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]Bushnell Natureview 8 x 40 Birder Combo. These binoculars are the industry standard for bird watching and our family has a pair of these too. The NatureView Birder Combo provides everything you need for a rewarding experience on the nature trail, including a birding the North American Bird Reference CD-Rom for positive species identification, a birding field log, and high quality binoculars with a limited lifetime warranty from Bushnell. These are excellent binoculars that are best suited for upper elementary and older because of their size and weight.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B007JNWCDE” locale=”us” height=”87″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/416ZwmA-GeL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″]Bushnell H2O Waterproof/Fogproof Compact Binocular, 8 x 25-mm, Black. Although this is would be a great all-purpose field binocular for adults, this is the binocular to get for children. It’s child-sized, extremely portable, folds up compactly enough to fit into a bag or backpack, and only weighs 10 ounces. Plus, it’s waterproof and fogproof and backed by Bushnell’s limited lifetime warranty.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1426207204″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51bxdc7goZL._SL110_.jpg” width=”74″]National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America. For years I was an Audubon devotee, but this guide to backyard birds won me over for its stunning photos and great descriptions. It only covers backyard birds, so you’ll want to get some of the guides below to cover other birds your children are likely to see. But get this and keep it a window near your birdfeeder for quick reference.
[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”0590054821″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/513F4NK3T4L._SL110_.jpg” width=”79″]National Audubon Society First Field Guide to Birds targets 9 – 12 year olds and is a combination study guide/field guide with full color photos.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B005PG9CBM” locale=”us” height=”88″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/312gErsl9zL._SL110_.jpg” width=”110″]Audubon Pocket Guides have outstanding photos and helpful groupings. Choose Pocket Guide to Songbirds and Familiar Backyard Birds: Eastern Region — Pocket Guide to Songbirds and Familiar Backyard Birds: Western Region — Pocket Guide to Familiar Birds of Sea and Shore — Pocket Guide to Familiar Birds of Lakes and Rivers — Pocket Guide to North American Birds of Prey — Pocket Guide to Waterfowl.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B0053H6S4M” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/214IxA3%2BAzL._SL160_.jpg” width=”100″]Audubon Field Guides. The BIG, comprehensive field guides with color photographs. Eastern or Western. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region — National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Western Region
[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”B00024M5WA” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/416YhgDTQIL._SL160_.jpg” width=”120″]When learning about birds, it is important to become familiar with their songs. Birdsong Identiflyer Portable Audio Birdsong Guide is a neat handheld gadget that identifies a bird and then allows you to play its song. Insert a song card, identify a bird by its image, and play its song either through the built-in speaker or with earbuds. The basic set comes with two cards identifying 10 common birds each. Additional cards are available.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0395912385″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51hZ-QoZmzL._SL110_.jpg” width=”95″]Common Birds and Their Songs (Book and Audio CD). This book-audio package provides a unique introduction to fifty of the most familiar birds of North America and the songs they sing. Each bird is described in vivid detail – its natural history, habitat, voice, range, and field marks – and illustrated in stunning color photographs. Range maps show where each species is found in different seasons. The audio CD features original high-quality field recordings of each bird’s songs and calls, which are track-coded for easy access.
[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”1440302200″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/519TM23B1oL._SL160_.jpg” width=”123″]Easy to Build Birdhouses. This book comes with patterns and measurements, and lots of great info about what birds prefer, like the size of the house and size of the hole to attract different birds. It also has plans for a butterfly house, roosting ledge for robins and doves, and a purple martin house.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B004J18E22″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/4149Pl2kEaL._SL110_.jpg” width=”95″]Birdhouse Kits. Different birds have different nesting preferences and are particular about such things as the size of the entrance hole, the shape of the nesting area, the height, etc. So it’s wise to either get a book of birdhouse plans that explains the types of birdhouses different birds prefer or buy kits tailored for specific types of birds. Here are several we’ve tried and liked: Wren/Chickadee House — Audubon Cedar Bluebird House
[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”0618307222″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51FTRPMAH4L._SL110_.jpg” width=”85″]Peterson Field Guide to Birds Color-In Book. Many of the most common birds are pictured individually, then there are woodland, desert, backyard, countryside, mountain, and swamp habitats to color. Good to let a child cut out or trace the pictures and make a “birding” journal.
Draw 50 Birds shows you step-by step how to start with rough shapes and develop a quick and easy accurate drawing of 50 birds.