This is the perfect time of year to turn our attention to the birds as they are very busy, seeking mates, building nests, and raising young. If you take a little time to pay attention your eyes will be opened to the amazing world of birds. This week we will be sharing lots of activities to help you explore their world and learn about the birds that are living around you. You will notice that we share a lot of resources from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Their website has a large amount of information on birds and bird identification and is a great site to bookmark and reference if you have any questions about birds.
Paying attention to the world of birds is a great way to connect to nature and can have a profound impact on the development of our children and our mental health. Kathleen Lockyer, an occupational therapist and founder of RxOutside, wrote an inspiring article on the impact of birds on one of her patients. You can access the article here>
Birds are some of the most popular animals for people to watch for various reasons: most of them are active during the day when we’re awake, they’re often pretty, and their movements and songs naturally grab our attention. “Birding” isn’t just for “bird nerds;” it’s an easy and rewarding pastime to get started on … just sit down in a comfortable place and watch and listen. Don’t worry about identifying the birds; simply enjoy them.
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For this week’s Gratitude section I am going to share the things I have been noticing birds doing around my home. Much of this activity I have noticed from my windows and yard. What are you grateful for?
I am grateful for:
The birds who ate the aphids and other insects that were eating my rose bushes and the vegetables in my garden.
The birds that help provide me food by helping to pollinate the fruits and vegetables I like to eat.
The Junco parents who are caring for their babies in my hanging basket.
For all of you who are taking the time to notice and wonder about the world around you.
Bird Exploration Activities:
Nature Collections: gather things from your walks around your home and keep them in a special spot in your house where you can see, smell, and touch them regularly.
- This week try to find things a bird might use to make a nest: small sticks/twigs, moss, lichens, grass, feathers, spider webs, long hair …). Follow the collecting rules: Be respectful, if it’s a living being (plant or animal) leave it be, watch it for a while, take a picture or draw it, but do not remove it from its home, only collect things that have already fallen on the ground, only pick leaves or flowers if there are 10 or more in the area.
- Clay Bird Nest: My son and I made one of these nests in a parent/child craft class when he was a wee boy, now 18 and graduating from high school, eek! To create your own you will need: 1. air dry clay (here is a recipe for a baking soda clay that’s easy to make at home) you can also use playdough if you don’t care about the longevity of the creation (find a recipe for the best playdough here) and 2. Nesting materials: gather things from your yard or neighborhood that a bird might use in a nest (grass, feathers, moss, sticks etc) or from your home (bits of yarn, dryer lint, etc).
- Take a ball of your clay and shape it into a nest shape and stick your nesting materials into your nest. Think about which materials would be best on the outside of your nest and which ones best on the inside of your nest.
- Let the clay dry overnight or until hardened.
- You also might have fun making little clay birds and eggs to sit in your nest.
- Eggs: simply roll little eggs. Leave as is or color with markers or paint.
- Birds: Roll a bit of clay into a ball, shape another piece of clay into a beak shape or find a stick or other item and stick on the bird face. Add clay wings if you like. Use markers or paint to add eyes and colors to the bird.
- You can also add food coloring to your clay when you are making it.
- Edible Nest: Here’s a fun nest to build that you get to eat at the end: chocolate coconut nests! Often done around Easter, they’re just fun springtime treats.
- Extension: learn about how different birds build nests. Check our “Outdoor Education Adventures” YouTube channel later this week for an episode about nests. The Cornell Lab Bird Cams are a great place to see some live action nesting behavior of a variety of birds. You can also find lots of information on birds and learn more about the birds you might find living around you.
- Toilet paper tube binoculars: There are a lot of variations to this project, but in its simplest form you attach two toilet paper tubes together either with a hot glue gun or a stapler. Punch holes on one end of each tube and attach string or yarn long enough to hang around your child’s neck. Your child can decorate the tubes before attaching them together if they want to. While these do not work exactly the way real binoculars do, kids have fun with them. Importantly, especially for young children, they help to focus our vision and can make it easier to see specific things by blocking out other visuals that might be distracting.
- Bird feeders: Here are 3 DIY bird feeders from the Cornell Lab.
Nature Journal Ideas and Printable Pages
- Bird Sleuth’s Explorers Guidebook: this is another great resource from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There are a lot of scavenger hunts and information perfect for elementary kids. You can print out individual pages or the entire guidebook or recreate the pages in your journal.
- Bird Scavenger Hunt with Pictures is a simple scavenger hunt perfect for younger kids.
Bird Walk: take a walk to listen and learn about the birds around you. How many different bird sounds can you hear? Can you imitate them? Do the bird sounds change as you approach? If so, why do you think that is; what do you think they’re saying? If you come back during a different time of day, have the sounds changed? What are the birds doing? Can you find any birds carrying something in their mouth? Try and watch where they fly to; it’s likely they are feeding babies. Do not disturb their nests or try to touch or hold the babies.
Birding Sit Spot: A sit spot is a place that you visit regularly to get to know a place, expand your senses, and study plants and animals. While sitting, use “owl eyes and deer ears” to look and listen for birds around you. Once you have spotted a bird that interests you, without moving, watch the birds to learn what they eat, if they have a nest, where it is located, what the nest is made from. Look for birds carrying something in their beak; is it food or nesting material? Do you see differences in what each type of bird is carrying? Make a bird blind: put up a small tent in your yard or find a place where you can hide and sit quietly and wait for the birds and other wildlife to move about you (under a bush or small tree is a great place to try). If you have one, wear a dark or green-colored hooded shirt, or just wrap up in a blanket; pull your hood up and try to keep your face mostly covered. Try holding a long stick above you; if you hold very still and quiet, a bird might land on it! Put a small bird feeder in the branches nearby (make sure it’s empty in the evenings to avoid unwanted animals from using it). Take your journal and drawing or coloring tools; draw the birds you see. If you can, return to your sit spot frequently and sit very quietly while you’re there. The birds and other animals will get used to you and you’ll be able to observe them better as they learn to trust that you’re not going to hurt them. Be patient and they will reward you.
- Bird adaptations:
- Watch this great video from a Cornell university naturalist to learn about how bird adaptations, like the shape of their beaks, feet, and behaviors, are related to the types of food a bird eats.
- When you are outside or even from a window in your house look for birds and notice the shape of their beaks and their feet. Can you guess what they eat?
- In your nature journal make a list or draw pictures of the types of bird beaks and feet you see. Make a list of some of the things birds eat.
- As you may have learned by now bird beaks come in many shapes and sizes, each designed for eating a specific type of food. Insect eating birds tend to have pointed beaks with a wide mouth. Seed eating birds usually have thick, parrot-like beaks. Grub/worm eaters have pointed beaks for digging. Woodpeckers have long, slender beaks for drilling into the sides of trees. Hummingbirds have very long beaks for feeding on nectar and insects.
- Eat like a bird by making your own bird beaks and mimic birds with this activity:
- Gather as many of the following items or something similar to represent foods birds eat: cooked macaroni noodles (small animals), goldfish crackers (fish), gummy worms (earth worms or snakes), chocolate sprinkles (ants), peanuts, sunflower seeds, Nerds candy (small seeds), mini marshmallows (grubs/caterpillars), dry cereals (insects), fruit juice (nectar).
- Gather the following utensils or something similar to represent bird beaks: clothespin, toothpick, straw, spoon, small plastic scoop, tweezers/small scissors.
- Hold one type of “beak” in one hand and keep the other hand behind your back. Select one type of food to eat. Try to gather as much food as possible in 15 seconds; you don’t have to eat it; just see if you can pick it up. Repeat for each type of beak.
- Which beak was most successful in gathering each type of food? Can any of the “beaks” gather more than one type of food? Can you match the shape/function of any of the tools with any real beaks?
Camouflaged Egg Hide and Seek: Just as bird beaks are unique to each bird species, so are their eggs. Eggs are camouflaged to keep them hidden from predators. Can you design paper eggs that would be camouflaged on various surfaces inside or outside your house?
Cut out egg shaped pieces of paper and color them to be camouflaged in a different spot inside or outside your home. You might try creating an egg the same color as your sofa, or kitchen cabinets, or the bark on a tree. Remember camouflage is when something blends into its surroundings so it cannot be seen.
After you have made your eggs place them next to the surface they match and challenge someone else to find them.
- Extension: Use the paper you colored to make some paper mache eggs. Here’s a link with how to make several types of paper mache, including gluten-free options.
- Bird Identification & Observation:
- Field guides are great tools to help you identify and learn about birds. Contact your local bookstore or library to see what they carry for the best books about your area.
- If you do not have any bird field guides you can gather the same information from the internet. The website All About Birds is a great resource for all things bird related. There are a lot of birding apps you can download as well; this link has 13 apps listed in order of usefulness: https://birdwatchinghq.com/birdingapps/.