Time to fill your backyard feeders and break out the binoculars because February is National Bird Feeding Month! If you are stuck indoors with your kids during the cold winter months, you can still take time to learn about nature.
It’s important to get your children to connect with the outdoors, and watching birds from the warmth of your home is a perfect way to pass the time and learn a little something along the way.
The beauty of birding is that it’s a low-cost, low-pressure hobby that all ages can enjoy.
The Keys to Birding with Kids
Kids have a ton of energy, so the thought of getting them to sit still and observe the world outside might seem daunting. In truth, bird watching, especially when watching a feeder, does require some patience but can easily turn into a passive activity. Before long, your kids may be glancing out the window to find birds to show you.
Make Birding a Game
If you have a kid that enjoys Pokémon, they are sure to be a natural birder. Instead of ‘catch them all”, they’ll want to “see them all”! If they aren’t into Pokémon, consider it a scavenger hunt.
Be sure to have a list handy of birds you might see based on your location and time of year. You and your children can check off birds as you see them. When birding in your backyard, you can also start counting the number of birds and join in a Backyard Bird Count Challenge.
Discuss All Things Birds
What do birds do in the winter? Where do birds live? How is a duck different from a sparrow? Start asking the questions that will get their minds racing about birds but be ready to answer them as well!
In February, you can discuss how we see different birds throughout the year. Some migrate to warmer climates while others stay but need to stock up on fatty foods.
This is a good lead into your own backyard bird feeder. Because food is scarce for birds in colder climates, backyard feeders are especially helpful during the winter months. They need high-energy foods like suet and peanuts that you can provide in your backyard.
When they aren’t eating, birds are trying to stay warm! Discuss how most of the birds that stick around for the winter live in cavities and nest boxes that help shield them from the weather. Ask your children if they think birds shiver when they’re cold like us- they do!
As you’re watching birds, make sure to point out the different shapes and colors you see on each bird. In early spring, you’ll start to see some interesting changes as their feathers get brighter and ready for summer.
Learn Best Birding Practices
Depending on the ages of your children, binoculars might be too advanced. You can start with the basics of staying still to watch and listen for birds. Remind kids that birds are small and sometimes hard to spot. If you spook them, they’ll fly away! Sometimes the best way to know if a bird is nearby is to listen. Tell them to close their eyes until they can hear a bird chirping.
As you become familiar with some of the birds in your backyard, pull up a free birding app to listen to common bird calls. Have the kids mimic the calls or tell you what they sound like. One of the most popular tends to be the Black-Capped Chickadee’s call with “Chicka-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee”.
To start binocular training with really young kids, you can craft toilet paper roll binoculars. This can help them get used to the feeling of something around their eyes. Give them a target nearby to practice on and see if they can find it with the binoculars.
Birds You Might See in the Winter
American Goldfinch– these bright yellow birds spend year-round in the northern half of the United States but can also be spotted in the southern half during the colder winter months.
Dark-eyed Junco– these little birds will range from gray to dark black depending on the time of year. They can be seen throughout most of the United States during the winter and all year round in the West and Northeast.
Red-bellied Woodpecker– these woodpeckers live up to their name! They are present all year in the Eastern half of the United States.
Black-capped Chickadee– there tiny black and white birds are present all year round in the top half of the U.S.
Spotted Towhee– these red-eyed birds can be found year-round in the west and the southwest during the winter. Sprinkle some seeds on the ground to attract them.
Blue Jay– these large birds have a beautiful blue, white, and black pattern on their feathers. They can be found year-round in the right half of the United States and occasionally in the Northwest during the winter.
Steller’s Jay– If you are in the west and are sad about missing out on the Blue Jay, don’t be! You can find this bright blue bird with a black head in parts of the western United States year-round.
Birdseed Projects for Kids
To get started with backyard birding, you’ll need to attract birds to your yard. You can find out what local birds enjoy or just wing it (pun intended)! Luckily you don’t need a high-end bird feeder to do this, you can start with some simple homemade feeders.
Pinecone Feeder– this is a great generic feeder for birds and takes few supplies with little difficulty for kids. Black-oil sunflower seeds are a favorite of many over-wintering birds because they are high in energy with shells that are easy to crack.
Easy Suet Feeder– during the cold winter months, sources of fatty food are very important for many birds.
Keep in mind that the birds might not show up right away. When they learn that your home is a source of food, the word will spread and you’re sure to have plenty of visitors throughout the day.
Remember that birds can get sick too so it’s important to keep the feeding areas clean, avoid leaving soggy seeds or suet out, and provide fresh clean water to keep them hydrated. For more wonderful resources on feeding birds in the winter, check out The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s guide.
Time to put out some feed, get cozy, and start birding!