Bird watching for kids is a great activity that allows little ones to enjoy the environment while taking time away from screens and schoolwork to revel in the stillness of the world around them. Birding can be done from anywhere—even your own backyard—and there are many ways to build upon the experience and make it a lifelong hobby.
Prepare to Spread Your Wings
You may have grown up bird watching, or you might barely be able to tell the difference between a goose and a duck. Whatever your skill level, you and your kids can discover the hobby together in your region and in the places you travel.
This classic pastime can be appreciated without anything more than your eyes and ears, but a pair of binoculars, a guidebook, a camera, and a sketch pad and pencils can enhance bird watching for kids. It is also a good idea to pack a bag with snacks, water, sunscreen, and first-aid items when venturing out for a birding session at a nature preserve. Be sure to instruct new birders not to interfere with birds or nests.
Inspire a Love of Nature
Birding is one of the best nature activities for kids if you want to teach them to appreciate wildlife big and small. In the spring, robins appear across the Midwest to build nests, lay eggs, and raise hatchlings. Nests can be found everywhere, and it's fascinating to watch a mama bird care for her young.
Along with encouraging empathy for all living things, bird watching also provides a platform for discussing the larger scope of nature. What does the Cooper's hawk perched on your power lines eat? Are there enough squirrels and chipmunks for her to feed her chicks? How might the farm fields being bulldozed to build houses affect where she can build her nest? Observing birds in their ecosystem (along with their place in the food chain) reveals how different aspects of nature work together.
Each bird has its own call, even if they all sound like "tweet tweet" to novice birders. By teaching children to listen to each unique song, they will learn to sharpen their hearing.
Several websites have sound bites of common bird calls so you can study with your children at home before heading outdoors to identify specific chirps. The National Audubon Society has some great online activities and a free mobile app that can help you get started learning the birds in your area. You often hear a bird before you see it, so this is a great way to connect with more species.
Learn Environmental Responsibility
On top of appreciating nature, birding also teaches children about responsibility for the environment. Place a bird feeder or bird bath in your yard so kids can be in charge of keeping their feathered friends well-nourished. This is a good opportunity to discuss birds' diets and why it is important to leave artificial ingredients—including food coloring—out of bird food. Kids can even make their own seed mixtures or hummingbird food to ensure that local birds have meals that they can rely on.
When birding in a wild space, such as on a hike, kids can learn about native plants and the importance of keeping to designated paths to avoid trampling foliage. This is also an opportunity to talk about the necessity of green space and animal habitats in urban areas.
Observe Migratory Patterns
Many birds migrate from north to south in the fall—and vice versa in the spring—and this natural occurrence is a wonderful educational opportunity for kids. You can talk about short versus long distance migrations, and come up with questions to research later. Why do geese fly in a letter "V"? What do birds eat while they migrate? Do they fly during storms?
Migratory patterns can be observed each season, year after year, giving kids a long-term research project that reveals truths about their local environment. If you have a budding biologist, they can investigate past scientists whose numbers, dates, and other data tracking bird migrations are now helping us study climate change. WBUR shares how the writer Henry David Thoreau spent years tracking bird migrations at Walden Pond in ways that still help conservationists today.
Gain Mindfulness and Appreciation
Our modern world encourages constant multi-tasking, but it's important for growing brains to stop and recharge. The stillness of bird watching is less of a skill and more of an opportunity to pause and take it all in. You and your family might be surprised at the things you discover besides birds!
Bird watching is a hobby that can be enjoyed at any age. By fostering an appreciation for nature in your children, you are giving them a gift that will last a lifetime.
If you are looking for more nature-based ideas for family fun, check out Ashley's suggestions for outdoor activities and Sher's sustainable craft projects. What nature outings do you enjoy with your kids? Send us your tips on Twitter!
The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.
Why It’s Good
The benefits of bird watching for kids are boundless. This hobby inspires a love of the environment, encourages empathy for living things big and small, and provides educational opportunities at every level.