July 31, 2008

Bird-Watching Boys

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"Mom! Look! Another robin red-breast!" shouted 3-year-old Aaron, replacing the "r's" with "w's." The bird didn't care how Aaron said its name; it flew off the moment it heard a human voice. I jotted down the time, location, and species in a little notebook I kept in my home office just for this purpose.

Having a pet budgie at home and our family's love of hiking has helped foster an appreciation for birds in our three sons. When my oldest son was a toddler, I made some laminated cards featuring clip art images of birds commonly seen in our part of the country, like robins, cardinals, and mourning doves (Jackson referred to these as "Good Morning Doves"). Every time we saw one of those species, we'd take out the card and display it on the refrigerator.

This spring, I took our bird watching to a new level by signing up with www.ebird.com to get the kids involved in monitoring the many species of birds we see on our property. A joint endeavor of the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, ebird allows birdwatchers to track even casual sightings of birds online. The data collected is shared with scientists, land managers, and naturalists worldwide.

The big hit with the kids is the clickable interactive map that includes satellite images of just about anywhere – including the stand of tall pine trees beside our home. Setting up an account is free and you can enter data about the birds your family spots throughout the day, including the time they were sighted, species, and gender.

Having a good birding guidebook is helpful to identify the birds you see, whether at home or away. We love the Audubon and Petersen field guides, with color illustrations of species sorted by region, size, and type. There are kid-centric birding books out there, too, providing everything from help with identifying that yellow fellow in the trees to tips on creating bird-friendly habitats.

During winter months, families can also participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (www.birdsource.org/gbbc/) and Project Feeder Watch (www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/). Both projects also engage kids in bird watching while also helping scientists track local species with a few mouse clicks.

Check out these great birding books for kids:

  • Backyard Birds (Petersen Field Guides for Young Naturalists), by Jonathan Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting
  • Take A Backyard Bird Walk by Jane Kirkland
  • The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens by Robert Burton

    Looking for more creative solutions? Click here to see our best Dream Team stories.

    How do you encourage your kids' interests in nature? Click the comments link below to find and share ideas.

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