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Since my family has been staying home more due to COVID-19 restrictions, I have been constantly looking for new ways to entertain my boys and get them outside. I’m also always looking for ways to squeeze in a bit of learning, so the idea of backyard birdwatching is really interesting to me.
I’m not an expert in birdwatching, but I think this works in my favour because it is something my boys and I can explore and learn about together. Online research is a good starting point for amateur birdwatchers, but getting outside and making observations is what is going to get kids interested.
To set the stage for backyard birdwatching, it’s a great idea to try and attract birds to your home. You can attract birds naturally (e.g. hanging baskets of brightly-coloured flowers to attract hummingbirds), or you can put out birdfeeders to attract a variety of wild bird species. Just remember to keep feeders clean and avoid substances (like food colouring and sweeteners) that can be harmful to birds.
You can also spend some time making DIY birdfeeders using natural and recycled materials. Recently, my youngest son and I made simple heart-shaped birdfeeders to show our feathered friends a little love. We started by cutting heart shapes from stale bread using a cookie cutter. Then, we put holes in the bread with a straw and strung the hearts on pieces of twine. We finished the bird feeder ornaments by covering the bread in peanut butter and covering the peanut butter with bird seed. We hung the ornaments on the branches of a tree in our yard.
Making bird houses is also fun. Bird houses can be built with wood and nails (if you have the skills), or you can buy pre-made versions and spend your time painting and decorating. You can also cut openings in milk cartons and jugs to make simple recycled versions.
Making a game out of birdwatching is another easy way to get kids engaged. How fun would it be to set up a backyard birdwatching safari? Pictures of different types of birds can be attached to trees in a neighbourhood or on a trail. Then, kids can be given clipboards containing matching pictures, and they can start their search. To make it into a fantastic educational activity, you can include names and facts about each of the birds.
Print this image and bring it with you!
For a quick activity, I made a simple birdwatching scavenger hunt for my boys using generic items like “a black bird”, “a bird house” and “a nest”. If you wanted to invest more time, you could print a comprehensive field checklist for your area, and work hard identifying a wide variety of species. We found a wonderful listing of all the birds of Nova Scotia at www.nsbirdsociety.ca.
Having the right tools is also key. Binoculars are very useful for observing wildlife, and a camera is really helpful for documenting sightings. Keeping a journal detailing finds and observations is also fantastic.
During this crazy and uncertain time, embracing nature is a wonderful way to relax and improve mental health. Birdwatching is an educational, fun, and relaxing activity that the whole family can enjoy together.