Resources for Birding with Children

 

We enjoy all kinds of nature study, but we have a real love of birds. Two of my children are featured on Cornell Ornithology’s Celebrate Urban Birds website, and you can find out more about some of the things we have done in teaching these avid and accomplished birders in my post How we got started in Youth Birding.

It has been very fun to take an element of nature study and run with it to the point that I trust it will be a lifelong passion for my boys. I’m excited to share with you some of the resources we have found helpful for this kind of focused nature study on birds.

We first became interested in birds when reading Jeannie Fulbright’s Young Explorers Apologia Science Volume 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day. This is the first book in an excellent science series for children. We’ve used several books in this series and the children have loved every one of them. There are many colorful pictures, informative text, a Christian creationist worldview, simple experiments with available household items, opportunities for keeping a nature journal, and narration prompts to help children tell what they’ve learned. I cannot recommend this series highly enough for the Kindergarten-6th grade homeschool science class. Even our preschoolers have enjoyed listening to these books.

These videos, designed to help kids get started with the basics of birdwatching, are excellent.   Kids will learn things like how to identify birds through field marks, size, shape, color, and other cues.

In past years we have kept a generalized Nature Notebook. On walks outside, we might find a flower to press or a bug to study and write about. This year, though, my two elementary-aged boys have kept a Nature Notebook specifically about birds. In it, they draw birds that they’ve seen at the feeder, along with making some notes about what they saw and when. They also include drawings of birds they would like to see…most birders keep a life list, but my boys also keep a “wish list”.
We have really enjoyed the North American Birds set from Notebooking Pages to help us in this endeavor. The best thing about this set is that it provides coloring pages for many common birds, along with space to record their English and Latin names, lines for jotting notes about the bird, and blank range maps that allow my kids to research and then record each bird’s winter and summer range.

Les Beletsky has three books that include bird song recordings from Cornell Ornithology’s extensive recording library. His book Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song was our first introduction to learning bird songs, and it has added such joy to our birding! Each bird in the book is numbered, and you can select that bird’s number on a small digital player that is attached to the book to hear its call. Now we often hear a bird and instantly know what is singing in our trees, even if we can’t see it.

My children enjoyed listening to bird songs so much that I got them a set of Birding by Ear tapes, and eventually we also purchased its sequel More Birding By Ear. In these CDs, a narrator introduces the listener to different birds, playing their call and teaching a mnemonic device to help with remembering the call. This is not a set for the typical child. A child who really likes birds may enjoy this, but it is made for adults. My children found the narrator’s voice very soothing, and they listened to these CDs while falling asleep every night for about a year!

We’ve made great use of a handheld device called The Identiflier, which you can load with a card featuring 10 bird calls. My kids have used this device and its cards to learn over 100 bird calls. The Identiflier is now available in an even more convenient form. You can purchase it as a small book and laser pen set. The laser pen reads a barcode in the book and plays the bird’s song, eliminating the need to carry dozens of song cards in the field.

The most useful tool I’ve found for my youngest children are the Audubon Plush birds.
My children have been collecting these little stuffed birds, which play authentic bird calls, for several years. I recently tested my 6 year old to see which birds he could name by sight or call. He recognized dozens of birds by both sight and call, and they are all birds that he has learned to recognize through playing with their Audubon plush birds. Even my four year old knows several unusual birds by sounds and sight because of his play with the Audubon plushies.

My children did a science fair project two years ago in which they proved that people can remember bird calls more easily if they learn a mnemonic device (memory aid) to go along with the call. A fun book for learning some of the mnemonic devices is Bird Talk by Ann Jonas.

We have used a lot of bird guides over the years, but our favorite (especially for children) is
Kaufman Field Guide to the Birds of North America
by Kenn Kaufman.

This bird guide is more intuitive than other popular bird guides. The birds are not grouped by taxonomy, for a scientist. They are grouped by similar characteristics, for a novice. Thus “chicken-like birds” are grouped together, as are “medium sized land birds”. Each category is color-coded and keyed to a simple, one page color-coded index at the back. The table of contents shows each color-coded section as a long bar, with photos of the types of birds found in that section along the bar. When my children began birding they were too young to read, and they found this guide very usable when others weren’t. I like it for myself, as well! I can find birds much more quickly in this guide than in any other.

I also recommendThe Young Birder’s Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America for children interested in learning more about birds. This guide is specifically geared toward helping the next generation get started with this fun hobby.

If you have a specialty birding store near you, I’d recommend going in to find some childrens binoculars. Most kids binoculars are so poor that they actually discourage kids from birding, yet the price point for anything remotely decent is usually about $65. I would rather see a child with no binoculars at all, than one who has poor binoculars which cause headaches and which obscure, rather than enhance, your view. Many specialty birding stores sell an intermediate binocular, however, that is about $10. These plastic binoculars actually give a decent amount of magnification and field of view for a young beginner, and the price point is so low that you won’t care if they get lost or aren’t used as much as you’d hope. This will give you a good idea of your child’s interest level and whether it is worth it to purchase something more expensive in the future.

Comments

  1. Awesome post! I’m going to check out some of the books you mentioned. My kiddoes have fallen in love with birding too. Even my three year old can identify several birds now.

    I’m going to bookmark this post as such a great how to teach children to love birding post. It’s so great.

    Rhonda

  2. Thanks, Rhonda! I have some other articles about teaching kids about birding on my birding blog. Here are a couple links for you:

    http://tinyurl.com/beginningbirders

    and

    http://tinyurl.com/teachingbirds

  3. Wonderful review of available resources. Thanks so much!

    I’m having an awful time remember bird calls so maybe one of these resources can help me too. ;D

  4. Wow, what a great job you have done! I so enjoyed your post and the CUB article. We have discovered a love of birding and I will definitely use your egg game to help our boys learn to use the binoculars. Thanks for such an informative post!

  5. Thanks for the great post! I found you on LIndafay’s blog. I really appreciate you taking the time to put all the info together for people like me. Question: do you like the old Thornton W. Burgess bird book where he writes stories about “sammy jay” etc. Are they helpful do you think?

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