How to Get Your Kids into Bird-Watching
Want to get your kids interested in bird-watching? Adventure Publications editor, dad, and bird nerd Brett Ortler gives you his tried-and-true tips.
Start with the Backyard
One of the perks of bird-watching as a hobby is its convenience—when you set up bird feeders, you can bring the birds to you. Better yet, kids can even help you set up: they love scooping bird seed into the feeders, and if you want to get them involved in a project, you can even make your own food for birds—for more on that, check out Adele Porter’s Cooking for the Birds, which features 26 recipes to attract your favorite bird species.
Once your bird food is available in your yard, birds may not show up immediately. But if you provide a variety of high-quality bird food, keep the feeders filled consistently, and offer a water source, birds will show up! And when they do, kids will often spot them before you do!
At our house, we have two large suet feeders, a Nyjer seed sock, and a large platform feeder with black-oil sunflower seed in the line of sight from our kitchen table. Every morning at breakfast, we have a constant birding play-by-play.
Get a Field Guide Especially for Kids
Once the birds show up, you need a way to identify them. Traditional field guides tend to cover hundreds and hundreds of species and may have birds that aren’t found in your area. In my experience, that can lead a kid to chucking the unhelpful tome across the room. (I was that kid growing up!)
Instead, state-by-state field guides designed specifically for kids, such as The Kids’ Guide to Birds of Minnesota or the The Kids’ Guide to Birds of Florida are far better options. They won’t have every bird in your state, but they cover the most common and sought-after birds, and they are simple and intuitive to use, as they are organized by color.
Head to Your Local Park
And if you live in an apartment or in an urban area, you can still bird-watch! In apartments, window feeders are sometimes an option (though check on your building rules first).
These feeders give you an up-close-and-personal look at birds, which kids love. And even if you can’t set up feeders, green spaces are often birding hotspots. Parks may even offer birding checklists or host feeders themselves.
To make the trip bird-centric, bring along a pair of cheap binoculars for each child, a notebook to record your finds, and a field guide. You can also make it a game and see how many birds you all can spot on each trip. And recording the birds in a special birding-only notebook is a great way to start a life list (a record of all the bird species a kid has spotted).
Bird Projects and Citizen Science
And when it comes to birds, there are plenty of other ways for kids to get involved. Whether it’s building a birdhouse, participating in citizen science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count or FeederWatch, or learning to bird “by ear” (listening for calls and identifying them), there are many ways to get kids involved in birding!
If you enjoyed Brett’s post about bird-watching with your kids, you may consider one of these amazing bird books: The Kids’ Guide to Birds of Minnesota, The Kids’ Guide to Birds of Florida, Cooking for the Birds, Backyard Birds: Welcomed Guests at our Gardens and Feeders, or one of Stan Tekiela’s birding guides.
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