For the Birds– Birding & Resource List

Bird watching with tiny ornithologists is no easy feat.
IMG_7641There is a constant flood of noise trumpeting our arrival minutes before we reach the glades that hold our most sought after birds. They often take flight before we even get there. Chances are, if we venture out of the house in search of a specific bird and preschoolers are in tow, we won’t have much luck.

So we learned to look for signs of birds around us. Discovering their nests, learning about their feeding habits, watching for patterns in their departures and returns to the neighborhood. We set up bird feeders in our trees and left colorful yarn in the back hollow for the birds to use when building their nests.

We stopped to listen.

Because we slowed down we heard the tiny chirps of baby cardinals tucked high in the limbs of our jasmine tree. We were there the day the nest tumbled down after a particularly bad storm. We scooped up the nest and quickly tucked it back in place.
IMG_4807 We started collecting abandoned nests in the late summer once the squirrels started knocking them down from the trees.

We know where the owl lives in the back hollow. Its small and brown and we love to look for its pellets. His head can rotate in the most alarming ways.

When the baby mockingbirds flew away from their nest, we peaked inside and found one egg that never hatched. Frail and small; blue and perfectly speckled. Dwarfed when held next to one of our chicken’s eggs.  We marveled at it.

The gaggle of ibis that frequent our yard, their long hooked beaks and funny legs probing the grass. They’ll hunt for bugs alongside our chickens.

The flash of bashful pink under the pines when the roseate spoonbill comes to visit.

Sandhill cranes, poking around the fence, stretching to their full height of 3-4 feet, look like nosy neighbors. The Gladys Kravitz of the bird world.

Our proximity to the Everglades provides us with a wide variety of birds to watch in our own yard if we simply sit down and look up. Peregrine falcons, hawks, and other raptors abound out here. We are even visited with some frequency by a beautiful bald eagle. We hear the loud screeches of these raptors as they close in on their prey. We find remnants of their meals on the ground beneath the towering pines near the orchard. The back end of a rabbit. The head of a small bird. A gutted fish.

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Tell me about the robin’s nest? Where is it located? What is the nest made of? What does the robin eat? We discovered these answers over days of rambling about the farm, remembering to keep our eyes and ears open. Pirate raids and jousting tournaments put on pause when we heard the familiar call of the blue jay that lives in the oak tree. We watched the epic battles between the jays and mockingbirds unfold before our very eyes. Quick turns out to the yard after breakfast to stop and listen under a nest teeming with young. We watched them grow up and fly away.

We spent time writing down the things we saw and when we saw them. Recording our findings helped us to see the patterns. The exquisite formula of nature.

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Two weeks ago we drove to a bird trail and found the gates locked. The boys were terribly disappointed. As we slowly drove home along the canal, we encountered a large stork, lit up by the early morning rays, a long snake dangling from his beak. I stopped the car and we stared at him in silence as he slowly slurped the snake down his throat like spaghetti. Nature always finds us, even on days when we are turned away at the gate.
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Yet the boys were determined to begin their own birding expeditions away from our yard. So I set about slowly teaching the boys how to birdwatch on the trail.

We started out by reading “Take a Backyard Bird Walk” by Jane Kirkland.  This is a fantastic introduction to the world of birding. How to find nests, learning about habits and migration, even learning how to determine what a bird eats based on the shape of its bill. There are blank pages for observation notes. This is not a book for bird identification but rather a birding “how to.” Truly, a great find that cements birding in the backyard and helped transition us to birding on the trails.

A few other books have sat on our school table, providing information and vocabulary tools for any curious passersby.

IMG_7931Along with the house favorite Fandex….

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We started with our native birds. Two at a time. We loaded our ark with knowledge in this way. We drew pictures and watched quick youtube videos about each bird. We squinted up into the sky in search of them.

We learned how to pack for our nature hikes. I learned to always bring a snack for the loudest preschooler. It keeps him quiet and out of trouble. I recommend our recipe for Audobonbons.
We record our findings and remember to check in with our local Audubon Society for help identifying unknown birds we encounter. Birding with littles can be challenging. Teaching children to be purposeful in their nature walks is challenging too. Both are incredibly fun and rewarding.
What started out as a brief unit study for My Father’s World Adventures in US History has become a lifestyle habit. We observe and record birds. They are familiar to us. They are part of our life rhythm here on the farm.  Birding teaches us to classify, record, relate, recall, and dialogue. It is now an integral part of nature study for us.

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Here are a few other tools and resources we use in our ongoing bird study.

Booklist:
Mama built a Nest by Jennifer Ward
Birds, Nests and Eggs by Mel Boring
Feathers, Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
What Makes a Bird a Bird? by Mary Garelick
A Nest Full of Eggs by Priscilla Belz Jenkins
About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sills
The Bird Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta
Feathers for Lunch by Lois Elhert (great for the littles!)
The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W Burgess
Beaks! by Sneed B. Colard III
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston
Birdsong by Audrey Wood
Our Yard is Full of Birds by Anne Rockwell
Two Blue Jays by Anne Rockwell

img_7142Activities:
Bird Bingo: A family favorite! There is also this version which features lovely hand drawn illustrations instead of pictures.
Lego Birds Model Kit: Bluejay, Hummingbird and Robin. They come with stands and a little sign inscribed with their latin names.
Bird Printables: I discovered these gorgeous printables  off the delightful homeschool blog Chaos Meets Creativity. We used our printables around the house on a rainy day. I perched them on picture frames or high on shelves. The boys took their toilet paper roll binoculars and practiced spotting them an identifying them.
State Birds & Flowers 1000 piece puzzle
Birds of the Backyard 1000 piece puzzle
Backyard Birds toob: We always use our 40% off coupons at Hobby Lobby for these. They work in sensory bins, working with ordinal numbers or color sorting, and we love to make homes for them out of playdoh.

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Online Resources:
Xeno Canto: The largest online collection of bird sounds 
550 North American Bird Calls
: specific to N.A.
All About Birds: Learn how to listen to and identify, bird calls. Browse the rest of the site for great information on birds!
10000 Birds:Loaded with info on birding and conservation
Nature Songs: More North American bird calls
Where do you want to go Birding today?: Database of the best place to go birding worldwide
There are some websites with bird calls specific to each state.
Florida
Wisconsin
Lots more if you do a google search of your state + birds!

4 thoughts on “For the Birds– Birding & Resource List

  1. Thank you for so many fun resources! We are doing Nests with MFW Kindergarten, and you inspired me to “bird watch” with my crew. They spotted 13 different birds in our neighborhood! 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement!!

    Like

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