Friday, April 1, 2011

Bird Watching for Kids

Magpie by John Gould
I've forever been fascinated by birds. You guessed that from the Chook reference, right? We love to walk, and I'm always on the lookout for bird species I recognise, or more likely don't recognise. I listen out for bird calls too, and try to identify them. While I wouldn't call myself a twitcher or a (fully fledged!) bird watcher, being aware of the birds in my neighbourhood and national parks is part of my life.

Most children are fascinated with their natural environment, so introducing them to some form of bird watching makes good sense. You don't need special equipment - although you could introduce binoculars, reference books and online resources if you want. Bird watching develops kids' observational skills, and over time they'll begin to identify individual birds and their habitats. Recording birds you see will interest some kids - a bird watching journal would be an excellent way to keep a record by writing, a description, drawing, storing photographs etc. At Mindful Drawing, Paula is keeping a record of the birds she sees and draws during winter, and her blog would be a great source of inspiration for kids. Children might also like to collect feathers and fallen birds' nests.

One of the many things I love about Australia is the amount of birdsong we have. Once I began to travel to other countries, I discovered other people are not so lucky. Of course, it doesn't feel lucky when you're lying awake at 3.30 am and there's a koel determined to wake the neighbourhood! Here's a website that has many common Australian bird calls you can listen to. Encourage auditory memory and auditory discrimination by playing a game with these calls. Listen to say three calls of favourite birds and then play them again and try to distinguish between and identify them. Can you identify that same call out in the wild?

The Australian Museum has a great website called Birds in Backyards. There you can find out all about introduced species, why some birds behave badly in urban habitats, and explore many different species kids are likely to come across. I like the layout on each page about individual birds - it provides a description, a map of their distribution, often a call, as well as details about their lives.

My favourite page is the Top 40 bird songs. If you're not familiar with Australian bird calls, check out the Common Koel, Laughing Kookaburra, Willie Wagtail, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Australian Magpie and Rainbow Lorikeet for an idea of how noisy it gets Down Under! I love the classifications of group songs - there are The Sorrows, The Screechers, The Hooters, The Carollers, The Cacklers etc. There's also a bird finder that might help you identify a particular bird.

The US Audubon Society has a website which includes an Online Guide to North American Birds. You can browse by family, common name or use the quick guide or advanced search. It also has a special kids page with activities like guessing bird calls, printable word search puzzles etc.

The RSPB website is a guide to UK birds. If you take a peek in their shop, you'll find the cutest bird finger puppets.

One of my favourite birds is the Manakin bird. You can see it in action on Youtube, and read more about it at Wikipedia. Did anyone say moonwalk? And there's a lovely video of baby wood ducks jumping out of a tree to be with their mother at National Geographic Kids. Aren't those ducklings the cutest!

Being interested in birds not only enriches my days, but also provides a focus for local, interstate and overseas travel. I love to seek out bird sanctuaries or walks that incorporate bird hides and information points. You can include visits to zoos and Botanic Gardens when holidaying with your kids, and they will slowly begin to appreciate birds and other animals.

Bird watching can involve children in all sorts of great activities and thinking skills - reading, writing, drawing, collecting information, observing, analysing, researching. It takes kids outside and allows them to learn about their environment. Combining it with a trip to the library, the museum, the zoo, and even the pet shop will help your child to gain more understanding of a fascinating species.

Some children who say they don't like to read will adore nonfiction. Keep an eye out for books about birds, especially a good field guide. Some kids start with enjoying great photos, move on to listening to text, and suddenly find themselves picking out words and reading. Such is the power of an absorbing interest.

Here are some interesting bird pictures on Flickr, and at Treehugger you'll find Extraordinary Photos of Commonplace Birds.

Find more articles about animals at The Book Chook: Wild Music, Let's Celebrate World Animal Day, and Virtual Visiting - Switcheroo Zoo.

Image credit: By John Gould, Birds of Australia (http://www.nzbirds.com/birds/magpie.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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