How To Get Kids Interested In Bird Watching
My name is Hannah Miller, and I’m a keen gardener with a passion for the environment and wildlife.
For the past six years, I have taken great strides to encourage more wildlife into our garden and have taken my children to wildlife sanctuaries and educational centres as I want them to be as passionate about wild animals as much as I am.
Bird watching is a wonderful interest to take up; it’s affordable, you can start in your back yard, compared to other hobbies; it’s not been affected by Covid restrictions much, and you’ll get closer to nature and learn about these incredible animals.
Bird watching is a hobby whereby watchers look out for birds and log details either into a book, app or spreadsheet, usually along with a photograph or two as well.
It’s a popular hobby with thousands of groups across the USA and Europe.
Where to Start
Children are like sponges; they soak up the information presented to them, and then they like to go out and explore or gain experiences in their own way.
Our first suggestion is to take the kids to a bird sanctuary charity where they can see rescued birds as well as unique and rare birds.
By sanctuary, we don’t mean a zoo or establishment whose main purpose is entertainment but rather a charity rescuing birds and educating visitors.
A typical example is the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Hampshire, where children will experience:
- Daily activities.
- Visit the bird of prey hospital.
- Feed wild birds.
- Handle owls and birds of prey.
- Go on an explorers trail and complete tasks which involve spotting and recording detail of birds.
There are many similar organisations and charities that offer such experiences, and most are affordable, with some relying on donations.
Get a Pair of Binoculars
Binoculars are a great way to watch birds whilst keeping them far enough away that you don’t disturb them or scare them off.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on binoculars; in fact, just a cheap second-hand pair will suffice.
We do suggest that you buy a small compact pair, though, as carrying around a heavy, bulky one is more of a chore than fun.
The RSPB charity has published a handy guide for those looking to buy their first binoculars.
Buy a Compact Bird Identification Book
While there are plenty of apps, websites and search engines one can use to find pictures and details of birds, a good old fashioned identification book is the best place to start.
You should choose a book that includes all the birds you’ll likely see in your area.
Ideally, the book should be compact and light enough that it can be carried around easily.
A good start for these in the UK and western Europe would be the Collins Bird Guide that includes advice on how to identify each species and a handy distribution map.
The USA is a much larger country with a more diverse environment so it might be best for kids to choose identification books by state rather than by the country as a whole. But that said, there are two very popular books that cover a wider area worth looking at if you want to go in at the deep end:
Collins Bird Guide:
Collins is one of the most popular, informative and complete bird watching field guides in the United Kingdom and western Europe.
NG Field Guide:
National Geographic’s Field Guide covers all of the United States and is a complete and popular book.
Buy Your First Bird Table
A bird table is a great way to encourage birds to come to you, and if I’m honest, I personally think that a bird table is an essential item that should be in every garden.
If you don’t have enough space or your ground is uneven, there are plenty of bird feeders you can hang from just about anything.
You only need two things on your bird table to attract birds; water and seeds.
You’ll soon learn that different birds eat different seeds, and you can attract different species by changing the food you leave for them.
We highly recommend setting up a camera on a tripod, so if you see a bird species for the first time, you can get some great, clear photos.
We have a small tripod on the windowsill with the camera attached, so neither my partner nor I have to flap around setting it up.
One final tip for garden bird watching; some birds are very early starters, some are more active later in the day, and some become reclusive during scorching, wet or cold weather. By putting bird food out at different times, you will see different species, so don’t be afraid to mix things up.
Install Garden Bird Boxes With Cameras
There are hundreds of bird boxes for sale in local stores and online, and they are a great way to encourage birds to set up a home and stay for longer.
You can secure them to the side of your house, hang them from a tree or under the roof eaves, just keep them off the ground as birds prefer an elevated position which deters many predators.
To make things interesting, you can install a nest camera, either wired or over wifi so your kids can keep an eye on the birds without disturbing them.
Bird nest cameras are very popular with children and are a great educational tool; it also gives them something to do when it’s raining outside.
Join a Facebook Group or Online Community
Bird watching isn’t a purely scientific endeavour; one of the main reasons birders partake in this hobby is social. Friendships are formed, holidays and breaks are enjoyed, and it’s a great way to get outside and explore with others who like wildlife and the environment.
The best way to get started with bird watching is to join a local or national Facebook group or similar online community and ask where you might find certain rare birds.
Most watchers are keen to show off their photos of rare birds and are willing to help newbie bird watchers with hints and tips.
Facebook Birders is a popular international group with over 60,000 members.
All Things Bird Watching UK has over 25,000 members.
For complete beginners, we recommend joining local groups too, so you’ll see bird species, locations and photos from your local area.
Start by going to the most popular bird-watching spots on good weather days, and it won’t take long to meet like-minded people.
The Best Birding Apps
Birding apps have become very popular in recent years and are handy for logging data about the birds you find.
You can store plenty of data from the precise location, date/time, specifics etc. and photos you’ve taken.
As these are all phone-based apps, they mean you don’t need to carry a notebook around with you, making them very convenient.
This app consists of a field guide to birding. It can be used on all most iPhone and Android devices and has an easy tool for searching different types of birds based on their features like size, colour, and location. The app includes a variety of photos and drawings that can be used with the guide. It also consists of an interesting sound gallery so you can what different birds sound like.
From the manufacturer: eBird Mobile makes it easy to record the birds you see in the field and seamlessly link these observations with eBird–a global online database of bird records used by hundreds of thousands of birders worldwide.
With over 4 million downloads, Audubon is a popular regional app covering North America. From the manufacturer: The Audubon Bird Guide is a free and complete field guide to over 800 species of North American birds, right in your pocket. Built for all experience levels, it will help you identify the birds around you, keep track of the birds you’ve seen, and get outside to find new birds near you.
Bird Watching Etiquette
As with any hobby, interest or sport, there are a few do’s and don’ts.
Here is a brief guide to birding etiquette, which is mostly applicable when out in popular bird watching locations:
- While in the wild, it’s important you keep noise to a minimum, so you don’t spook away the birds.
- Keep your distance, but use binoculars and zoom lenses to get close shots.
- Try to wear appropriate clothing and blend in with the environment if you can.
- Plan your trip in advance but have a backup plan B.
- Don’t approach nesting birds and don’t post information online about nest locations for rare or sought after birds.
- Don’t trespass on private property.
- Put your phone on silent and take your waste home with you.
Explore more: The rules and etiquette of bird watching.
Explore Further Afield
Attracting birds to a garden and exploring the local area is a great way to start, but bird watching comes into its own when watchers travel further afield.
Some birds prefer tall trees; others prefer to closer to waterways such as streams and rivers, while some dwell around open fields.
Seeking out new areas is all part of the fun and is why bird watching is a sport that compliments:
- Dog walking.
- Visiting gardens and national parks.
Even in city centres, you’ll find parks that are bustling with wildlife, and you might be surprised at some of the rarer birds that put in an appearance from time to time.
Create Challenges For Children
To keep children interested in birds and wildlife in general, you can create challenges or tasks for them to complete, such as:
- Do a wildlife survey, perhaps counting as many different species of birds as possible within a time limit.
- A photography challenge to see who can take the best photos with a judge deciding the winner.
- Learn to identify birds without looking at the field guide with regular tests.
- Do the blindfold challenge – can they recognise the species of bird by the sound it makes? (Many birders can identify without even seeing the bird)
- A feather hunt challenge.
- Create a birdbath from household objects (example here).
RSPB – The United Kingdom’s leading bird charity has a ton of information on their website, including lots of activities for children.
The American Birding Association Discussion Group on Facebook is worth visiting if you’re based in the US.
All About Birds – Learn how to identify birds in four simple steps.
British Bird Watching For Beginners has over 31,000 members and is one of the best online groups for complete newbies.
Bird Finder – over 400 birds are listed here with photos and images so you can easily identify them.
The best places to watch birds in the US (Lonely Planet).
Meet The Author: Hannah Miller
Hannah is a former NHS administrator, mother of two and keen gardener with a horticulture qualification who loves growing new plants and experimenting in the garden.
She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.
This year is all about pollinators, and Hannah has set herself the goal of only buying new plants that attract pollinators; she aims to make the garden as bee and butterfly friendly as possible.
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