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Birding is a great activity that we enjoy, but sometimes, children also want to tag along. Our children are naturally curious about what we’re doing out birding and about the environment. Don’t let that go to waste! I spent some time to a little research on the net on birding with children and I came up with the top 10 tips. Let’s get started!
Top 10 Ideas For Birding With Children:
- Run Through a Birding Field Guide With Them
- Show Them How You Gear Up To Go Birding
- Start Near: From Your Backyard
- Consider Purchasing A Bird Watching Kit For Kids
- Get The Kids To Take Fun Field Notes
- Play: Count The Birds
- Play: Bird Scavenger Hunt
- Challenge Them To Clear A List Of Birds
- Watch A Bird Documentary Together
- Start Birding By Ear, Young
Your child will definitely love birding more if you practice these tips. These tips are great in a list, but if you read on, I’ll cover them in more details, with some examples on you can do them effectively!
1) Run Through a Birding Field Guide With Them
Birding starts with the basics. Basics are where we started off as birders too! We were once all baby birds just hatched from our eggshells. So we all need to start with the small things first such as getting them fascinated with birds.
How to get your kids fascinated with birds? Easy. Just get them to read your field guide. Of course, if you have a younger kid, you might want to start with a field guide with more pictures and illustrations. Field guides tend to have beautiful pictures of birds in their full plumage and these can work really well in stimulating your child visually.
You can start off by asking them what their favorite color is, then find a bird that is in their exact favorite color. Then you can follow up by reading the description of the bird while describing the bird’s plumage, vocalizations, and size! Make sure to make it entertaining and funny so they won’t get bored.
If you don’t have any field guides on hand, that’s okay! You can alternatively use an encyclopedia with birds, a bird database online or a birding app with a database! There are lots of free options out there. If you’d like, you can start with eBird.
If you’re feeling creative and want to do more, show them videos of the particular favorite bird on YouTube! You can do a simple search and see videos of that particular bird. This is great for kids because it not only stimulates them visually but also in their hearing. You can get them to imitate the calls of the bird, so they will grow up to know the difference between a hoot of an owl and the chirp of a warbler.
Here’s a great YouTube video just to pique their interest in birds:
2) Show Them How You Gear Up To Go Birding
Kids love to imitate us. They also love to be curious about what we are doing. Very often, they tend to mimic our movements and what we do and wear. Now that your kid is just started to be more curious about your birding hobby, it’s a great time to introduce them to your gear.
Kids naturally LOVE an adventure and a great way to start is to first start with a quick introduction of gear. Lay them out neatly, then name each gear with a small description of its function. Then when you’re done explaining, get them to name the items one by one, and with each item, you’re going to pack them into your backpack. If you use a packing list, make sure to get them involved in checking each of the items off as you pack them in.
This process of packing gear and getting ready really instills a sense of awe that your kids will have for you, making them even more excited for their first birding experience outdoors with you!
3) Start Near: From Your Backyard
Birding has to start somewhere with the kids, why not start somewhere near? You want your kids to experience the outdoors but also want them to be safe. A great place to start is your own backyard. If you live in the UK, that’s your garden. If you don’t have a backyard, then just visit a nearby park.
How to go birding in your backyard? That’s simple! Just get your kids to go out to the backyard and practice their eye to spot birds. Kids, if already exposed to birds through videos and field guides, would have been familiar with the birds in the area. In this, I highly recommend you to spot the bird first then lead your kid to the bird!
As you spot the bird, flip through your field guide or open your field guide app on your phone, and run through the bird with your children again. If they can read, ask them to read the name of the bird out loud. Get creative in teaching them about the birds! You can get them to imitate vocalizations, play with hand actions, and just have a good time!
If this is your first time out birding with kids, take your time with getting them to spot birds! Ideally, you’ll want to expose them to the experience, not the actual birding itself. The goal is to have fun birding, so don’t worry too much if you’re not spotting and ID-ing every bird that you see.
If you’re really serious about teaching your kids about backyard birding, you may consider getting a bird feeder. Bird feeders are simple devices that are placed in the backyard to supply birds with food. You’ll need to do a little more research on the topic, then purchase one that’s suitable for the size of your backyard.
4) Consider Purchasing A Bird Watching Kit For Kids
The gear that you put on is way too big for the kids. The binoculars that you have may be too expensive to allow your kids to drop them. Your kids want to look like you when you head out birding. Kids love to imitate adults, and there’s a way to do so. You can consider purchasing a suitable bird watching kit for kids!
Bird watching kits typically include a REAL low magnification binoculars. This means that they get a pair that has enough zoom for to see the birds in the backyard, without breaking the bank. The kits typically also include vests and safari hats suitable for birding. These make the trip to your backyard a whole new adventure!
With a bird watching kit, your kids will get to play dress-up, and gear up together with you, so you both look the part. It can potentially be a really fun time as a family to prepare and head out together birding. Now that kids have their own hats and vests, older kids can carry their own binoculars and pull them out to spot birds when they want to!
I know that you don’t want these kits to break the bank, and I myself like to keep to a budget. So I have done a little research for you on some really good bird watching kits on amazon. Do read this article I wrote on the breakdown on which bird watching kit is perfect for your kids, with links provided!
5) Get The Kids To Take Fun Field Notes
Just spotting birds alone may make your kids bored after awhile. Then you’ll need another trick up your sleeve: field notes. Remember how you always took notes in your notebook about the birds you saw while out birding? Kids can do that too!
Start your kids off with a big empty notebook. You can get your kids to design the cover of this notebook as they deem fit. Have fun and get creative with it! In this big empty notebook, you’ll want them to draw the bird that they see while out birding. You’ll need some color pencils, markers, and crayons to draw. Of course, this may be a little tough for them, so do help them out with the colors to pick and the shape of the bird. Drawing the bird not only helps in their observation skills, but it’s also fun and engaging. Kids get to train their motor skills in drawing and documenting: a great step in the direction for a future science career (Just kidding!)
After having some fun drawing and coloring in the colors, you’ll want them to write down (if they can write) the name of the bird. You can either spell it out for them or get them to spell it themselves. It doesn’t matter if they spell it wrongly, as long as they can pronounce the name correctly. Drawing and writing help to reinforce learning about the birds. You’ll be surprised how fast kids can pick up new information!
6) Play: Count The Birds
If you’re tired of drawing, coloring, and spotting birds, you can play: Count The Birds. Counting is an essential part of growing up as a kid. You’ll want them to be exposed to counting in real life so that they can use these in real situations when they grow older. Instead of counting items in a textbook, they’ll be counting real birds perched in a tree. This will be a great way to gamify birding for younger children.
If you spot a clear line-up of birds on a pole or on a branch, you can get your kids to count the number of birds. It’s a great and organic way to introduce your kids to the arithmetic counting! If you really want to be engaged with them you can try this: with every 5 birds that are counted, give them a high-five! Like this: “1…2…3…4…5! There are 5 birds sitting on the tree! High-five!” Feel free to get as creative as you want with this!
7) Play: Bird Scavenger Hunt
Remember the thrill of the hunt that you experienced as you were tracking down a lifer? Don’t you know that your kids also experience this? Kids are curious and want to be challenged to meet a goal because it gives them immense satisfaction. Try doing a simple game of Bird Scavenger Hunt!
In a Bird Scavenger Hunt, kids have one aim: to try to spot as many different birds as possible. (species does not matter for simplicity’s sake) Start from zero and slow count the number up until the end of the outing. This is a great way to get started into something similar to a birding life list. This encourages a keener eye to spot for birds, and awareness of birdlife around them.
8) Challenge Them To Clear A List Of Birds
Drawing, counting and simply finding birds may a bore to older kids. If your kids are older and would like an extra challenge, you can first determine a list of common birds in your area and get your kids to finish the list. If they do, give them a reward! Rewards help them to feel a greater sense of satisfaction when they accomplish a task for themselves. The importance of doing this is to encourage an intrinsic love for birds and birding so that they will go on to do it themselves when older!
For clearing this list of birds, you may want to allow them to search for birds in their everyday lives, and not just when they are out birding. Birding isn’t all about purposefully entering the woods to look for birds, it’s sometimes the casual opportunity to witness a rare bird in sight on the way to school! As your kid develops a keen eye for birds, you may want to increase the difficulty by extending the list with more uncommon birds.
9) Watch A Bird Documentary Together
Some children may get bored with seeing the same birds over and over again in the neighborhood. Then it’s time to take the birding up a notch. Your kids may start to ask you interesting questions like: “what time to birds get up in the morning?” or “do birds crash into each other?“. I wrote the answers to these questions in separate articles in the links above, you can check them out.
The best way to infuse science into birding is to get the kids to watch a bird documentary together with just yourself, or as a family. This is a great family bonding time of learning and discovering more about birds. Bird documentaries commonly cover topics like bird migration, bird behavior, and mating rituals. These are extremely interesting to watch, especially for the highly curious kid in your house.
Here are some basic recommendations for documentaries you can watch:
10) Let Them Take The Lead
Sometimes, although it may feel great to always be in control of the birding experience that your child has, it’s good to let them take the lead occasionally. When games are too rigid and set in a structure, kids need to focus hard to complete a task. If you’re overdoing it, it may seem more like a chore than a game to them.
I’m sure that we can all agree that birding can be a relaxing activity, even for us. Our kids should get some time to enjoy nature and the birds, and take the lead! If it means allowing them to chase away pigeons off the sidewalk, then let them do it and have fun! While birding can be competitive and objective, sometimes it’s just great to let them let loose and have a great time outdoors. Kids just wanna have fun!
Birding outdoors with kids can either go really well or really badly. Keep these tips in mind, so that you will have a fruitful, fun, and engaging family bonding time with your children while out birding. Always remember, birding is not all about completing objectives and ticking birds off our lists, but also about teaching them to love birds and nature!
My Recommended Birding Resources:
Hey there, Justin here!
Here’s a list of all my favorite resources, products, and brands I trust and love.
Safe Paint for Bird Baths Guide: Learn about non-toxic paint for painting bird baths.
Safe Sealers for Bird Baths Guide: Learn which sealers are safe for bird baths.
Safe Paint for Bird Feeders Guide: Learn what special care needs to be taken to paint bird feeders with the right paint.
Safe Paint for Birdhouses Guide: Learn about non-toxic paint for painting birdhouses. (Not the same as bird baths!)
Bird Identification Apps Guide: 2 of my favorite birding apps are Merlin Bird ID, and eBird Mobile! Merlin is great for tracking and identifying birds, and eBird Mobile is great for tracking the birds sighted when birding.
Check out my resources page for the full list of resources I recommend!
Justin is the founder and author of Birding Outdoors. He is a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) alumnus with a Bachelor of Biological Sciences and a former data analyst.
Now, Justin runs the Birding Outdoors blog full-time, hoping to share his deep love for birds, birding, and nature with others.
To unwind, Justin enjoys gaming and reading.