Spoiler Alert: If you’re like me and the other parents that I hang out with, we are always looking for fun activities outside to get the kids away from their screens. I grew up bird watching with my father, and now I’ve discovered that it’s a terrific, year-round outdoor activity to get us all outdoors. This is one of our favorite outside activities for kids – and even parents!
Why Should I Introduce My Children to Bird Watching?
On a recent vacation, my son and I went for an evening walk on the beach. While he dug wells and canyons in the sand, I spied an osprey over head. The splendid creature outstretched its massive wings and dove for the water.
I was at the waterline and my son was about 10 feet from me on the beach – I hissed his name as urgently and yet as quietly as I could all at the same time – hoping I was loud enough to catch his attention but quiet enough not to frighten the bird off.
The osprey, a large bird of prey, was hurling toward the water a mere 20 feet from the shoreline…
This is a video of an osprey fishing. It’s what my son and I were lucky enough to witness from the beach. He was amazed. The look of his face got me hooked on showing my son more.
Seeing something like this and understanding what is happening is truly an awe-inspiring experience.
When I’m trying to get the kids off screens, it sometimes feels like I’m fighting a losing battle. I feel like the screens numb kids to the wonders of our real world. So any outside activity for kids that puts the majesty of our natural world on display is a winner for me!
Fun Activities For Kids Outside – They’ll Love Bird Watching
Children are capable of so much more than we give them credit for and their minds are open and excited to try new things!!
A treasure hunt or other adventure just can’t be beat for most of us! Do your children love pirates? Go on a hunt for the lost pirate parrot! Will you find the parrot? How will you know if the bird you find is a parrot or not?
The treasure hunt is what bird watching is all about! You never know what you will find. Any you can never predict if you will find a new bird or see birds that you have already learned.
When you get home, you can always research if you weren’t able to identify the bird you saw while you were outside. Don’t forget you can always draw or paint pictures of the birds you saw; you can search for feathers or bird nests… The possibilities are endless!
Children can craft bird houses and bird feeders. Most home improvement stores have kits to build a bird house. Also, home improvement stores also frequently have weekend programs where younger kids can make a feeder while they are there! Children can put gross and fine motor skills to work building houses, feeders, or bird baths.
Here’s an oldie but a goodie: find a pine cone. Tie a piece of string or yarn around the top. Spread peanut butter all over the pine cone and then roll it in bird seed. Tie your “feeder” to a tree and watch the birds flock around!
Bird Watching As A Fun Activity for Kids Outside – What Do They Learn?
Bird watching is such a great learning tool! Children enjoy everything about this hobby – they love animals, they enjoy the outdoors and time with a parent, they love searching for things (think hide and seek), and, frankly, critters that fly are just cool. Children can learn so many things directly from bird watching:
Use Outdoor Activities To Teach The Social Sciences
Diversity: Each bird has its own niche and coexists with other birds and animals in the same habitat. Children learn that everyone can contribute to their family and their community in a unique and meaningful way.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum (Senegalese Forestry Engineer)
Geography: Birds are found on every continent on earth. Most species migrate (seasonal movement).
History: “The birds in the backyard may be here and now, but studying birds can actually teach kids a lot about history. Bird mascots, state birds and other symbols all have historical significance, and learning about extinct birds can connect human history with wildlife history.” (source)
Did you know that birds ancient ancestors are dinosaurs?!??
Learn Various Science Subjects
Environmental Responsibility: Children who are taught about birding and who enjoy birding will grow into adults that care deeply about our environment. They may also choose to become involved in youth programs aimed at conservation.
Adaptation: Birds in different locations all have different and specific adaptations that they have made to thrive in their environment.
Food Chain: “All birds need to eat, but not all birds eat the same things. Young birders who actively feed backyard birds can quickly learn about the food chain, and studying other wild birds can teach kids about predators, prey and the natural balance in food populations.” (source)
Flight: Animals that fly are naturally intriguing. Bird watching will teach children that different birds fly in different ways. Some catch wind currents and soar gracefully, while others dip and dive, while still others like the hummingbirds have such rapid wingbeats that they look more like insects.
Watching birds can help children begin to understand the mechanics of flight. They can also examine the benefits of different methods of flight.
Skills Learned Through Outside Activities for Kids Like Bird Watching
Children benefit from bird watching by developing a love for learning; an appreciation for multiple scientific disciplines; hiking is great exercise; and finally, being outside in nature provides innumerable and immeasurable benefits.
In addition to everything that they learn directly about the natural world, bird watching provides children with an opportunity to develop really important life skills. (source)
Studying birds and learning how to be a birder can teach kids great secondary skills, such as:
Skills Learned From Bird Watching
- OBSERVATION: to find birds in the wild
- LISTENING: to identify birds by their song
- COMPARISON: of two challenging / similar bird species
- RESEARCH: the identification of a bird
- PATIENCE: waiting for birds to appear
How Can We Start Enjoying This Fun Activity For Kids Outside?
Just step outside! That’s all you have to do to start. You don’t need any fancy equipment or skills.
As you begin to see a few birds, you can do more and more to encourage them to come to your yard. Birds need shelter, water, food, and a place to raise their families, so if you provide those four things – they will come. Researching favorite treats for various species can help you attract that bird that you’ve just been waiting to find. Try to place feeders close enough to windows that you can enjoy the show the birds will put on for you. That’s really all you need to get started. I have some other, more specific, suggestions for you at the bottom of this post.
If you want a great app for identifying more common birds, the Audubon Society has a free app that you can download!
Here are some of our favorite products to help further your bird watching once you’ve gotten started. (Affiliate links)
And The Icing On The Cake…
We travelled a lot in Europe with my father’s job when I was young. We would be driving on narrow switchback roads in the Alps, and my father (the driver) would stop watching the road and say “Look! A bird!!!”
As he swerved back toward his own lane, he would identify the bird. My mother was constantly terrified that she would personally learn the details of Grace Kelly’s tragic death and I thought my dad was a nut job.
My uncle was a life-long avid birder as well. It is a life time passion for him and it took him to the far corners of the world to develop his lifetime bird list.
He came to visit when my oldest was two and a half. My son has always enjoyed watching birds and knowing their names. My uncle asked him if he could see the “red bird” out the window.
“That is NOT a red bird. It’s a cardinal!”
Bird Watching Stories Have Been Passed Down From Grandpa
Hearing stories of their grandfather birding as a young boy – with his brother – helps ground my boys own sense of identity.
Intergenerational stories anchor youngsters as part of a larger group, helping them develop a sense of identity. In 2008, researchers at Emory quizzed 40 youngsters ages 10 to 14 on 20 family-history questions, such as how their parents met or where their grandparents grew up. Those who answered more questions correctly showed, on separate assessments, less anxiety and fewer behavior problems.https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-secret-benefits-of-retelling-family-stories-11573468201
At the end of the day, I love fun outside activities for kids – like bird watching -because they are so enriching for children and adults alike. Children learn so many things from being outdoors and witnessing nature.
But I also think that the enjoyment my boys get from birding is something that their grandfather and I teach. It’s something that Grandpa, uniquely, can pass down to them for a lifetime. It’s passed down for them to enjoy during their lifetime going forward and as a tradition with their grandfather that reaches back into the past.