Bird-Watching Activities for Kids

July 3, 2024

Bird watching is a perfect outdoor activity that blends education with adventure. It offers an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about nature while enjoying the thrill of spotting different bird species.

Engaging children in bird-watching activities can spark their curiosity, teach them patience, and foster a lifelong appreciation for wildlife. From choosing the right supplies to creating bird-focused crafts and designing a bird-friendly yard, we’ll cover everything you need to know to turn your outdoor space into a bird paradise and make bird-watching a fun family adventure!

How to Start Bird Watching with Kids

A little boy bird-watching in the woods, using his binoculars.

Starting bird-watching with kids is a fantastic way to connect them with nature while teaching them valuable observation and listening skills. Here are some practical tips to help you get started.

Kid Bird Watching Tips

  • Begin with listening: Teach your kids that birds might be challenging to spot but often easy to hear. Introduce them to the art of listening to bird calls and identifying birds through their unique sounds.
  • Talk about silence: Teach kids the importance of staying as quiet as possible while bird-watching. Explain how sudden noises can startle birds and cause them to fly away. You can turn it into a game by seeing who can be the quietest for the longest time.
  • Teach about mindful movements: Guide children in moving slowly and carefully when trying to get a closer look at a bird. Fast movements can scare birds away, so practicing slow, deliberate steps is key.
  • Practice patience: Bird watching often involves waiting patiently for birds to appear. Encourage your kids to see this waiting time as an opportunity to observe all of nature’s beauty, not just the birds.
  • Build observation skills: Encourage your children to observe their surroundings closely, looking for signs of bird life, such as woodpecker holes, seed caches, droppings, nests, and feathers.
  • Lead with curiosity: Allow your children to lead the way. Their natural curiosity will guide them to interesting spots and findings. Whether choosing paths during walks or identifying birds with a field guide, their involvement makes the experience more meaningful.
  • Discuss bird behavior: Share with kids that if a bird starts to exhibit signs of distress or attempts to move away, it’s important to back off and give it space.
  • Instill respect for nature: Discuss the principle of leaving no trace in nature by ensuring kids know not to leave any trash behind and to avoid picking flowers or disturbing natural elements.

Supplies Needed for Bird Watching

Binoculars and a bird guide on a bench.

You don’t need much to start birdwatching (besides the birds, of course!). But if you’d like to take your kid’s bird-watching adventure to the next level, consider these essentials:

  • Binoculars: Find lightweight, durable kid-sized binoculars that are easy to handle. For an imaginative alternative, have your kids make cardboard binoculars.
  • Notebook and colored pencils: Encourage your children to keep a bird-watching notebook. This can be a space for them to record their sightings, create a life list, sketch the birds they encounter, and jot down any interesting behaviors or patterns observed.
    • Life List: A “life list” is a personal record of all the bird species they have seen. Keeping a life list can add an element of excitement and achievement to their bird-watching activities, motivating them to identify and learn about new species.
  • Bird guides: Opt for a guide that covers your specific region and is designed for kids. These guides can be traditional books or digital apps (check out Merlin Bird ID), which are interactive and user-friendly for tech-savvy kids. We’ve put together a bird guide on the Common Birds of the Northwest.

Where to Go for Bird Watching

Bird watching can be enjoyed in various locations, offering unique opportunities to observe different species and behaviors. Here are some ideal places to explore:

  • Local parks and gardens: These green spaces are frequented by various birds, making them excellent spots for observational learning and practice. Look for parks with water features like ponds or creeks, which attract an even wider array of birds.
  • Nature reserves: These areas are managed for wildlife conservation. They provide safe havens for birds and offer families a chance to see species that might be less common in urban settings. Visit the Audubon Society or National Park Service to find a nature reserve near you.
  • Near bodies of water: Areas near lakes, rivers, or the coast are perfect for observing waterfowl and migratory birds. These locations often attract species like herons, egrets, and swans, providing diverse bird-watching experiences.
  • Your own backyard: Setting up feeding stations can turn your backyard into a bird paradise, attracting an array of species for close observation. (You’ll find more about transforming your backyard into a space for birds in the sections below.)

17 Activities to Get Kids Interested in Bird Watching

Getting kids interested in bird watching involves tapping into their curiosity and love for nature. Turning bird watching into an exciting and interactive activity can spark a lifelong interest in the outdoors and wildlife.

Make It a Game

Transforming bird watching into a game can significantly enhance the experience for kids, making it engaging and enjoyable. Here are some ideas for games and activities that will entertain and educate young bird watchers.

Bird-Watching Scavenger Hunts

A little girl in a red dress who found a bird feather for her bird watching activity.

The thrill of the hunt adds an element of adventure to bird-watching, encouraging kids to be observant of their surroundings.

Creating scavenger hunt cards

  • Design scavenger hunt cards featuring local bird species.
  • Each card can include a bird picture, a brief description, and interesting facts.
  • Tailor the cards’ complexity to match your child’s age and experience level.

Setting objectives

  • Simple objectives like spotting any bird or identifying birds by color can be highly rewarding for younger children.
  • You might set more specific tasks for older kids, such as finding birds native to the area or observing specific behaviors, such as a bird collecting nesting materials, building a nest, or feeding its young.

Prizes and rewards

  • Consider offering small prizes or rewards for completing the scavenger hunt to add excitement.
  • This could be anything from a bird-themed sticker to a special outing related to nature or wildlife.
  • The promise of a reward can motivate kids to engage deeply with the activity, enhancing their learning experience.

Identify Birds by Their Songs and Calls

A little boy using a bird sound tool while bird watching.

Learning to identify birds by their songs and calls is a skill that adds depth to the bird-watching experience. This activity can turn an invisible presence into a vivid encounter, even if the bird remains unseen.

Introduction to bird sounds

  • Start by introducing children to a few common bird sounds using apps or online resources.
  • Teach them fun mnemonics or memorable phrases that mimic the bird sounds. For example, the American Robin’s song “Cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up” or American Goldfinch’s flight call  “Potato chip, potato chip”

Listening games

  • Challenge kids to close their eyes and use their ears to find birds when out bird watching.
  • Using bird call apps or recordings*, you can play a “guess that bird” game. In this game, kids try to match the songs they hear with the correct bird species.

(*Warning: This activity should only be used at home and not in the field. Playing bird calls in the wild can disturb birds, especially during breeding season, and interfere with their natural behaviors.)

Interactive bird call learning

  • Encourage kids to mimic the calls using whistles, musical instruments, or their own voices. This interactive method makes learning enjoyable and helps them retain information better.
  • Introduce kids to pishing (also called “pshing”), a method bird watchers use to attract small passerines like sparrows, chickadees, and juncos. Phishing involves making a “psh-psh-psh” sound by blowing air through your teeth. This sound often piques the curiosity of small birds. Practice this technique at home and explain its use in the field, ensuring it is done ethically and minimally to avoid disturbing the birds.

Share Stories and Interesting Facts

A dad and son out in the forest talking about birds while bird watching.

Sharing stories and interesting facts about the birds you encounter can captivate young minds. For instance, did you know that the hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backward? Or that crows are among the smartest birds, capable of using tools and recognizing human faces?

Incorporate storytelling into your bird-watching sessions, focusing on different birds’ behaviors, migrations, and habitats. Highlighting the remarkable features of birds can inspire awe and wonder. Here are a few fascinating examples of birds in the Pacific Northwest:

  • Green Heron: These clever birds use bait and lures – such as dropping worms, sticks, or feathers in water – to attract fish.
  • Northern Flicker: This woodpecker has a unique tongue that efficiently excavates ants from anthills.
  • Bushtit: Both male and female bushtits work together to build a remarkable woven pocket-like nest, showcasing teamwork and nest-building skills.

By sharing these stories and facts, you can engage children’s curiosity and deepen their understanding and appreciation of birds’ incredible diversity and behavior.

Check out the Audubon for Kids for more exciting bird facts!

Teach About Bird Colors, Shapes, and Behaviors

A collection of bird feathers labeled with their names.

Helping kids identify birds by their colors, shapes, and behaviors can turn bird-watching into an engaging and educational activity.

Colors and Patterns

  • Teach kids to notice the color patterns on birds, such as the presence of stripes, spots, or patches of color.
  • Explain that even subtle differences in coloration can distinguish one species from another.
  • Additionally, discuss how colors and patterns can differ significantly between males and females of the same species.
  • Activities like drawing or coloring pictures of birds can reinforce this learning by encouraging kids to pay close attention to detail.

Silhouettes and Shapes

  • Show kids how to recognize the distinct profiles of different birds, such as the hooked beak of a raptor or the rounded body of a songbird.
  • Practice creating shadow puppets or silhouettes of birds and guessing the species based on shape.

Behavioral Clues

  • Bird behaviors can provide significant clues to their identity. For instance, woodpeckers are often found tapping on tree trunks and limbs, while swallows are known for their acrobatic flight.
  • Observing and discussing these behaviors can teach kids to identify birds by how they look and what they do.

Learn the Anatomy of a Bird

A drawing of a small bird with the different body parts labeled.

Before starting any anatomy activities, explain a bird’s anatomy to your kids. To help, here are some definitions you can use:

  • Basic parts: Start with the basics by identifying key parts of a bird, such as the beak, feathers, wings, tail, and feet. Explain their functions in simple terms, like how the beak is used for eating and the wings for flying.
  • Feather types: Birds have different types of feathers that serve various purposes. Primary feathers help with flight, while down feathers keep a bird warm. Highlighting these differences can be an eye-opener and spark curiosity about bird physiology.
  • Bird skeleton: Discuss the lightweight nature of a bird’s skeleton, which helps them fly. Mention interesting facts, such as how many bird bones are hollow to reduce weight but strong enough to withstand the rigors of flight.

Draw and Label

This exercise reinforces their observation skills and introduces them to basic biological concepts.

  • After observing birds in your backyard or a nearby park, encourage kids to draw what they’ve seen.
  • You can then help them label the parts of the bird, such as the beak, feathers, wings, and talons.

Compare Anatomy

Engage kids in comparing the anatomy of different birds.

  • Discuss how variations in features (like the shape of beaks or the size of wings) relate to the birds’ feeding habits and environments. This can lead to an understanding of adaptation and evolution.

Anatomy Puzzles

These hands-on tools can make learning about bird biology interactive and fun.

  • Create or purchase puzzles that focus on bird anatomy.

Memory Games

This not only makes learning fun but also enhances retention.

  • Create flashcards featuring pictures of birds with labels for different body parts.
  • Use these cards to play memory games, challenging kids (and adults!) to match the bird with the correct anatomical term.

Anatomy Songs

Put together a simple song or chant about bird anatomy. Music is a powerful memory aid, and creating a catchy tune that describes different parts of a bird can be a delightful way to learn.

Storytelling with Birds

Use storytelling to weave in facts about bird anatomy.

  • For instance, tell a story about a day in a robin’s life, highlighting how its anatomy helps it survive and thrive.
  • Stories can personalize learning and make abstract concepts more relatable.

Create Bird-Focused Crafts

A little girl painting a bird house as a bird watching activity.

Using bird-focused crafts fosters creativity and deepens kids’ interest in bird-watching by giving them a hands-on connection to nature.

DIY Bird Feeders

Creating backyard bird feeders is a simple and enjoyable project for kids. Hanging these feeders around your yard provides food for the birds and brings them closer for observation.

  • Peanut butter and birdseed: Use everyday materials like pine cones, peanut butter, and birdseed (like Nature’s Nuts and Wild Delight products for high-quality seed that attracts various birds).
  • Fruit: String together pieces of fruit like apples, oranges, and grapes to create a colorful and nutritious bird feeder. Hang these garlands in your yard to attract fruit-eating birds.
  • Plastic bottles or milk cartons: Use empty plastic bottles or milk cartons to create simple bird feeders. Cut openings in the bottles, fill them with birdseed and hang them using string. This project is a great way to teach kids about recycling and reusing materials.
  • Other natural feeders: For more bird feeder ideas, read DIY Fall Bird Feeding Projects for the Whole Family and DIY Pumpkin Seed Feed for Birds & Squirrels.

For resources on feeding birds, check out the following guides:

Build a Birdhouse

Like feeders, birdhouses can be a fun DIY project. This activity teaches children about the nesting habits of different birds and gives them a sense of accomplishment when birds use their birdhouses.

  • Encourage kids to research which bird species are common in your area and customize the birdhouse design to suit those specific birds.
  • Build a birdhouse using a kit or with supplies at home, like leftover pieces of wood.

Bird Baths

Setting up a bird bath is another way to attract birds to your backyard. Watching birds bathe and drink can offer insights into their behaviors and social structures.

  • Use a shallow dish or a large plant saucer and decorate it with non-toxic paints or mosaic tiles.
  • Place the finished bird bath in your backyard with fresh water.

How to Design a Bird-Friendly Yard

A bird splashing in a birdbath from Wilco Farm Store in a backyard in the Pacific Northwest.

Creating a bird-friendly yard is a rewarding way to attract various bird species while contributing to biodiversity and wildlife conservation.

Involving kids in this process can be educational and fun. Let them help choose plants, set up feeders, and decorate birdhouses. This hands-on experience teaches them about nature and fosters a sense of responsibility and creativity.

Steps to Attract Birds to Your Garden

Follow these steps to turn your outdoor space into a bird paradise:

  • Choose native plants: Native plants are crucial because they have evolved alongside local bird species and provide the natural food sources and shelter birds need to thrive.
  • Create layers of vegetation: Birds need different types of shelter for nesting and protection from predators. Include ground cover, understory shrubs, and canopy trees to create a multi-layered habitat that caters to various bird species’ needs.
  • Offer natural food sources: While feeders are beneficial, native plants offer seeds, nuts, berries, and nectar, which cater to the natural diets of wild birds. These plants also attract insects, a primary protein source for many birds.
  • Add a water source: Providing clean water through birdbaths or water features can attract birds that may not visit feeders but need water for drinking and bathing.
  • Avoid pesticides: Chemicals that kill insects and weeds can harm birds directly or reduce their food sources. Opt for natural pest control methods to keep your yard safe for birds.
  • Provide safe nesting sites: Consider installing birdhouses or preserving dead trees as natural nesting sites. Ensure birdhouses are species-appropriate and placed in safe, strategic locations to protect them from predators.

For more on choosing plants that attract and feed birds, read Feeding Birds in Spring.

Setting Up Backyard Bird Feeders

  • Have a variety of feeders: Different birds are attracted to different types of feeders. Tube, platform, and suet feeders cater to various bird species. Placing a variety of feeders around your yard can attract a diverse bird population.
  • Choose the right food: From black oil sunflower seeds that appeal to a broad range of birds to specialized blends that attract songbirds, selecting the right food can increase the variety of birds visiting your yard. Nature’s Nuts and Wild Delight products are excellent choices as they offer a wide selection of seeds, nuts, and blends.
  • Keep your feeders clean and filled: Regular cleaning prevents the spread of diseases among bird populations, and a consistent food supply keeps birds coming back.

Check out our Comprehensive Wild Bird Feeder Guide for more on bird feeders.

Embracing the Joy of Bird Watching with Kids

Three boys writing in their bird journals while looking at birds in the Pacific Northwest.

The joy and excitement of discovering new bird species and observing their behaviors will bring you closer to nature and each other. So grab your binoculars, pack your bird guides, and embark on a bird-watching adventure with your kids.

Happy bird watching!