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Birdwatching for Families

This low-cost family activity is tons of fun. Check out these birdwatching tips!

They’re everywhere: in the sky, among the trees, on the ground, at the beach, in the fields. Their colors range from startling red to brilliant blue and every shade of color in between. Some, like hummingbirds, are so tiny and quick, you can hardly follow them as they flutter from blossom to blossom. Others, like eagles, soar above us in majestic arcs, circling as they hunt for prey on the ground.

Birds are ubiquitous and inspiring. We can’t help but marvel at their ability to fly off into the blue horizon.

Unfortunately, as humans, we can’t fly. Without wings, we remain rooted to the earth, but that doesn’t mean we can’t watch in awe as avians flit about—sometimes alone, other times in flocks of thousands. And when we admire our feathered friends, we hit the pause button in our busy lives and engage in mindfulness. We slow down and breathe.

If you’re curious about nature and want to learn more about what’s around you, birding is a great skill and a fun hobby, especially for families. When you start to take note of the birds around you, you might find yourself more perceptive of other things. You might notice sounds you previously didn’t hear. You might start seeing small details in your surroundings, like individual trees, insects, fruits, and flowers. You might find yourself more in tune with the passing of the seasons. Birding can be a gateway into recognizing and appreciating a wider world that’s been here all along.

Here are four great reasons to get into birding today:

  • Birding is very low-cost. After the initial investment of a pair of binoculars and a birding guide, the only costs are what you spend on travel and entrance fees.
  • You can bird anywhere, anytime. It’s a hobby you can do in your backyard or take with you around the world.
  • It’s very rewarding to see something new, to be able to name what you see, and to make discoveries. It’s also only as much work as you want it to be.
  • Birding can also be a social activity (or not). Beyond being a fun family activity, birding clubs and park rangers offer programs where you can meet other people and look for birds together, pooling knowledge and providing more pairs of eyes and ears. Even informally, birders generally “flock together” and share notes. But if you’d rather keep to yourself, there’s plenty of space to do that, too.

What Essentials Do You need for Birdwatching?

Start with the Best Bird Guide.

Bird guides are essential for learning and identifying bird species. Guides are available in all shapes, sizes, and formats. So which is the right one?

The simplest kind of guide is a bird ID card. Usually a folded, waterproof sheet, it’s the lightweight option. These guides only list a few of the most common species, so you’re more likely to see the birds on the card. They are inexpensive and usually available in park visitor centers. These cards are a great way to introduce children to common birds they might find in a park.

For beginners, a bird book arranged by color may be the easiest way to get started. However, these types of books typically only list common species. You may find your interpretation of a bird’s color differs from the book’s!

Intermediate guides are usually arranged by shapes of birds, for example “duck-like birds” or “perching birds.” These types of guides may show either photographs of birds or illustrations. Illustrations were used in the earliest bird guides and their use continues to the present day. Illustrations may highlight features of a bird that are difficult to capture in a photograph. Photographs are often a more precise representation of color.

Mobile apps are also very useful to help you ID and log the birds you find. Apps may include sound clips you can use to help confirm a bird ID and may have a log feature to help you record your observations. Studying bird sounds can help you identify several times more birds in the field. One benefit is that you likely have your phone in your pocket anyway, so this is no additional weight in the field. However, a book may make browsing a bit easier.

Binoculars come in all shapes and sizes. Generally, smaller binoculars are lighter but have less magnification. Larger binoculars usually have more magnification but are heavier. Try out different sizes to find out what fits best.

The right attitude is the final supply you will need. Presence, curiosity, and patience will all help you start birding. Be present while you are in nature. Take note of your surroundings. What’s around you right now? Feel the air, hear the sounds, and the natural world will reveal itself to you in surprising ways. As John Muir said, “In any walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

Curiosity is a key ingredient. To become a better birder, you can explore different habitats, different seasons, and different places. You should want to be able to name the birds you find and learn about them in your bird guide.

The last ingredient is patience, both with yourself and with the birds. The birds don’t always cooperate, even for experienced birders. For you, there are a lot of birds to get to know. You will get better with practice. Just keep going!

Tips for Getting Started Birdwatching

Here’s How To Build Your Own Life List

Location, time of day, weather, and time of year can influence what types and numbers of birds you might observe. Here are tips for getting started.

Get to know your regulars.

Some birds in your neighborhood are common, year-round residents. By learning to identify these birds by sight and sound, and by recognizing their habits (How do they move? What do they eat? What do they sound like?) you will better be able to notice when something unusual comes along.

Find a good spot.

You might go for a drive through a wildlife area, walk on a trail, or sit in one spot and wait for the birds to come to you. One key is to find a place where two habitats meet, such as the edge of a forest and a meadow, or where muddy shorelines meet the water. Finding a spot where birds can find food and water can increase your chances of finding interesting species.

Time of day.

If the early bird gets the worm, then the early birder needs to be up even earlier. Many birds sing more at dawn and dusk because the cooler air and lower wind helps their song carry farther. These songs are not only nice to hear, they announce the presence of a bird you may not yet be able to see. While many familiar birds are active during the day, owls and many others become active in the evening and into the night. If you’re not a morning person, it’s not a deal-breaker.

Time of year.

Birds go where the food is, and for some that means moving from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year. Though you will likely have some year-round residents, some birds in your neighborhood may only appear in the summer, others only in the winter, and still others might only be glimpsed during spring and fall migrations.

Blend in.

Camouflage is not required, but it’s also well known that birders don’t wear white. By wearing inconspicuous colors and being quiet, you’ll avoid scaring birds away. Staying still helps, too. If you’re in a good birding spot, the birds will come to you!

Be patient.

While some birds sing and announce their presence continually, some birds are quieter and blend in to their environments more than others. They might only become obvious when you stay still for a while, staying alert for motion. Patience also goes for yourself too. Don’t be too frustrated when you can’t ID a bird; the challenge is partly why the activity is rewarding.

Take Notes.

Try writing a list of the birds you see, and where and when you saw them. If you keep a logbook, over time, you’ll be able to anticipate the movements of birds during migrations. Some birders like to keep a life list, recording every species they have seen in the wild.

Practice!

You don’t have to actively be looking for birds to practice. Take note of the birds you see and hear on your walk to work or school, while you’re looking out your kitchen window, or while you’re doing other activities outdoors. You might notice other interesting things, too!

Bird Responsibly

Take care of yourself. Bring water and snacks. Wear long, loose-fitting sleeves and pants to protect from the sun and biting insects. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen on any exposed skin.

Be aware of your surroundings.

Don’t walk with binoculars over your eyes - you could trip!

Take care of your environment.

While feeding birds in your back yard is a fun way to see wild birds, remember that feeding any wildlife in national parks is against the law.

Avoid approaching or disturbing nesting birds, their eggs, or their nests. If you find juvenile birds out of the nest, leave them alone. Nature knows best, and their parents are nearby.

So grab your kids, binoculars, and a bird guide and start your own life list today!

Reprinted from www.nps.gov.

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