Dad sitting in a colourful lawn chair on teh edge of a forest with two kids (also in lawn chairs), all with their hands to their ears.

Discover birds with your kids

Today’s post comes from Eva Paleczny, Learning & Education Leader with Ontario Parks.

On my drive to work one morning, I noticed a bunch of Mourning Doves sitting in a row along an electrical line. As I continued driving, I wondered why birds gather in groups like that…are they being social? Is it advantageous to their survival?

Birds are among the most commonly seen wildlife in our parks and cities, yet probably among the most difficult to observe and identify, due to their intricate colour patterns, quick movements, and ability to stay hidden from view. Not to mention the HUGE variety of bird species out there!

Despite this, I’ve seen many young children express awe and excitement when they see a bird fly by or land on a nearby window sill. These are new sightings for them and they are curious…but eventually, they become ordinary sightings.

How can you tap into discovering birds with your children at home? How can you spark a lifelong curiosity in birds and creatures?

Some fun ideas you can try out:

Make believe

Engage your children’s imaginations by pretending you are birds that need to build nests for your babies.

Ask lots of open ended questions to get them inspired, such as:

  • What kind of bird are you?
  • Are you a small or big bird?
  • What kind of habitat/home do you live in?
  • Do you need to keep your nest warm?
  • Do you think the nest should blend in with your surroundings?

Explore your backyard or a nearby park for the perfect materials to build your nests! When everyone is happy with their nests, ask lots of questions to prompt sharing, such as:

  • What did you use to build your nests?
  • Why did you choose to use these materials?
  • How many eggs do you think will fit in each nest?

Four kids in colourful clothing walking side by side on a wide trail in the forest. Two little ones have hiking poles, bigger than they are.

Before or after sharing, you could even draw a picture of the bird that might use the nest. After, be sure to return all materials (except garbage!) back to the natural environment together.

Sit spot

Find a spot to sit quietly and observe the world around you. This can be a short daily, or weekly activity that also builds some independent reflection into your lives. This could be in your yard or at a nearby park, and preferably a place that you can easily return to frequently.

Dad sitting in a colourful lawn chair on the edge of a forest with two kids (also in lawn chairs), all with their hands to their ears.
Listening for birds with my dad and brother in the early ’90s

With your children, decide how long you will stay in your sit spots. Take journals and coloured pencils along if you like, to draw or make notes about what you hear, feel, see, smell, and even taste!

Make note of different sounds you hear (traffic noises, people’s voices, bird sounds, air-planes), things you feel (wind blowing on your face, the ground beneath you), things you see (birds, plants, insects, berries, houses), and things you smell (the neighbour’s laundry or cooking, a strong smelling plant or tree nearby).

Female Red Wing Black Bird with straw in it's beak, perched on a branch with blue sky in the background.

When the time is up, share your observations with each other. If you like, bring the conversation back to birds by asking some questions:

  • Did you see or hear any birds?
  • What did they look like?
  • What do you think they were doing?
  • Which bush did you see them in?

Silent safari

Challenge your children to sneak through the backyard or nearby park with you — in search of birds! Look for movements, sounds, and signs they’ve left behind (a feather, nest, or droppings). Bring journals to draw or write about your discoveries if you like.

Three kids and one dad, hunched over the side of a boardwalk in a bog, looking at plants etc. Boreal forest in the background and blue sky.

Before beginning, choose a time frame (such as 10 minutes) and agree not to talk or make a sound as you move about your yard, neighborhood, or park. Agree to stay within sight of each other and rehearse a call-back sound, such as an owl hoot or wolf howl! Or stick together as you explore.

Two young girls, about 9 years old, in a forest. One is pointing up to the left, and the other is holding a pink tube up like a telescope to see.

After exploring you can ask questions to prompt observation and memory, such as:

  • How many birds did you see flying overhead?
  • Were they large or small?
  • What colours did you see?
  • Which one was your favourite?
  • Did you see any birds in trees?
  • What do you think they were doing?
  • Did you see any signs of bird activity, such as a feather?
  • What does this feather remind you of?
  • Did you hear any bird sounds?
  • What do you think it was saying?
  • What was your most surprising discovery?
  • Your best discovery?

Attend a Discovery Drop-in

Ontario Parks is now offering a new type of program at many of our parks! These Discovery Drop-ins are informal (drop-in any time within a two hour time frame), and encourage hands-on exploration, observation, and discovery of our parks natural and cultural features.

Group of about 15 people in a field with butterfly nets, in a program with Ontario Parks staff, on a sunny day.

Discovery Guides will provide you and your family with Discovery Activity Books and tools to explore the topic of the day – such as Feathered Friends! Visit the park page for details on kids programs.

Looking to take your birding adventures up a notch?

Binoculars can really enhance your discovery of birds by allowing you to get a close up look at their intricate colour patterns and movements! Click here for a good article on choosing binoculars for children.

Bluebird perched on a fence post, with a brown background.

Find out how you and your children can contribute to science research by becoming Citizen Scientists. Also, some cool birding apps include eBird for recording your sightings, and the free Merlin app as an accompanying field guide. Merlin provides info on the birds you are most likely to see based on your location and season, and provides tools to help you identify your bird quickly.