Walk outside with your children, watch and count birds for 15 minutes while recording the names of those you know, and report your bird count to be part of a world-wide citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds, creating an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. On any or all of these four days, February 17-20, 2017, you will be part of the more than 160,000 people who do this every February for the Great Backyard Bird Count, a global event facilitated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada.
Get children ready for the day by looking at the birds that regularly hang out around the play yard or nearby park. The Great Backyard Bird Count website has many tools for identifying birds. I like children to handle life-size cardboard silhouettes of the common birds to help them remember bird sizes and shapes. See February 2007 The Early Years column, “Birds in Winter,” (free to all) for a description of using silhouettes to make bird shape rubbings. See additional resources for children about birds in a March 2011 blog post.
As children see birds, help them tally up the total number seen at a single time (you don’t want to count the same pigeon 25 times!). Observing birds is a great way to begin a discussion on animal diversity, comparing size, colors, and the locations birds seem to prefer. Over time, children begin to identify distinctive bird calls and songs. By entering the data your children collect, they will be helping to answer questions such as, “What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?”
When children’s interest in bird watching is high, setting up a feeder near a window can create an on-going science center for collecting data about which species visit which type of feeder. See an example of a data collection sheet that you can revise to show the species in your area. Begin now and your children will see the bird population at their feeder change as the season changes from winter to spring and beyond.