Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bird Watching, a Family Hobby

A few days ago, Leslie noticed a huge flock of small birds in a tree across the street.  Not able to see them clearly enough from the house, we put on sweaters and wellies and sloshed across to the tree.  There were at least 200 Bohemian Waxwings in that poplar!   Resting along their spring migration, they were all taking turns drinking from puddles in the lane, and feasting in a small crabapple tree nearby-- gorging themselves on last summer’s shriveled fruit.   I've heard that since the fruit is fermented by this time, feasting Waxwings can get 'tipsy' but these seemed to be sober (though I might not have noticed the difference)!
Birding has become such an interesting part of our family life, since we moved into a neighbourhood with trees!   
We’ve recognized its value as a shared family interest that none of us will likely ‘outgrow.’  Both our children have become more sensitive to what’s happening outside their windows-- noticing not only the birds, but also other wildlife, the weather, the subtle changes in the trees and plants, and so on.   They’ll often call us from another room, “Come quick!  There’s a bluejay outside!”  Or they’ll pop their head in the front door to say, “There’s a jackrabbit out here, and he’s turning brown!”  
Bird-watching helps children learn to be still and observe, to appreciate just looking at something beautiful, without having to touch it or play with it.  Even as an adult, I find that watching the birds at the feeder outside my kitchen window can bring the busy-ness of life to a momentary stand-still.  Doesn’t matter what you’re doing- if there’s a Rosy-headed Finch at your feeder, warbling away, you drop everything and just enjoy every second of its presence.  
More useful tools for sighting and identifying birds...
  • Visit your local wildlife preserve, wetland area, or bird sanctuary.  It’s usually free!
  • We love our “Field Guide to Alberta Birds” Make sure the local guidebook you use has coloured photos, and detailed descriptions of birds' calls and migration patterns.  Bring it on every outdoor adventure, so you can check off the bird-kinds as you see them.
  • A good bird-feeder or two will bring the birds to your own yard.  Research what different birds eat so you can attract the kinds you want, like songbirds.
  • If you don’t have trees or shrubs nearby, plant some!  Birds will nest there.  You can also provide bird-houses, but again research what kind each bird prefers.
  • In spring, make a ‘nesting wreath’ or other offering of nest-building supplies.
  • A pair of binoculars is sometimes useful-- but certainly not necessary.
  • Check out this page at, where you can hear the songs of over a hundred North American birds.  Beautiful!
Does your family bird-watch?  If so, what other ideas would be helpful to folks just starting out?  If not, what’s your family’s favorite outdoor hobby?  


  1. I completely agree with what you say about bird watching! We LOVE it too! We love our book "Birds of Alberta". We write down the date and the place we spotted the birds in the page and sometimes girls will write in their "nature journals". I love it that our kids are aware of their surroundings and they are curious. Nurturing their curiosity becomes key to their life long love of learning. Information alone is useless without real life connection. Do you remember last summer we had a pair of robins that nested right on our door way? We still talk about that lots. So special.

  2. What a great family activity!

  3. Kiko, nature journals- that's a good idea! I do remember the robins nesting on your door. Are they back this year?
    Melissa- your boys interested in birds yet? :)


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