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Where Have We Been?-Birdwatching! (Part 1)

Posted on Saturday, May 14, 2011 in Homeschooling Multiple Children, Nature Study

Where have we been these last few months? Taking a nice long break from blogs(mine and others) and…

We’ve been watching birds.

Birdwatching falls into the same category as History in my book.  It’s filed right under Something I Never Thought I Would Care About EVER, But Now I LOVE it.  This goes right back to my great secret about homeschooling, I have learned to love to learn.

In the same way we’ve become that family that watches historical documentaries for fun, we’re now the odd family trying to identify the birds that somehow made it into the rafters of Home Depot.  We’re that family-all the way down to the two year old.  We found her the other morning with the bird guides surrounding her, looking out the front window, identifying birds. True, she categorized all species as “Robin Bird”, but she does so with all the enthusiasm of a life-long birdwatcher.

I’m not a natural-naturalist.  Homeschool friends think I am until I tell them the real story.  Nature study doesn’t come easy for us, and it always looks so darn easy and beautiful on other peoples’ blogs.  Early on I heard about keeping a nature journal and became quite frustrated when my 5 and 7 year old didn’t become Audubon immediately. Was I failing?  Until this season of birdwatching, I put nature study on the back shelf.

Now I take a view with a longer lens.  We’ve grown into History.  We’re having a great, very natural time, studying birds.   It’s exciting to think what we’ll be doing by the time the youngest is ten or twelve. Maybe science will be in the same category by then!  So if you read this blog, and think “Oh my goodness, we have to study birds!”, and it doesn’t work for you-then put on the long lens, and keep doing what you’re doing for now.  There’s time.

This has been a great multi-age study.  We’ve read our bird books together, taking our nature walks together with baby on the back, and painted and water-colored our birds sitting around the table(okay, sometimes the baby is in bed for a nap by then).

We used to think we had two birds in our backyard: cardinals and robins.  Now we know we have brown creepers, mockingbirds, starlings, grackles, chickadees, sparrows, and bluejays.  We never noticed the constant chorus outside, now we notice it all the time.  We thought all nests were in a tree and all birds ate seeds.  Boy, did we have a lot to learn!

Our study of birds has included:

  • Reading fiction and non-fiction books in the morning after breakfast.
  • Working on activities from the nature patch program at our local nature center.
  • Going on nature walks with our birds guides and identifying birds.  (On our most exciting walk we found 9 different bird species, including the Pileated Woodpecker.  Who knew woodpeckers could be 18 inches long?)
  • Identifying birds around our backyard.
  • Creating bird related art and poetry.
  • Studying artists who have used birds as their subject.

Other than reading bird books every morning, I didn’t have a set schedule-we’ve tried to do related activities 1-2 times  a week.

Here’s are some resources that have transformed birds from black and white into brilliant color:


  • Our local nature center is focused on Birds this season for their yearly Jr. Naturalist Program and they have put together a wonderful pamphlet of bird-related activities that can be done at home or during nature walks.  Even if you don’t live in Tennessee, this would be a good jumping off point for studying birds together.  It’s also provided individual work for my 8 and 10 year old as I say, “Go pick another nature patch project and get started.”  You can print the pamphlet here.


Chapter Books

  • A Nest For Celeste by Henry Cole: We follow the kind-hearted mouse, Celeste, as she befriends John James Audubon’s assistant.  She has many adventures with the birds that are captured for Audubon’s drawings and in the surrounding fields.  As wonderful as the characters are in this book, the black and white detailed sketches really bring the story to life.  We kept our bird book on hand so that we could look up pictures of the birds as they entered the story.  A great companion to study of birds, mice, and/or John James Audubon’s art.
  • Burgess Book of Birds by Thornton Burgess-Follow Peter Rabbit as he greets his many bird friends who live near the great orchard, and get to know the cheeky Jenny Wren who always knows the real scoop on everyone.  Told in story form, we still learned a lot about the behavior and nesting of each bird.  Take this book a chapter at a time. And keep the bird guide nearby to look at actual photographs.(The edition in the amazon link has photograph illustrations, ours has black and white sketches).
  • Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat-I have not read this book, I found it at a used sale, perused it, and the kids have enjoyed it.

Picture Books

  • The True Story of Stellina Matteo Pericoli
  • Albert by Donna Jo Napoli
  • Owl Babies by Marin Waddell
  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
  • Hawk Hill by Suzie Gilbert

Bird Guides

  • The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America(Peterson Field Guide)-Our favorite guide. A great guide for young, new birdwatchers.  Using photographs instead of artist renderings, it’s easier to match the bird in nature to the bird in the book.  At a quick glance you can read a physical description and description of the bird call, see what area in North America the bird lives(in all seasons), and it includes photos of both the male and female.
  • Tennessee Birds-An introduction to Familiar Species(Pocket Naturalist)-Available for many states, this is a folded guide, good for a quick glance to identify the species and then look it up in a more detailed bird guide.  This contains pictures and names, with colored illustrations, but no detailed information.
  • Beginning Birdwatcher’s Book with 48 stickers(Dover)-I recently purchased this book for our 6 year old since he’s not as adept at sketching birds quickly during a hike.  As the young birder sees a bird in nature, they find the sticker that matches and place it on the right page.  Under the box for the sticker is information on food, nesting, range, and eggs, and a place for observations.  Since buying this book, we’ve only had a chance to use it once. It has a very nice layout.  I expected, however, a smaller book, easier for placing in a backpack, but this is closer to 12×10.  I’m also not sure if I like the sticker vs. the sketching format, we’ll have to play with it some more.
  • Birds, Nests, And Eggs-A Take Along Guide by Mel Boring: Includes helpful renderings of each bird’s nest and their eggs.  Also several bird related activities.

Non-fiction Books About Birds

(Note: I just went to the library and grabbed the most interesting books each week.  These are all great, but you can find other greats just by visiting your library shelf, if these are unavailable.)

  • Birds in Your Backyard by Barbara Herkert
  • On the Wing: American Birds in Migration by Carol Lerner
  • Cradles in the Trees The Story of Birds Nests by Patricia Brennan Demuth
  • A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart
  • Birds Build Nests by Yvonne Winer
  • Urban Roosts: Where Birds Roost in the City by Barbara Bash
  • Perching Birds of North America by Sarah Swan Miller
  • Watching Water Birds by Jim Arnosky
  • The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal by Sallie Wolf
  • Gone Again Ptarmigan by Jonathon London
  • Feathers by  Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
  • Owls Whooo are they? by Kila Jarvis and Denver W Holt

Videos about Bird Identification/and other great information about birds

  • Cornell School of Ornithology-We have really enjoyed the four videos on this side about bird identification.  I recommend loading the videos while you’re busy doing something else and then coming back to watch it.
  • Planet Earth:  Don’t miss this breath-taking series.  Though not specifically about birds, there are bird species throughout.  Although the narrator includes some evolutionary commentary, we simply spoke to our kids about it first. Without intending to, the producers created a series that brings glory to God and all of His creation!
  • March of the Penguins

After you’ve studied birds for a little while, test your knowledge with these two online quizzes.

    In the next post I’ll share more about the artists we studied and a few art project and poetry ideas.

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