Why should we watch birds? Birds bring nature to us wherever we are anywhere in the world. Birds live in the suburbs, and in the country. We spot them around the ocean and in the desert. Some of our feathery friends fly from the Arctic to Antarctica.
If you enjoy exploring the outdoors and observing wildlife, then birds are one of the easiest animals to watch wherever you live. How many bird species are in your area? I believe, once you begin to focus on birds, you’ll be surprised at how many bird families share your neighbourhood. I bet it’s more than you originally thought.
Watching birds will open a window within your mind to the complexity of their world, giving you a new appreciation for their awesomeness. Did you know birds are thought to have a built-in compass to direct their flight?
Last year, I challenged myself to notice and identify wildflowers and orchids. I did this by using tools like Wildflower and Orchid Field Guides and the iNaturalist App. I created a herbarium and identified the wildflowers I noticed.
This year, I’m challenging myself to watch and identify my local feathery friends. I may even learn how to draw birds and keep a nature journal. Plus, I have a goal to learn how to photograph birds better. Will you join me on a birding adventure?
We will learn:
- To Use Birding Tools like a Bird Field Guide, binoculars and apps that we will practice using below.
- To identify birds by noticing their size and shape.
- To Identify birds through colour patterns and markings.
- To Identify birds through birdsong and sounds.
- To learn their behaviours.
- To notice their habitat and range.
Using a Bird Field Guide
I use the Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds by Peter Slater, Pat Slater, and Raoul Slater. You can use your bird field guide or choose one from your local library to familiarise yourself with its layout and features.
First, flip through the contents page where you’ll find a list of bird families. Within the bird family groups, similar species of each group will be displayed together. Read through the listed bird categories, then choose one family group to examine further. Notice all the similar kinds of species listed on the page. Point out their common names and scientific names. Each bird has a description and a range map. Read the introduction to the Field Guide where you’ll find each feature explained.
Second, choose one species to focus on, and interpret the symbols next to the bird images using the symbol chart listed in the Field Guide Introduction. Point out the adult (ad) bird, then the juvenile (juv) / immature (imm) bird, identify the male and female image. Notice the different markings on each bird.
Third, practice by spotting a few of your bird friends outside and finding their identification in the field guide. Pick out your favourite bird and share it with me by #naturestudyaustralia on Instagram or within our Facebook Group: Nature Science for Aussie Families.
Fourth, find the birds you identified in the field guide on the eBird Explore website. Examine the photographs, and decide whether they are adult (male or female), juveniles, or immature birds. Listen to a few audio files and familiarise yourself with their songs, then watch a few videos and take note of their behaviour.
First, listen to this video to learn the parts of binoculars and how to use them.
Secondly, if you have binoculars, practice using them to spot birds.
Useful Birding Apps
Practice using your birding apps through sight and sound identification.
Begin a BirdLife List
A ‘life list’ is a document detailing every species someone may encounter over a lifetime. It may be a life list of birds, bugs, or mammals. Since we’re watching birds, let’s begin a BirdLife List. Download your Birdlife List and a Bird of Interest ID page to document some of the common birds you notice daily. Practice using your field guide!
Birding for Teens
Older children/teens can be encouraged to enjoy birding as a lifelong hobby. Birding skills progress beyond this point to identifying birds by song which is a challenging task for any adult bird watcher. However, teens may choose to document their sightings within a nature journal that contains a running list of all bird species encountered. Bird Lists may include:
- Backyard Birds
- Bush Birds
- Song Birds
- Birds of Prey
- State Birds
- Birds of other Nations
Some bird watchers prefer to jot down a date, time, and location a bird was sighted within their Bird Field Guide next to the species sighted. If this idea appeals to you, then use your own lifelong bird field guide to treasure these memories.
Next, we’ll discuss bird identification through size and shape. In case you missed it, challenge yourself to identify birds through song with these ideas.