"Spring came again to the northern garden and so did the bluebirds."
—R. Bruce Horsfall Bluebirds Seven
The dawn chorus of birds is a universal sign of spring, and you might listen for it with your early-rising children - even from inside your home. Morning is a perfect time to hear birds as they greet the rising sun. It's an ideal way to introduce yourself and your children to bird-watching, and, it is easier than it seems. Surprisingly, children are able to become enthusiastic participants in no time at all.
Birds are often in the landscape and we tend to take them for granted. When you're out walking or playing in the park with your children, begin to look for birds. Are the seagulls attracted to some crumbs in the parking lot? Has a sparrow landed on the swing set?
Listening and looking is enough. Once you've noticed the varying calls and sighted the flitting and flickering of the birds in your neighborhood, you and your children might also be curious to know more. What kind of bird is that? Where does it live? What does it look like?
To find answers to these questions, get a simple bird guide. It's easiest to start with a version that includes just the birds likely to be found in your area, such as Local Birds® which is a laminated six-fold guide with bird pictures, names, and brief descriptions. The Bird Fandex is also an easy way to identify birds.
As spring erupts in your neighborhood, look for birds in search of twigs and grass as they build their nests. A few weeks later, listen for the new hungry chirping of the babies and watch mom and dad go back and forth to the nest with food. Your child will become curious as this bird-watching becomes part of everyday living.
Maybe you'll be lucky enough to find a nest nearby that's easy to observe. When my son was four, we were fortunate to discover a robin's nest right outside our stairway window. We were in daily awe of the process from mom sitting on the eggs to the hatching, feeding, and eventual flying away. It was an amazing life lesson that unfolded right before our eyes.
A neighbor of mine recently heard much squawking and flitting by a thrush in her front yard. Every time someone came or went from the front door, the bird would try to do what she could to keep the intruders away from her babies. Mama bird had built her nest in the wisteria vine that clung to the side of the house.
You may be tempted to go to the internet to see such miracles, thanks to a conveniently placed webcam. However, for young children it's best to refrain because it's only a picture of what is really happening. More importantly, remember that small children have no point of reference if they have never experienced the process in real life - older children can understand if they've had previous exposure, but they, too, invariably lose interest due to the remoteness of the picture. We are accustomed to learning from screens, but there's nothing like experiencing nature first-hand.
There's so much bird-watching, or "bird-listening," that can happen just with our ears: the honking of the Canadian geese migrating; the noisy chattering of roosting birds; the drumming sound of a woodpecker's beak against the hollow tree trunk; the squawking of the seagulls as they compete for the tasty garbage; the sad hoo-ah, hoo-hoo-hoo of the mourning dove. You and your children will discover your familiar neighborhood bird sounds such as the cawing crow or the quacking duck. No need to locate the birds, just listen to the sounds. Perhaps you'll learn to mimic them or identify them.
Even in the most urban environment birds are there. If your child is interested, you may wish to attract more birds to your home by putting out a bird bath or bird house. Let your children lead you, and as the interest evolves, consider some of the following bird-watching activities.
You'll be amazed to see your children become natural and curious bird-watchers this spring.
"Thus the child, having acquired the power of distinguishing one thing from another, has laid the foundations of the intelligence."
—Maria Montessori, Spontaneous Activity in Education
—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.
—Originally Published 2021