I have to be intentional with our nature study time or it doesn’t happen. When I have a plan and (mostly) stick to it, things go better. Here are some bird nature study ideas to inspire and point you in the right direction.
Bird Nature Study
Nature study isn’t my thing. As much as I love nature, actually getting hands on experience with it can prove difficult sometimes. Add in winter weather and little kids… and getting outside can be even trickier.
Whether you’re a nature study newbie or it’s old hat, I’ve found that having some direction before stepping outside is key.
Winter Nature Study
Birds are around most of the year, but there are special considerations for each season. Depending on where you live, going outside for a long nature walk in winter may not be possible, no matter how warm your kid’s clothing.
We try to get outside for about 10-15 minutes if the weather is really nippy. Longer 20-30 minute sessions are ideal, weather permitting. I’ve included options for bird nature study ideas both inside and outside. Try to make time for outside, but it’s also ok to cuddle up with a good living book on the couch, hot chocolate in hand.
Bird Nature Walk
The best way to study birds it to study real birds. It may seem like a no brainer, but it’s important to pair our living books with real life experience. We also can’t treat nature study like a checklist. As in, go outside, see a bird, mark it off our list, and we’re done for the day.
Education is the science of relations – Charlotte Mason
Nature, like people, works in concert together. It takes time to recognize and understand these connections. Now that we’ve found a bird we can consdier:
- What is it doing?
- What does it’s call sound like?
- Does it interact with other birds or animals around it?
- What color/shape are its feathers/beak/body?
- How does it fly? Does it soar and dip, or is it a flapper?
Grab some binoculars and take your time to observe! Watching quietly can be hard for little ones, but try to help them focus on the subject at hand. Over time their attention spans will grow.
What You Need for Bird Nature Study
At its simplest, we need our five senses and time in nature. Here are some helpful tools I’d recommend to make the most of the learning experience.
- Bird watching binoculars. A regular pair will work, but according to the Audobon Society, certain binoculars help us see their quick small movements even better. You can find reasonably priced but still high quality binoculars for bird watching here.
- A blank sketchbook. We want space to draw and lined notebooks aren’t the best option here. An artist sketchbook holds nature drawings and any notes.
- Paints and Pencils. Watercolor pan set, drawing pencils, and/or colored pencils to draw and write in the nature notebook.
- Field guides. It’s nice to take a small one outside to look things up on the spot. I prefer to save the big, heavy field guides with detailed information (or the internet) for inside use after our outside time. Peterson’s Backyard Birds is good for kids, and the Audubon Field Guides are very thorough.
Make it Stick
Spend time in nature observing, record notes and questions, then draw what you find.
It’s important to help kids draw what they actually see, not what they think they see. We tend to have an image of what a bird (or other object) looks like in our head and we go off of that. Help them observe the subject and record it accurately for their age.
Drawing Birds For Kids
Free hand drawing and painting takes some guidance and lots of practice. Here are some good books that help kids draw realistic looking birds. I like that the drawings are not cartoonish, but the instructions are detailed and simple enough even for little ones to follow.
How to Draw Bird Books for Kids
Winter Nature Study Ideas for Birds
If it’s especially cold out, here are a few ideas to keep your toes from freezing.
- After observing some birds, go inside and draw or paint in the sketchbook from a field guide.
- Observe birds through a window with binoculars
- Put a bird feeder in the yard for bird watching (and you’ll see plenty of squirrels too).
- Watch some videos about birds in their natural habitats
- Read a living book about birds and study the pictures
- Use a magnifying glass to examine bird feathers or bones. Dissection isn’t necessary or encouraged for little ones. Mason felt it was important they learn to appreciate nature first, not tear it apart.
Bird Science Activities and Experiments
Observing birds in nature is important, but we can delve a little deeper to understand how they work. This year my family is learning about the Wright brothers and airplanes. Since airplanes are inspired by bird’s flight, it’s a good fit with a bird nature study focus.
Your family can make comparisons between flying machines and flying birds. There’s also plenty of simple experiments to do that help kids understand bird’s the inner workings.
Experiment: Drag and Lift
Discuss drag, lift and how birds wings catch the air. Point out how some birds fly in a V formation and ask why they think that is? Prompt the students to bring up relevant questions.
Hand each student a strip of paper, about 1 inch wide and at least 6 inches long.
What happens when we hold the paper to our lips and blow a hard, thin stream of air right below the paper? What happens when we blow right on top of the paper? Discuss why you think that happened and the differences between the two experiments.
Talk about how birds leverage drag and lift to fly.
Experiment: Why Do Birds Fly in a V Formation?
- Observe birds flying in a V formation if possible, preferably outside but a video will work.
- Discuss why they think birds fly that way.
- Take a strip of paper about 1-2 inches wide and at least 6 inches long and fold it in half to make a V shape.
- Hold the center fold of the paper and put the paper in front of a fan. Discuss how the wind moves across the “wings.” What happens if we open the paper strip up so it’s flat against the wind?
What Does it Mean?
Talk about how birds fly in a V formation because it reduces wind resistance and conserves their energy.
It’s important to not just recite a bunch of facts to your students. Help them to see, discover, discuss, and come to their own conclusions. When our kids can discover an idea for themselves instead of listening to a lecture, information it sticks better!
Living Books about Birds
There are a lot of options out there, but here are some of my top picks for living books about birds. You can get hard copies, but some are also available free online.
- Burgess Bird Book for Children OR (free ebook version)
- Everything You Never Learned About Birds (includes experiments)
- Birds: Nature’s Magnificent Flying machines
- For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson
- The Travels of Birds: Our birds and their journey’s to strange lands. (free ebook version)
- Urban Roosts: Where birds nest in the city
- The Audubon Journals (free ebook version)
- About Birds: A guide for children
Nature study doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s as simple as getting outside and helping our kids develop relationships with their environment.