15 Minutes With Birds

When students spend at least 15 minutes once a week with birds, it can enhance both their interest in their local habitat and their ability to think scientifically (making observations and predictions, questioning, reaching conclusions, revising their prediction based on evidence, and sharing results). Here are five easy ways for educators and students to spend 15 minutes with birds:

  1. Bird Watching

    bird, out, female

    Which birds might you spy during a bird watch?

Bird watching is a great way for beginning birders to start becoming aware of birds. Birds are a great way to connect to the environment because they can literally be found anywhere, all year round. To watch birds, just gather the basic gear—a field notebook, a field guide, and binoculars, if you have them—and go outside. The venue could be a backyard, school campus, recreational trail, a park in your community, anywhere outdoors. For even more fun, have kids observe and record what they see in several different habitats and make comparisons. If possible, install our Merlin Bird ID app on your smartphone or tablet and take it with you to help identify any mystery birds you see. If students observe and record what kind and how many birds they see, they can submit that data into eBird, a global database for birders. They will be contributing to the data professional scientists use and study. Using eBird with Students is a great article available from BirdSleuth to support your use of eBird with youth. Consider having your group watch birds a few times each month so they can observe and record the seasonal changes they notice.

  1. Follow a Bird

After observing various birds informally, students may begin to choose their favorites. This is a perfect time to invite them to follow a particular bird and observe its behaviors. Observe that one bird closely: what does it looks like; how does it sing; what does it do; does it interact with other birds? Sketch and describe the bird. This will give students great hands-on experience making systematic observations and allow them to become an expert on that bird for the entire group. Soon, students will be able to help each other identify birds in the field, as you hear, “I know that one! It’s my bird!”

  1. Listen to Bird Songs

    A sound map that includes footsteps, several flocks of geese. an airplane, wind, and other sounds.

    A sound map that includes footsteps, several flocks of geese. an airplane, wind, and other sounds.

On an unexpected rainy day, listening to bird songs or watching videos from Macaulay Library are great ways to keep connecting with birds. As you listen to the songs and calls, imagine what messages the bird is conveying to other members of its species. In addition, don’t forget to check out Bird Song Hero, which is a new interactive feature of Bird Academy, and provides a way to learn about bird songs visually.

Bonus activity: Go outside and have kids spread themselves out in an area or along a trail. Have them spend 10 quiet minutes listening carefully to all the sounds around them. Your students will be surprised as their ears start to “wake up!” Using paper and pencil, tell them to draw a “sound map” representing the sounds they hear in a way that makes sense to them. Which sounds are natural? Man-made? Have them share what they heard with each other.

  1. Feed Birds

    Making a pine cone feeder.

    Making a pine cone feeder.

Simply install a few bird feeders and watch the birds show up, especially during the winter! It’s easy to make bird feeders from recycled materials. We welcome you to download our Feathered Friends resource (nine lessons available as a free download; contains plans for building bird feeders). To take it further, we invite you to participate in Project FeederWatch a winter-long citizen-science project which focuses on the birds that visit feeders in North America. For homeschool educators, we offer an eight-page document, Homeschooler’s Guide to Project FeederWatch (free download)!

  1. Watch Nestlings via Bird Cams

Who doesn’t love baby birds? While few of us have the direct access that would allow us to observe nestlings and fledglings in a nest first hand, thanks to Bird Cams, you can via your computer! Depending on the season, there are several cameras available from which to choose: Barn Owls in Texas, American Kestrels in Idaho, Ospreys in Montana, and Red-tailed Hawks in Ithaca, just to name a few. On the Bird Cams site, students can watch the exciting and informative videos that are archived and learn about birds’ behaviors as if they were actually right there in the nest! What’s more, our free four-lesson curriculum Life in a Nest will help you to engage students in science learning and scaffold genuine scientific observation.

By spending 15 minutes learning about and watching birds, you are building students’ connection to the natural world and encouraging the use of important scientific thinking skills. Watch as your students blossom from beginner bird watchers into seasoned birders!

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