This has been a really fun month in our household with nature study! This month’s focus with The Outdoor Hour Challenge was birds. Ever since my first backyard bird identification a few months ago, I have been looking forward to this month- with the bird focus- with great anticipation.
My preparations began at the end of last month. I started purposefully looking outside at the birds who would visit our bird feeder, staring intently at them to notice their unique shading so that I had something to type into Google instead of just “little brown bird,” or “little gray bird.” I successfully identified 6 different birds that were frequent backyard guests and printed out pictures of them. I also borrowed a couple of bird field guide type books and a few bird videos from the library. My favorite is The Backyard Bird Lover’s Field Guide by Sally Roth. She has her book organized by region with great pictures and tons of interesting facts. I learned a great deal reading through this guide and was able to identify a few more of my backyard birds by the pictures and information.
She said a couple of things that I found to be so very true: “Once you know their names, birds aren’t just birds anymore. They’re on their way to becoming friends…. Anything we pay attention to becomes more special to us. That’s why learning to identify birds will give you a closer connection to them. It will make you feel more connected to nature, too.” (The Backyard Bird Lover’s Field Guide pp 20, 22)
I have found this to be true, not only this month- though truly, this month’s jump in enthusiasm as I was able to name more and more birds and describe little facts I knew about them was very dramatic in myself- but this whole year as I’ve been doing nature walks and participating in the Outdoor Hour Challenge. I have always loved nature. I have always enjoyed walking through the woods or by the ocean and drinking in the atmosphere. But as I’ve examined nature closely, to uncover identifying features to be able to discover its name and ways, I’ve found an even deeper delight in nature.
Charlotte Mason could have spoken of adults as well as children when she said, “Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life.” (Vol 1, p 65)
So after I did a brief backyard study and identified a few birds, my husband and I took a little trip to Target while the kids were at Awana. He was quite amused (and maybe a little impressed) at my jabbering on about the different types of birds we can see in our backyard and the different types of bird food we could get. We found several types of bird food in the pet section and I enthusiastically threw all in my cart!
Then I was ready to embark upon a month of backyard bird watching for our nature study. First, I showed my kids the pictures I had printed out of birds that we might see. We carefully looked at the pictures, noted the coloring and the interesting features of each bird, and learned their names. We filled our bird feeder up with bird seed and hung the suet and the finch sock feeders. Then we waited.
It took a few days for the birds to realize that food was available again (the bird feeder had been out of seed for a couple of weeks at this point)- just long enough for the kids’ initial enthusiasm to wear off. My enthusiasm, however, gained momentum as I was able to recognize several birds and go on to identify several more using the field guide and Good Ole’ Google.
The first birds the kids were able to identify were the Dark Eyed Juncos (when they heard this name, they laughed- this was the most hilarious name for a bird they’d ever heard!), Chestnut Backed Chickadees, Mourning Doves, and the beautiful blue Scrub Jay. Then one day, about a week after hanging up the goldfinch feeder, I spotted bright yellow bird with a black cap. A bright spot of color in a brown tree! It was so exciting! Now I see dozens of Lesser Goldfinch every day. That same day, I saw a bird I recognized by description but never had actually seen in person (in bird? in real life? in nature?).
Can you believe it? This month, I saw my first American Robin. Wow! What a beautiful bird. It was not interested in the offered seed, but it rested on the branches of my tree awhile. I was delighted.
It was around this point that X-man started getting much more enthusiastic about this study. One day, when he was playing outside, he called out to me, “Mom, I want to grow a bird!” (My response: “Huh?”) Several minutes later, he came rushing up to me and explained, “I found a bird seed on the ground and I dug a hole and planted the seed. Then I turned on the hose and poured water on it. I sure will grow a bird!”
As he became more familiar with the birds frequenting our backyard, he began looking every morning for his favorite bird- the Dark-Eyed Juncos. In his observations, he noticed that some were duller, with more of a gray head than a glossy black one. This led to a discussion about male and female birds and their coloring and he has since applied his knowledge to other species of birds.
We watched a Backyard Safari Birds video and they were able to identify a few birds they saw. With X-man’s budding interest (and mine) and the bird video, my other children have caught the enthusiasm. My daughter’s favorite birds are now the Chickadee and the Song Sparrow. My 2 year old yells “Dark-Eyed Junco!” whenever he sees one and scares them all away.
Our nature studies this month have not been set-aside hours of time, but rather, we’ve watched birds throughout the days and whenever we spot one we love, or one we haven’t yet seen, we stop what we are doing and go look at it. We did take some time last week to look again at the pictures I had printed in the beginning, choose a favorite bird, and draw the bird in our nature journals. X-man cannot be limited by such rules as, “Pick a favorite,” (even though truly, the Dark-Eyed Junco is his favorite), so he did two journal entries.
We also started reading The Burgess Bird Book for Children. I printed out pictures of each bird described (in the first few chapters for now) and we have started a project of making a “book” of the birds mentioned in The Burgess Bird Book and writing down a few things that we learn about the bird in each chapter. The kids thought that “Bully,” the English Sparrow enjoying dust baths was so funny.
Yesterday, I happened to be at Michaels and they were selling 2013 calendars for 25 cents each. I picked up one themed “Birds and Butterflies.” I took it home and showed the children. My husband was so very impressed that they were able to identify over half the birds on the front cover!
What a fun month this has been, making new friends. A new interest has stirred in all of our hearts- one that will bring us delight for many months, I’m certain.