Bird Observations

By: Sharon Katz Cooper

March can be a blustery and in-between sort of month, but it can also bring the beginning of the return of many species of birds to our mid-Atlantic states. These arrivals herald the beginning of spring and provide exciting opportunities for children to make hypotheses, observations and journals of what they see. Birds returning from more southern areas of the country and the world begin to build nests, find mates, and look for food. Some sing, put on mating dances, and build elaborate homes for their future families. Spend time observing them with your children and you will see your children build not only a real appreciation of nature, but finely hone their powers of watching and describing what they see.

What you need:

•A clipboard

•Paper or notebook for journal

•Pencils or pens

•Colored pencils

•Binoculars (optional)

•Bird identification book (optional)

•Your eyes!

What to do:

1.Pick a calm, sunny day to begin bird observation studies with your child. Take a walk outside and casually observe what birds you see around your home or local park. Encourage children to draw simple sketches of the birds they see in their journals. What color are they? What shape are their beaks? What kinds of activities are they doing? Take time to watch each one you find for several minutes so you can record their activities. Use colored pencils to record the colors of the birds – they can be very bright and distinctive.

2.Go out again in a week and record again what birds you see this time – in the same place or another place near by. Do you notice any differences? Are there more birds now? Are there different kinds? Make a hypothesis (educated guess) about what you will find the next time you go out.

3.A week or two later, go out again with your children and their journals. This time, pick one bird or nest to focus on. Find a comfortable place to sit and watch that nest for as long as you have time or patience, but at least half an hour. Record what birds you see coming and going, what they are doing, what sounds and motions they make. Ask your child to make some educated guesses about the purposes of each activity you see the birds doing. (e.g., looking for food to eat, gathering leaves to make a nest, etc.)

4.When you return home, construct a data-collection sheet from your group of observations. This can be simply a checklist of the kinds of behaviors you saw. These might include: flying, eating, preening, sitting in nest, singing, walking on the ground, and so forth). Your child can then use this checklist to record the behaviors of this or other birds the next time you go out together.

5.At home, use your bird book to investigate what kind of bird you observed. See if you can identify any of the other birds you watched as well. Make a list of the bird species you have found, so that you can add to it over time.

6.As the weeks go by, go out and repeat your observations from time to time, using your checklist and your bird book to record behaviors and species. Ask your child to record in his/her journal any changes she observes over time. As you get further into spring, you see more birds? Different birds? Are their behaviors changing? Encourage your child to make predictions about what she will see each time she goes out, and how those observations may change from the last time.

The Math/Science Connection

Taking time to observe birds builds important life-long science skills. The ability to observe and record observations is essential to future scientific investigations for your child. It is also an important element of inquiry and a focus of the National Science Education Standards. Inquiry skills include observation of phenomena in nature and the ability to describe those observations. Making hypotheses based on initial observations or questions raised by those observations is also an essential inquiry skill and will help your child frame questions and explore all areas of science.

This monthly family activity series, “Hands-on-Kids!” is brought to you by a partnership between the Children’s Science Center (CSC) and FAMILY Magazine. CSC is committed to building a place where children can grow in their love of learning that will carry them into adulthood. We invite you to visit the CSC website,, where you and your children can “Explore, Create, Inspire.” Sharon Katz Cooper is an educator and freelance writer in Fairfax. She is a volunteer with CSC.

About WF Staff

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