Junior Birders: Getting Started

July 27, 2020 | Jennifer

Comments (0)

Some believe that birding is... for the birds! However, it's become a hot topic, encouraging even the most reluctant among us to reap the benefits of watching our featured friends.

Wheatpaste on a brick wall of a kid with binoculars looking at colourful birds
Photo by id-iom. Used on a CC License.

Taking an interest in birds can branch help your child branch out! Children can learn about migration, the health of our world, and how to be nature's steward. You don't need to leave the city or buy fancy gear to get started, but if you have a pair of binoculars, bring them along. All kids can connect with the environment through birds.

The representation of Black people in nature is an essential conversation. Black Birders Week generated a lot of constructive commentary. It also brought the hope that, one day, everyone will feel safe and welcome to explore the great outdoors. Co-organizer Corina Newsome says that birds themselves are a symbol of hope, diversity and perseverance. Last month, we hosted "Black Outdoors: The Connections Between Race and Outdoor Space" as part of the Our Fragile Planet program series. You can watch the video replay of this great event.

Rearview of child's head while peering through binoculars
Photo by Andre Schulz. Used on a CC License.


Encourage Curiosity and Questioning

It's great to encourage a child's curiosity and questioning. If they ask questions, rather than answering immediately, help them work out the answers for themselves.

If a child asks, "What kind of bird is that?", turn the question back on them.

"What bird do you think it is?"

"I think it's a robin," they might say.

"That's right. And what do you think the robin is doing?" you could add.

And so on.


Just Have Fun

David Lindo, The Urban Birder, encourages kids to enjoy themselves. "We look around our cities in bubbles, thinking we're superior and separate and that wildlife occurs 'in the countryside' or in David Attenborough programmes and nowhere in-between."

Lindo says that wildlife shows have set the bar so high for thrills and excitement. But you don't need to narrate the natural world to your child like Morgan Freeman to generate interest. Not every kid will pursue birding as avidly as Lindo, but they can still be entertained by spotting birds.


Flap a Wing "Hello"

When I was a kid, I joined a day camp and chose activities like beading and birding. One afternoon, our counselor noticed that we weren't spotting many birds, so we ran a social experiment instead. We waved to cars driving through the park and tallied how many people waved back at us. Sometimes, birds are just the beginning of a memorable day.

If you see people in the park or on trails, make sure to maintain physical distancing. Wave and say hello, and see how many wave back!

Long-tailed tits feeding from a bird feeder
Photo by Mrs Airwolfhound. Used on a CC License.


Mark Your Calendars

The Birds of Toronto booklet (PDF) includes a handy checklist of GTA birds. It also lists the varieties you are likely to spot each month. Spring is a notable time, but birding happens all year round. If you want to learn about bees, butterflies, trees and plants that you see, take a look at the full Biodiversity in the City book list.

Birds of Toronto biodiversity booklet


Keep a Tally

Why not create a map of where you've spotted different birds? Or use this worksheet (PDF) by Birds Canada to tally your totals of different species and make a graph.

Schoolyard Bird Blitz tally sheet


Feed the Flock

The fun of building a feeder is twofold: the creating and the bird watching. Different birds prefer different feed. Hummingbirds are particularly attracted to the colour red and nectar, for example. Two great resources for DIY feeders are Run Wild My Child and The Spruce. Or try one of the books below. All are available to download as ebooks.

Building birdhouses

How-to Library: Building Birdhouses by Dana Meachen Rau

Easy Birdhouses and Feeders

Easy Birdhouses & Feeders by Michael Berger

Audubon Birdhouse Book

Audubon Birdhouse Book by Margaret A. Barker and Elissa Wolfson

Amazing recycled projects you can create

Amazing Recycled Projects You Can Create by Marne Ventura


Try a Challenge

We invite you to try our Summer Wonder Creativity Challenges! Build, create, design or discover with your family using materials you have at home. Try to recreate a bird's nest without glue or tape. It's an interesting Creativity Challenge that can be executed with found leaves and twigs. Remind kids that if they spot a nest in nature to leave it be.


Sharpen That Listening

Music note

Each bird has its own unique song. Kids must listen closely to distinguish them. By tuning out the urban soundscape, you can tap into a new chorus of birds.

Birding has been likened to a real-life version of Pokémon Go. The creator admits that his game was inspired by the joy of catching bugs as a kid and the satisfaction of spotting a new species. Although birding takes us away from our screens, there are convenient bird song identification apps that you can try. Chirp (iOS) and SongSleuth (iOS and Android) are just two of many.

Toronto Wildlife also hosts a handy website for bird songs and fast facts.

The National Audobon Society has a useful guide to identifying birds. It shows how hearing bird songs is just one aspect of identifying a species. Birding can be an accessible activity, scaled to different abilities.

A swimming baby duck
Photo by Florin Chelaru. Used on a CC License.


Stay Mindful

Nature continues to be an important way to relax and connect in our world. Sharpen a child's mindfulness muscle by being present in the moment. Take a few deep breaths and try a mini meditation. Some prompts to try:

  • Nature works together and we must work together too.
  • We are part of nature. You can't take people out of nature or away from it.


However you get the conversation started, you're outdoors. And that's a gift.

Notice if kids feel calmer or more serene after a bird watching session. Acknowledge when they notice nature's details. Show appreciation for common experiences that we often disregard, such as a clear blue sky or unique-looking plant.


Recommended Books

    Birds Explore Nature With Fun Facts and Activities

Birds Explore Nature with Fun Facts and Activities by Jill Bailey (ages 6-8)


    Forest Club A Year of Activities  Crafts and Exploring Nature

Forest Club: A Year of Activities, Crafts and Exploring Nature by Kris Hirschmann (ages 7-11)


    The Berenstain Bears' Nature Rescue

The Berenstain Bears' Nature Rescue by Stan, Jan, and Mike Berenstain (ages 6-10)

An environmental effort to save the birds. 


    Every Day Birds

Every Day Birds by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater (ages 3-5)

Identify common birds.


    The Hike

The Hike by Alison Farrell (ages 3-5)

One of the young explorers, Wren, sketches birds.


    Birds From Head to Tail

Birds From Head to Tail by Stacey Roderick (ages 3-7)

Test your knowledge of birds and their body parts.


    Amelia Bedelia Is for the Birds

Amelia Bedelia Is For the Birds by Herman Parish (ages 4-8)

Amelia discovers a robin's nest and watches them grow a family. 

    Mama Built a Little Nest

Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward (ages 4-8)

Rhyming text filled with birds facts.


    The Boy Who Drew Birds A Story of John James Audobon

The Boy Who Drew Birds A Story of John James Audobon by Jacqueline Davies (ages 4-7)

A look at Audobon's pioneering technique for identifying birds with scrapbook pages and nature images.


    DK FindOut! Birds

Birds by Ben Hoare (ages 6-9)


    Feathers Not Just for Flying

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (ages 6-9)

Meet 16 birds and learn the different uses of feathers.


    Mouse and Mole Fine Feathered Friends

Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends by Wong Herbert Yee (ages 6-9)

Mouse and Mole find a new way to bird watch.


    Strange Birds a Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez (ages 9-12)

A local club pursues activism and bird watching.


If you're looking for ways to stay safe while exploring outside during COVID-19, join us on July 30 at 1pm for a talk from Parks Canada. They will be presenting a talk on The Rouge National Urban Park. They'll include tips on how to enjoy the great outdoors while staying safe during COVID-19. If you miss the live event, you can watch the video replay!


Do you have other birding tips to share? Tell us in the comments below!