Friday, February 22, 2013

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a feather stick (and explore and learn and create and read) together.

Warming daytime temperatures and a little sunshine have gotten me in the mood for Spring. And who welcomes in Spring better than birds? So, here are some bird-related activities and crafts for you to do with your budding Ornithologist. Scroll down to find out about Bird Watching; instructions on making a Paper Birdhouse Garland, a Milk Jug Birdhouse, a Wreath with Pom Pom Nesting Birds; and a book recommendation.

Bird Watching

All you really need to go bird watching is your power of observation and a willingness to get outside and look to the skies (and trees/shrubs/grasses). But it is also a good opportunity to teach your little one how to use binoculars and to use a bird book, pamphlet, and/or internet to identify and get information about the birds you see.

Bird watching is such a fun activity to share with your child (or anyone else, or just to do by yourself). It provides the opportunity to get outside and use all your senses, especially hearing and vision. And learning opportunities abound! On just one outing my 3-year-old and I talked about what makes birds different from other animals (feathers, wings, eggs, hollow bones) and compared and contrasted different types of birds  - their size, colors, beak shape and size, feet, songs/calls, social behaviors, etc. The best part of all this education was that it was not forced, scripted by a book or worksheet or guided lesson. It was simply two people making observations and asking and answering questions - experiential education at its best. Any  questions we had that we didn't know the answers to could be answered by looking them up together in a book or on the internet when we got home.

We live close to the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge, which includes a nice wetland area just inland of the Columbia River. Wetlands are great places to find birds. While driving into the refuge, we spotted a really huge flock of white birds flying west (downriver) over the river. I am guessing that it was maybe a flock of snow geese migrating toward the mouth of the river. What great luck to witness a Spring bird migration on our outing!

The refuge is home to many hawks. We probably saw around seven hawks while we were out. Of course we saw the most common hawk in our area, the Red-Tailed Hawk. We also saw another large hawk which, using my trusty old Peterson Field Guide, I have determined was the dark phase of a Swainson's Hawk. It was fun to watch these magnificent birds perch and soar above our heads.

Red-Tailed Hawk, dark phase - Buteo jamaicensis

I believe this is a Swainson's Hawk, dark phase - Buteo swaisoni

Naturally, we saw lots of ducks on the water. But what drew our attention more was the noisy large flock of blackbirds congregated in the nearby leafless trees. Using the binoculars, we identified lots of red-winged blackbirds with a handful of yellow-headed blackbirds hanging out with the crowd. I love the squeaky, raspy calls of the blackbirds, which always remind me of wetlands in the spring and summer.

Paper Birdhouse Garland

This is a simple and fast craft that came out pretty cute. You just need to cut little paper squares, triangles, and circles (good shapes lesson for younger kiddos). This was a good use for some paper scraps I had from a previous project. Your preschooler can use a glue stick to glue the triangle roof and round bird hole onto the square. We then used a hole punch to make two little holes in each, strung them on a length of curling ribbon, and hung them in the living room.

Milk Jug Birdhouse

This is another Pinterest-inspired craft is using plastic milk jugs to make birdhouses.

1. Paint the jugs.
    We painted jugs with cheap acrylic paint. When they were dry, I wanted to seal it so the paint won't peel.
    So, I decided to use some Mod Podge. First, I mixed it with a little water and started brushing it on - and
    the paint came off. Next, I added more glue and mixed it with some of the paint. That was better, but
    upon experimentation, we found that it was best to not add any water and just mix Mod Podge with paint
    and dab it on with a foam brush. I think you could probably do this from the get go instead of doing two

My daughter chose bright colors for painting the birdhouses.

2. Determine what size hole you want based on what kind of bird you want to attract. 
    We decided on a 2-inch hole since we get a lot of finches here and thought that would have the best
    chance of being used. We measured various round objects we had and found that the bottom of a Play-
    Doh cup is exactly 2 inches, so my daughter used that as a guide to trace around and I cut the hole out
    with scissors.

3. Collect various natural materials for decorating the birdhouse - sticks, small rocks, 
    grasses, leaves, bark - and use a hot glue gun to attach them to the jug.
    You may also wish to put some soft grasses or mosses into the bottom of the birdhouse to give any bird
    that may choose to take up residence a head start in making her nest. Don't forget to poke a hole and
    insert a little branch as a perch below the opening. Also pierce little holes near the top and string twine
    through for hanging.

Nesting Pom Pom Birds Wreath

You could make any part of this craft - just the cute little pom pom birds, birds in nests, or use them like we did to decorate a wreath for early Spring. We took the decorations off our Simple Valentine Wreath and used our dogwood branch wreath for this craft.

Pom Pom Birds

We made the birds using two pom poms, little wiggly eyes, felt, and a hot glue gun. I only had pom poms in one size, so trimmed one down with scissors for the head. I did the cutting and glue application while my preschooler chose the colors and pressed all the parts where I put the glue.


We gathered some Spanish moss-type stuff from an old flower basket and some dried daylily leaves that I had raked out of the garden to use as nest-making material. We just shaped them by hand and glued the little birdies in as desired.


Using the hot glue gun and following my daughter's instruction, I attached the nests to our wreath. We added a few little pine cones and barberry twigs as decoration and completed it with a length of wide ribbon.

A Must Read

I'm sure there are lots of great children's books about birds, but we discovered the book The Mountain that loved a Bird by Alice McLerran at our local library and found it to be such a beautiful story with wonderful illustrations by Eric Carle that I just had to recommend it to everyone. All at once, it is a story about a loving friendship, ecology, and the passage of time. The biologist, the philosopher, and the mom in me all loved this book!


  1. We have been on a birding kick too =) Thanks for stopping by our FB page! Did you count for this years Backyard Bird Count? If not, something to keep in mind for next year. My 2 littles had fun this year!

    1. We missed the Backyard Bird Count this year, but will definitely try to remember it for next year. Thanks for taking a moment to check out my blog!