Adventures near home: birdwatching

One sunny morning, when my eldest was a toddler, we were walking in the park when we heard a loud drumming noise. ‘Taptaptap’. We both stopped and looked around. Where was it coming from? ‘Taptaptap’….there it was again.

Bird identification is not my forte, but at last it dawned on me that we were listening to a woodpecker. We set off through the park as quietly as possible (which is to say, not very quietly at all), pausing every now and again to listen for the distinctive ‘taptaptap’ noises.

A few minutes later we found ourselves at the foot of an enormous poplar tree. A lady, clearly on the same mission, was peering up into the branches on the other side of the tree. “I think it’s a great spotted woodpecker” she whispered. And so began our birdwatching adventure.

We’ve had a lot of fun since then spotting birds close to home, and further afield. We’ve learned lots, made some great memories, and built a greater appreciation of the nature that is all around us, even in suburban England. So, from a complete novice, here are a few tips for birdwatching with small children.

Sparrow sitting on a wall.

Start close to home

Blue tits singing in a hedge. Pigeons looking for crumbs outside a shop. A blackbird taking a bath in the water table. All these things are still fresh and exciting to children. You don’t need to travel far – start by seeing what you can find as you walk around your local area.

Make it an adventure

Our attitude and enthusiasm can really help our children get excited about finding birds. Storytelling can be a powerful tool to capture our children’s imagination; what are the birds doing, and why? What might they be thinking and feeling? Recently we spotted five ducklings swimming alone in our local river. We crouched down on the far bank to watch the lost ducklings from afar as they swam backwards and forwards, buffeted by the current. Several times they approached a goose for help, who hissed angrily and shooed them away. At last, the parent ducks appeared, flying low over the water. We heaved a sigh of relief and carried on our way.

Canada goose and ducklings on a river.
An angry Canada goose guards the middle of the river. Hard to spot in this shot, but there are five ducklings bobbing about rather forlornly near the other bank.

Many children love collecting things. We have had great fun with a simple sticker chart of birds we have spotted. We made a painting of a grassy field with a tree, pond etc. Whenever we identify a new bird we stick a little picture of it to our chart, in the type of habitat we found it. The kids love doing this, and it is a good visual reminder of the different birds that they have spotted.

Children's birdwatching activity, a picture chart with stickers to log different birds.

Ask an expert

I remember our first trip to a RSPB reserve. It really wasn’t going as planned! Icy gusts of wind swept across the marsh, one child was crying that they couldn’t walk any further, and the other was desperate for a snack. I spotted a hide up ahead, and relieved I raced up to the door, bundled two whingy toddlers and buggy inside, and shut the door against the cold. I turned around and realised in dismay that there were already half a dozen silent birdwatchers inside with a selection of very expensive looking binoculars and telescopes! Oh dear…what would they make of us? But I needn’t have worried. “Would you like to see a Kite?” said one gentleman, pointing to his telescope. Another helped us to identify the different kinds of duck in the wetland below. We munched our raisins, asked some hushed questions, and left knowing far more than we could ever have done on our own.

There are also some brilliant online resources. Here are a couple which I’ve found particularly useful:

RSPB Bird Identifier – The RSPB has a useful feature on its website to help you identify birds. You answer a series of simple questions about the size and colour of the bird and where you saw it, and it will give you some suggested matches.

BirdNET Bird Sound Identifier App – This is a simple free app which you can install on your phone. If you hear unfamiliar birdsong whilst out and about you can take a short recording, and the app will analyse the sounds and give you likely bird matches.

Do you have any top tips for birdwatching with children? Share them in the comments section below.

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