Posted on 8 Comments

Bird Calls #1 -Robin, Cardinal, House Finch

I thought it would be fun to start to learn some bird calls. Our family is going to try to learn the calls of the birds from the Outdoor Hour Challenge. I have one son that definitely learns things well when we make them into a song so I thought this would be a fun project for him to do.

If you would like to join us, here are the links to a website where you can hear the bird calls.

Here or Here

Here or Here

House Finch
Here or Here

Let me know how it goes in your family.

Posted on 15 Comments

Outdoor Hour Challenge: Red Birds-Robin, Cardinal, and House Finch

Bird Series on the Handbook of Nature Study

This series of Outdoor Hour Challenges is going to help you study birds, their habits and their unique features. Learning to really see the parts of the bird in order to not only identify it but to see how each bird fits into the overall world of animals. I have decided to emphasis the most common backyard birds in this series of challenges.

Using the Peterson Field Guides For Young Naturalists: Backyard Birds, I am organizing the challenges to follow this book’s sequence and organization. This will make it more manageable when we go over to the Handbook of Nature Study. If you do not have the Backyard Birds book, you can certainly still complete the challenges using only the Handbook of Nature Study. I am also including the Peterson Field Guides to Birds in the challenges this time for those families that are ready for a “real” field guide. As the weeks go by, we will be using the field guide to help us learn to identify birds in our own backyard. Again, you can complete the challenge without the field guide and just stick to the Handbook of Nature Study if you wish to. Please note that the HNS will not serve as a field guide to identifying birds. (Links to all books are at the bottom of this post.)

One bird at a time….one week at a time….building a lifetime of bird knowledge.

I realize that many times the bird discussed in the challenge may not be available for observation in your particular of the world. This is going to be true for the vast majority of us. I am only aware that there are thirteen of the thirty or so birds listed that we will actually be able to observe in person. Knowing this, try to look at the study of birds you don’t have locally as a way to broaden your general knowledge of birds and to glean ways to observe any bird that you will encounter over the next ten to twelve weeks. Do not skip the challenge but make sure to complete the Outdoor Hour Activity step each week regardless of the bird we are focusing on at that particular time. (see additional note below)

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Birds #1
Robin, Cardinal, and House Finch

Inside preparation work:
1. Read the Handbook of Nature Study pages 27-28 to get a general overview of bird study using this book. In addition, read pages 43-44 for some ways to attract birds to your yard. I highly recommend hanging a feeder of some sort and providing water as well.

2.Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 57-62 about the robin. There is so much information about the robin on these pages that it is a little overwhelming. I would read the information and mark any ideas or facts that you are interested in sharing with your child.

3. Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 127-130 about the cardinal grosbeak.

4. Backyard Birds: Read aloud with your child the introductory pages and the section on red birds: the robin, the cardinal, and the house finch. Take note of each bird’s field marks for future reference. Notice the difference between the female and male birds for each kind of bird.

5. Peterson Field Guide: Read the introductory pages 17-22(W) or 23-30(E). Look up in the index the robin, the cardinal, and the house finch. Observe the illustrations carefully and read the narrative descriptions and explanations.

Please Note: (W)=Western Birds and (E) Eastern Birds
(See links above for particular books used. Note these are affiliate links.)

Outdoor Hour Time
On your appointed day, take your 10-15 minutes of outdoor time to enjoy your own backyard. Since this series of challenges is about birds, be aware of any bird subjects that come your way. This could include feathers, nests, bird tracks, or the sounds of bird calls.

You could also use your outdoor time to hang a bird feeder and talk about what kinds of birds you hope to attract. You could talk about the different kinds of seeds. The more you include your children in the process of setting up the bird feeder, the more excited and invested they will be to watch for birds to visit.

Your goal this week is to spend the time outdoors with your children and perhaps observe a bird. What particular aspect of the bird are you observing this week? How about the color, size, and shape of the beak? This should get you started in your bird study.

Follow Up Activity
For your follow up activity you can learn more about the particular bird that you observed. If you know what kind of bird it is, look it up in the Handbook of Nature Study for more information. You can also use the Peterson Field Guide or an internet resource such as or Cornell’s bird website at

The above websites also can help you identify an unknown bird. We will be learning in the upcoming challenges how to use a field guide to identify birds so don’t worry if you don’t find an exact identification for your bird.

The most important part of this challenge is getting outdoors with your children and beginning a search for birds. If you have a nearby park, you can try visiting there during your week to see if there any different birds for observation. Many parks have ducks and geese that make excellent subjects for bird study.

Hopefully during your outdoor time you found something to investigate further. Questions are always a great way to extend your nature study to other days of your week.

Learning About Birds 3D cover

This red bird challenge is from the Learning About Birds ebook here on the Handbook of Nature Study. It is found in the Ultimate and Journey level memberships for you to download and use with your family. If you would like to gain access to this ebook, you can purchase a membership now and have instant access.

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

Use the discount code BIRDLOVER5 for $5 off an Ultimate Naturalist Membership.

Posted on 11 Comments

Birds in the Winter: Our Winter Wednesday Bird Style

We recently participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count and even though this is our third year participating, we still found it a thrilling activity. The whole family participated at some point over the weekend and although it was a very snowy weekend, we saw some amazing birds. This was a great way to learn about our winter birds and we took the opportunity to combine the Bird Count with Winter Wednesday.

The point that sticks out to me this year is that we had no trouble identifying any of the birds that we observed. We have built up over the last three years the ability to quickly name any bird that happens into our yard or to our feeders. I think that is amazing!

Here is our list of birds that we saw over the weekend:
White-breasted nuthatch
Spotted towhee
California towhee
Cedar waxwing
Western Scrub-jay
Oak titmouse
House sparrows
House finches
Black-eyed juncos
American robins
American crows
Anna’s hummingbird
White-crowned sparrows
Canadian geese

We decided to learn more about the White-breasted nuthatch since it was one of the birds mentioned in the Discover Nature in Winter chapter notes. We have a pair of these that frequent our feeders on a daily basis. They are such perky little birds and have such an interesting sound. They are very acrobatic and entertain us when they climb down the tree trunks head first.

We started off with a coloring page from the Cornell University website found at this link:
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and National Audubon Society
Previously, I had printed out the table of contents and it hangs on the wall near our bird viewing window. When we observe a new bird, we check the list and see if there is a coloring page for that particular bird. Then I print just that page out for those that want one for their nature journal.

We also looked the white-breasted nuthatch up in our field guide and on the All About Birds website.

I was interested in learning more about the Cedar waxwing birds that we saw in our trees during the Bird Count. We counted 61 of them at one time! This was the most we had ever seen all in one flock. They were eating the berries/nuts out of the pistache tree.

I used a coloring sheet from the Cornell book as well and then I looked information up in our field guide and at All About Birds. I learned the meaning of the word “frugivore“.

We also learned what is meant by the term “field marks“.

We also found these feathers in our backyard this week and we haven’t been able to figure out who they belong to yet.

There is always something new to research and learn right from our own backyard. 🙂

Posted on 2 Comments

More Snow Experiments: Winter Wednesday

This has been one snowy week for our family. We woke up to snow on two mornings and it was gloriously beautiful.

The birds showed up for the Great Backyard Bird Count even with the snow and it was very entertaining to watch the different techniques for getting to the seed. The Spotted towhee was a master at scratching a hole in the snow and finding the seed underneath. The juncos just waited until the towhee flew away and then they took over.

The bulbs seemed happy to just hang out with the white stuff.

We took numerous opportunities to go out and measure the snow depth. We never got over three inches at any one time but it would snow, melt, and then snow again so I think our total count is somewhere about 8 inches for the season. That is actually a lot of snow for our area and we have enjoyed it thoroughly along with the Winter Wednesday activities. (Teenagers think that they can go outside wearing sandals in the snow….and t-shirts. Brrrrrrrr.)

We enjoyed a few snow walks this week and this particular one was very beautiful even if the trees kept dumping snow on our heads as it melted and fell to the ground.

There were quite a few trees and tree branches across the trail.

This is the first time we have seen water running over this waterfall along the trail. We were excited to see this on the day after the big snowstorm. The sound was the perfect little waterfall sound.

Hope you are enjoying your Winter Wednesday activities as much as we are.

Winter Wednesday Button

Posted on 4 Comments

Great Backyard Bird Count Starts Today!

great backyard bird coutn
Don’t forget to check out the Great Backyard Bird Count because it starts today!

So far we have:

  • 37 Dark-eyed juncos
  • 4 White-crowned sparrows
  • 4 House sparrows
  • 3 House finches

This is a pretty unusual day for us since we woke up to two inches of snow and it is still coming down. The birds are all hunkered down somewhere out of the snow I am sure.

We have officially called it a “snow day” from school so we can do some fun stuff… watch birds and paint some wintery trees.

Posted on Leave a comment

Brightness to the Garden

“The daffodil, jonquil, and narcissus are very closely related, and quite similar. They all come from bulbs which should be planted in September; but after the first planting, they will flower on year after year, bringing much brightness to the gardens in the early spring.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 551

I don’t know if it is “early spring” but my narcissus/paper whites are all pushing up out of the ground among my violets. I know it won’t be long now until I have some fragrant beauties to enjoy.

Our birdfeeders are busy every day as many, many different waves of birds come through to feast. These finches are all sharing so nicely. I noticed that there have been quite a few birds in the birdbath as well.

We are getting ready to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count from February 13-16, 2009.

I encourage you all to look into this family activity as well. Here is the link to find out all about it:
Great Backyard Bird Count

Posted on 7 Comments

Hummingbird and Bleeding Hearts

What a treat! This hummingbird was having a meal right next to me when we were at the nursery this afternoon. He didn’t seem to care that I pulled out my camera to capture his pretty green feathers and his long black beak. He came back several times as I was browsing but he always came back to this particular plant, the bleeding heart. (make sure to click the photos to enlarge them)

“The hummingbird’s beak is exactly fitted to probe those flowers where the bird finds its food. The tongue has the outer edges curved over, making a tube on each side.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 115

The Handbook of Nature Study has a whole section on hummingbirds, pages 115-117.

There is also section on the bleeding heart, pages 558-560.

We had a very enjoyable afternoon picking out a few new plants for our garden. I will have to share about those after I get them planted in the ground. 🙂

Posted on 5 Comments

Evening Grosbeak in My Feeder and How We Identify a Bird

Very little compares to identifying a new bird in your feeder. This one was so unusual that we just couldn’t stop looking at it.

The photo does not do it justice. It is bright yellow, with distinct markings of black and white. It was fairly good size so we got a pretty good look at it.

Although the photo didn’t turn out well, the memory will be forever with us.

We identified this bird as an Evening Grosbeak.

Yesterday we saw a bunch of blue birds that we had never seen before. We were out driving in the car when we saw nesting boxes all along a fence. We saw flashes of blue and realized that they were birds fighting, not only in the air but on the ground. The birds were very aggressive. When we got home we pulled out our field guide and identified the birds as Western bluebirds.

I shared the following information with a friend about how I identify a bird by explaining how I identified the Evening grosbeak. I personally like using the Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Birds.

Steps I Use To Identify a Bird
1. When I am trying to identify a bird, I rely heavily on color. The bird we saw in our feeder was a bright yellow so that narrowed it down as far as identifying it. The Audubon guide that I suggested for birds is organized by type of bird (clinging, perching, duck-like, etc) and then by predominant color. This makes it fast to skim through a lot of birds visually.
2. After I look at color and general type, I look at size. (sparrow-size, robin-sized, goose-size, etc) The Aububon guide does group from smallest to largest.
3. After color, type, and size, I look at beaks. This is really easy in the Aububon guide because on the photo pages there are three bird photos on a page so there are less pages to look through.
4. If I hit on the right bird by doing that method, I usually do a Google image search on the internet to confirm my findings. If I missed and didn’t get the right bird but I am in the right ball park, I go to and do a search there.

That pretty much sums it up. I know that others have different methods for identifying birds with a field guide but this works for our family.

It was a big bird weekend around here. I love it.

Posted on 2 Comments

Counting Birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count


We have been counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. It started on Friday and will continue through today. We have had all the usual customers at the feeders and a few surprises too!

The white-crowned sparrow usually feeds in our front yard in the forsythia bush which has a blackberry vine tangled in it with some of last summers berries all dried up and ready for eating.

The dark-eyed juncos are a frequent visitor to our feeders and they enjoy both the platform feeder and eating from the ground beneath it.

The hanging feeders were filled with sparrows, finches, and the occasional nuthatch.

Here is our official bird count for Friday:

  • 5 Western scrub jays
  • 2 titmouses
  • 1 red-breasted nuthatch
  • 1 spotted towhee
  • 2 California towhees
  • 6 white-crowned sparrows
  • 12 dark-eyed juncos
  • 1 house finch….probably more we just didn’t catch them when we were counting
  • 7 house sparrows

Those were in the feeders but we also saw in our yard:
1 American crow
2 American robins

In our travels yesterday, we saw:
3 turkey vultures
40+ Canadian geese
6 wild turkeys

This is a great family project that we have participated in for the past three years. If you miss it this year, mark your calendars for next February so you won’t forget!