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Bird Migration and Feederwatch

nesting box

I am fascinated by birds that migrate. It makes me feel an awe for such creatures and the way they travel up to thousands of miles as the seasons change. When I lived in California, I was aware of birds and the way they would come and go at my feeders season by season. I could anticipate their arrival and then have a fairly good idea of who would be leaving at the turn of the weather. Project Feederwatch each year made me keenly aware that the birds at my feeders were not the same year round.

thistle feeder

I am getting ready to participate in my first year of Project Feederwatch here in my new home. I have updated my account and created a new description of the feeders and their locations and types. Watching birds is an everyday affair here from my kitchen and family room windows so Project Feederwatch is a perfect match for our lifestyle. I enjoy participating in a citizen science project that helps gather data for those involved in various bird science projects and studies. Plus, it is something that refreshes me and brings a lot of joy to my life. It is something that I can participate in that doesn’t take a huge commitment of time and I can do it right from my own home, even if I am wearing my pajamas.

snag pile for shelter

This is our first autumn and winter here in our new home so we are still experimenting with various feeder types and the placement within the yard. I had an idea to add a brush pile just outside our back fence after we trimmed some tree limbs. So far I have observed birds and squirrels investigating the jumble of limbs with their needles and cones still intact. It isn’t too far from my cluster of feeders so it will provide some shelter for birds once the snow arrives.

bluejay figurine

I started right after we moved in creating a list of bird visitors to our yard. I will be keeping that habit going right on through the next few seasons. This should give us a pretty good idea of the migrant visitors as they pass through or stay for awhile. This is a simple way to get your family started with a more in-depth bird study and I encourage you to keep track of the birds that come to your feeders.

sandhill crane bird

We recently had the experience of hearing and then seeing a group of sandhill cranes fly over our yard. It was about sunset when my son and I were out doing yardwork. I heard in the distance what at first I thought were geese coming overhead. But, it was a strange and unfamiliar sound and not geese at all. (Click over to AllAboutBirds to hear what it sounded like.) My son spoke up when he realized it was the sound of sandhill cranes. He had heard them before when we lived in California and immediately recognized the rattling loud commotion of a group of cranes flying south over our house. It was exciting to experience this for the first time and I have since done some research into the migration habits of the sandhill crane. Knowing how far they fly has given me such an awe for these large birds. I just created a page in my nature journal with this information and I will share the page next week in an entry.

The opportunity to study birds can present itself when you least expect it…look for those opportunities!

Make sure to learn about the Feederwatch program and decide if it is a good fit for your family!


Project Feederwatch button

Bird Sleuth button
There is a wealth of birding information on the internet but I have not found a more homeschool-friendly site than the ones sponsored by Cornell University. I would love to encourage you all to subscribe to their homeschool blog (click the logo above to pop over there now).

You can also follow them on Facebook .
You can download homeschooling resources here.
Of course, my favorite resource is their AllAboutBirds website which is a great tool for identifying and learning more about birds in your own neighborhood.

Learning About Birds 3D cover

I invite you to check out my Learning About Birds ebook available to Ultimate and Journey level members here on the Handbook of Nature Study.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge: Winter Series #7 Winter Birds

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Winter Series #7
Winter Bird Study

For this challenge, instead of picking a particular bird from the Handbook of Nature Study, we will focus on learning about bird migration and then spend some time outdoors looking for birds in our own neighborhoods. In addition, I am encouraging you to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count that takes place in February.  You can participate in the bird count even if you just spend 15 minutes observing birds in your own yard or neighborhood. See their website for more information: GBBC.

Inside Preparation Work:
Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 35-37. This will help explain why you have some birds in your area only during certain seasons. If you are interested in more information, you might want to check the Peterson Field Guides for additional information about particular birds that you have in your feeders or near-by parks. There will be maps in the field guide that show where birds winter, migrate, and spend their summers. I encourage you to pick one common bird you have in your area and see if it migrates. (If you do not have a field guide, use the links in the Follow-Up Activity to research your bird.)

stellars jay
Outdoor Hour Time:
Spend 15-20 minutes outdoors this week looking for local birds. Choose one of the birds to learn more about and to record in your nature journal. If you are participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, plan on spending your outdoor time to tally birds you see in your yard. If the weather is too cold, you can always sit at a window where you can see your birdfeeder and take a tally from there.

Follow-Up Activity:
Give an opportunity for a nature journal after you talk about any birds you observed. Help your child identify any birds they saw if you can. Remember to check the table of contents in the Handbook of Nature Study to see if your bird subject is covered in a lesson. You can use those suggestions to learn more about your backyard birds. If you have a field guide, use the information there to discuss if the bird is a winter resident or a year-round resident. Our family uses this online bird site to help us identify birds: WhatBird? And this website for additional information as well: AllAboutBirds.

Also make sure to log into the Great Backyard Bird Count and record your results from your neighborhood.

Additional bird migration websites:
Bird Migration (Backyard Nature)
Bird Migration (Wild Birds Unlimited)

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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The Beginnings of a Robin Study

“Most of us think we know the robin well, but very few of us know definitely the habits of this, our commonest bird. The object of this lesson is to form in the pupils a habit of careful observation, and to enable them to read for themselves the interesting story of this little life which is lived every year before their eyes. Moreover, a robin notebook, if well kept, is a treasure for any child; and the close observation necessary for this lesson trains the pupils to note in a comprehending way the habits of other birds. It is the very best preparation for bird study of the right sort.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 57

What started off as a hike after the rain had stopped, quickly turned into an exciting weekend of robin watching. Heading down our regular hiking trail, we immediately saw a sight that made us stop in our tracks. Up over our heads in huge groups were groups of birds flying, some stopping to perch in the tall pines above us. Some of the birds were just flying very fast all in one direction. I did not have my binoculars on this afternoon so we had to use the camera to see at first what kind of birds they were. Robins! Flocks and flocks of robins!

Robins in a Pine 2 6 10
We were amazed at the numbers of robins and I tried to capture a few photos, but I had my little camera that does not have an adequate zoom. The photo above is the only photo that you see the robins.

None of us had experienced this large of a flock of robins before. We realized exactly what is in the quote above from the Handbook of Nature Study. How could we have never noticed the robins migrating/flocking before? Where are they coming from? Where are they going? We had so many questions in our minds as we finished our hike.

This experience was repeated several times over the course of our weekend. We even had them flocking and flying overhead yesterday morning at our house. The neighborhood was alive with robins.

This is how our robin study started this weekend. We are going to use the suggestions for progressive robin study in the Handbook of Nature Study and spend some time this spring learning about this common neighborhood bird. You can read the lessons starting on page 61.

“For third or higher grades the pupils may have individual notebooks in which each one may write his own answers to the questions of the successive series……The cover or first page should show the picture of the robin colored by the pupil, and may contain other illustrative drawings, and any poems or other literature pertinent to the subject.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 61

The Handbook of Nature Study contains lessons that follow the spring habits of the robin and it will take us a few months to finish our study.

We found the following links helpful:
Winter Robins
What Happens to All the Robins?
Making Sense of Robin Migration This article has some interesting information stating that the robins only start singing when they have reached their territory. Many of the robins we observed over the weekend were singing…so I guess they are home. More info HERE.
Robin Migration Journal Pages I can’t believe what you can find on the internet with very little effort. I was reading this website and realized they have a journal you can print out and use to keep track of the robin migration for this year. Awesome! They also have more generic notebook pages to go with any study HERE.

I will keep you posted on the progfess of our robin study. Don’t forget that this coming weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count. Even if you can only devote 15-20 minutes of bird watching in your neighborhood this coming weekend, you can participate in this important birding event. You do not need to be an expert in bird identification either. Report the birds you do know!

I will share our bird tallies as we make our observations.