Bird watching, or birding, is fun and interesting. You can learn a lot about birds just by quietly watching as they fly, eat, drink, or bathe. You don’t need any special equipment to begin watching birds. You just need a place where you can sit and look out of a window to a place where birds commonly stop. If you have a deck, that might be a good place to start. If you have lots of trees or shrubs in your yard, those are also good places to watch.
Here are some tips and questions to get you started:
- Sit very still when you see birds land near where you’re sitting. Quick movements might startle them.
- Try some of our bird feeder ideas below to attract more birds to your yard.
- Some birds like to eat from the ground, so be sure to watch the ground as well as the trees!
- See if you can guess where the birds you see might live – can you spot any nests in nearby trees?
- Do different kinds of birds land and eat near one another?
After you’ve watched birds a few times, you might want to try gathering some of these tools to help you discover even more from your bird watching sessions:
- Binoculars – use them to get a better look at birds that are farther away or high up in trees.
- Notebook and colored pencils or crayons – draw pictures of the birds you see and write a few notes about what you notice each one doing.
- Identification guide – your notes will help you remember what the birds were like so that you can look in an identification guide to learn more about them later. This online guide is helpful.
This website has some helpful tips for feeding and watching birds during each season of the year.
Make a Bird Feeder
The easiest way to attract birds to your yard is by supplying them with food. This is especially true during the winter, particularly when there is snow on the ground. Different kinds of birds like to eat different things, so it may be fun to try several different kinds of feeders in your yard to see which birds like which ones.
We recommend using black-oil sunflower seeds or millet (which sticks to peanut butter well). Note that you should purchase these seeds from a pet supply store – the sunflower seeds aren’t the same as the harder black & white striped seeds you can get at the grocery store! This page discusses different types of bird seed and which ones birds prefer.
Like all animals, birds need food and water. Sometimes water can be hard to find when it’s cold outside. In addition to your bird feeder, you could also set out a tray of water. A disposable aluminum pie plate filled with about 1″ of fresh water works well. Set it outside somewhere near your feeder – on a post or ledge of a deck works well. You should refill it every day, and maybe more often than that if the temperature is below freezing. Adding some small rocks or a twig for the birds to stand on helps the birds keep their feet from getting wet while they get a drink. They will drink the water, of course, but you may also observe them bathing to wash away dirt and parasites. After they bathe, they will usually preen. Preening involves grooming the feathers and coating them with a protective layer of oil from the preen gland located near the tail.
As it begins to warm up, you may notice more and more birds stopping by your feeders. Some of them are likely on their way home after migrating to someplace warmer for the winter! Spring is a great time to watch birds, because many of them begin building nests, laying eggs, and preparing to have babies. You may get a chance to see baby birds learning to fly for the first time!
Peanut Butter Bird Feeders
The fat and protein in peanut butter helps give birds the extra energy they need during winter when food is harder to find.
Pinecone Bird Treat – Tie string or yarn to the top part of a pinecone to make a hanging loop. Using a knife or spoon, spread peanut butter all over the pinecone. It should be thick enough to cover the pinecone and fill in some of the spaces, but not so thick that it starts to fall off. Once the pinecone is well covered, roll it in birdseed. Try to cover all of the peanut butter with seeds. Take your pinecone bird feeder outside and hang it from a tree branch.
Bagel Bird Snack- A slightly stale bagel (one that is a couple of days old) works best for this. First, attach a string to the bagel by sticking it through the hole in the center and then tying the ends of the string together to make a loop. Spread peanut butter over one side of the bagel, then dip it in bird seed. Carefully flip the bagel over and repeat on the other side so that the whole bagel is covered in peanut butter and birdseed. Hang it from a tree branch outside.
Ask an adult to help with this one, since you’ll need to use a needle. Thread a piece of yarn or string through the eye of a large needle. Tie a knot in the opposite end of the string. Very carefully, string plain popcorn (no butter or salt), fresh cranberries, or Cheerio-type cereal (or a combination of all three) onto the string to make a garland. When it is long enough, tie the end in a knot (it might help to tie it around the last piece you strung on). You can drape the garland over a small tree or shrub, or tie the ends together and hang it on a tree branch.
Soda Bottle Feeders
This handy plastic adapter can easily turn an empty soda bottle into a great reusable bird feeder!
If you’d rather make your own, we recommend trying out this project.
Carton Bird Feeder
This feeder is a great way to recycle empty juice or milk containers.
What You Need:
- an empty paper drink carton (from milk, a non-dairy beverage, or juice)
- a wooden dowel or unsharpened pencil
- wire for hanging
- cutting patterns (optional)
- non-toxic acrylic paints (optional)
- paintbrush (optional)
What You Do:
- Rinse the carton very well. Allow it to dry before you start.
- Use a pen to draw a door shape on opposite sides on the carton, about halfway up from the bottom. The door could be any shape you want, such as a circle or oval, or use one of these patterns.
- Have an adult help you cut out the shapes. You should have an identical opening on two opposite sides of the carton.
- Have an adult poke two small holes at the top of the carton, big enough for the wire to fit through. Thread the wire through the holes and twist the ends together to make a hanging loop.
- Mark an “x” at the center about 1/2″ below the opening on each side.
- Have an adult cut slits with a sharp knife on each “x.” Push the dowel or pencil through one hole and out the other side to make a perch for the birds to sit on.
- If you’d like to paint your bird feeder, take the dowel out first. If the paint doesn’t stick very well, you can rub the whole carton with sandpaper to help it stick better. Or, wrap it up in masking tape before painting. Keep in mind that birds might not want to attract much attention to themselves while they’re eating (so that squirrels, cats, and other predators won’t notice them), so choose neutral, tree colored paints.
- When you bird feeder is dry, push the dowel back through the holes and fill it with birdseed (up to the openings).
- Find a good spot in your yard and hang the feeder.
If you are interested in discovering more about birds, click here to learn about Bird Anatomy, How Birds Fly, and Flightless Birds.