Winter Birding Basics
December 12, 2012

This Saturday, the Mass Audubon Boston Nature Center in Mattapan is holding a Winter Backyard Birding program for families, a wonderful way to introduce your kids to the birds that stick around the region in winter.

Erin Kelly, Education Coordinator & Day Camp Director at the Boston Nature Center, offers some tips and tricks to taking kids birding. If you can’t make the weekend event, or if you would rather strike out on your own, the following advice is more than enough to get you started. Don’t forget to give your child a journal or a sketchbook to record what they see. You may just spark the beginning of a new hobby!

What should we bring?
You really don’t need much gear to pursue birding. Focus on a few of the most common birds and bring pictures of them or a simple birding guidebook. Mass Audubon publishes an easy-to-use, inexpensive field guide with over 40 common neighborhood birds: A Guide to Backyard Birds of Eastern North America.

What birds might we see in winter in the Boston area?
Black-capped chickadee, dark-eyed junco, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, blue jay, American goldfinch, northern cardinal, white-breasted nuthatch, house finch, and tufted titmouse.

What kind of binoculars do we need?
If you want, you can purchase binoculars made especially for kids; most have low or no magnification. They can be useful for young children practicing the hand/eye coordination needed to use binoculars or for families just starting to bird.

Where should we go?
When you are just getting started, bird feeders are a great place to practice using binoculars and learning about the shapes and patterns of different birds.

When you’re ready to search out more birds, try parks that have different types of vegetation—trees, bushes, gardens or un-landscaped areas, meadows, forests, streams, and ponds.

Some great local destinations for winter bird-watching include the Boston Nature Center, Franklin Park, Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond, Millennium Park, Stony Brook Reservation, and Allandale Woods.

What is the best time of day to go?
Birds are also generally more active in the morning and at dusk. Look for birds especially around ponds, lakes, and the ocean.

What should we look for?
The overall color of the bird is not the only thing too look for when trying to identify a bird. Many other characteristics can narrow down the list of possible birds when trying to ID them:

Look at the size and shape of the bird’s bill.

Look for the color of the bird’s eyes and feet.

Look at the general size of the body and tail.

Notice where the bird is and what is it doing (Is it in a tree? Is it feeding on the ground?)

After you and your kids take notes about what you’ve seen, you can enjoy a mug of hot cocoa and compare your notes to the bird books or printouts, to see how many you can match!

Other Mass Audubon properties also offer birding programs. Visit Mass Audubon to view schedules.

Do you bird with your kids? How young were they when they got started?

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