For the Birds

by Stefani on 5-February-2010

Carolina Chickadee

Last spring we set out to make our own personal guide to local wildflowers. It was meant to be in part a pictorial guide to help us remember the flowers names on future walks, but it was also a sort of collection. It became an big event to find and add a new flower.

So in that vein, we recently set out to make a similar guide to birds.

Great White Egret

All the birds in this post were spotted and identified between last Sunday and today, all within about a 2 mile radius of our house. Most were right in our own yard!

Eastern Starlings

European Starlings

There were several too that were too fast and/or too far away for us to get a good photo… a Downy Woodpecker, White Winged and Mourning Doves, A Great Blue Heron, A Black Crested Titmouse, an American Robin, a few Killdeer, some Mallard duck pairs, a Blue Jay and A Carolina Wren…

House Finches (Brown Female and Red Male)

Plus a very sweet male and female pair of Northern Cardinals that seem to always be very nearby. We have our suspicions that they may be thinking on nesting in a bush very close to our school room window.

Needless to say all crossable parts are firmly crossed in hopes of future egg and hatchling excitement.

House Sparrows

If you’re hoping to do a little bird gazing of your own (perhaps for the impending Great Backyard Bird Count?), here are a few resources that we’ve found very helpful.

1. Our go-to field guides are the Golden Guides, in this case Birds, Pond Life and Birds of Prey have come into play. They are not the most detailed books (not a lot of scientific information about each species), but they are so great for young people. They have enough good information without being overwhelming.

2. There’s a lot of great information in Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Introducing Birds to Young Naturalists. You can read it online or order it bound.

3. For Texas folks, there’s also this really neat downloadable book, “Learn About Texas Birds.”

4. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s site, is an incredible resource. You can find not only photos of just about ever imaginable bird, searchable by name/shape or taxonomy, but also video and SOUND! We are trying to learn the sounds of the birds that we see most frequently, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’ve always wanted to walk through the woods and know the birds by their songs!

5. Also from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology –

  • a neat project for classrooms and homeschools (and families that dig watching birds together!) called BirdSlueth,
  • and an informative new video series called “Inside Birding
  • 6. Last, if you don’t already have one, I can’t recommend enough investing in a bird feeder to keep near a window. We started with this one, on our school room window and have since added a shepherd’s hook with a feeder like this one and a suet feeder. We use safflower seed in our feeders because the squirrels leave it alone, and it seems to draw a nice variety of birds.

    We have also recently put up this nesting material in the hopes that our cardinals will use it.

    We had a lot of hummingbird visitors last year, and this material is fine enough for their tastes as well. Last year we made our own little bag of nest offerings, and something (we think a dove) carried the whole thing up to her nest! So whether you buy or make, be sure you attach it firmly!

    Happy birding, and happy weekending too, friends!

    Dawn February 5, 2010 at 5:00 am

    What fun for you and the boys. You have a huge variety!
    We are starting to identify the bird songs here too. Chickadee is the one we love to hear and see. They are such playful little birds. The Cornell Lab web site is one of Fionna’s favorites. Great stuff. We love the Peterson Field Guide to Birds too. Great artwork to help identify (male, felmale, juvenile and seasonal changes).
    Thanks for the reminder about the backyard bird count. We missed it last year.
    Happy birding!

    Stefani February 5, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Dawn! Thank you so much! I had heard of the Peterson guides but sadly never opened one. I’m so glad to know that there’s a guide out there with illustrations of the female and juvenile birds too! It took me AGES to figure out that we had a female House Finch because I was looking at a guide full of MALE birds.

    We missed it last year too, so this year, we’re on it!

    Have a great weekend, Dawn!

    Beth February 5, 2010 at 6:07 am

    I’m so glad you did this post. Our third winter storm has just started here in southwestern VA and we will need some things to do in the next few days – so the resources you listed are great. We are big birders in our family – going back several generations on my husband’s side of the family. We spooked a great horned owl the other day on a hike in the snow and I love knowing the little about birds that I do know, to help spark the interest of my kids!

    Stefani February 5, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Ooooh! I love the Great Horned Owl! I’ve never seen one… well once I thought I caught a glimpse of one coasting across my path, but it happened so fast that I couldn’t be certain. We hear them often at night though. There are at least two that hang out near/in our yard and call to each other. So cool!
    We’ve just ordered a screech owl house. We’ve heard that folks have great success with them locally, so we’re going to give it a shot. I think we might come clean out of our skin with excitement to have resident owls!

    Lia February 5, 2010 at 6:32 am

    I love bird-watching. I inherited my grandfather’s bird books last Spring and we’ve been trying to look up some of the ones we see in our yard, too.

    On another note, but still bird-y….. I’ve been saving scraps of yarn and thread for the birds- thinking back to you mentioning some little bags you and your boys made for the birds. I’ve been trying to find the post to see how to make one, but I can’t find it. What did you use to make the bag part?

    Stefani February 5, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Hi Lia! That post is called “Color Week :: Rainbow”.

    I’m pretty sure that it was just the leftover net bag from some Clementines or maybe onions.

    And OOOOOH! Inherited bird books… I love the idea of that. I imagine you’ll think of him each time you use them. Have a wonderful weekend, Lia.

    Debbie Rosenkranz February 5, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Such a fantastic post as usual. We are birders too (that might be too formal a term) but we do get so excitred at the birds that visit our offerings and believe it or not the squirrels too. We have a seperate squirrel feeder but it does not really deter them from the other. Luckily the squirells do not deter the birds either.
    I will have to look up the owl houses because I hear them outside my bedroom window from time to time. I try to catch a glimpse but I am usually not lucky or quick enough. One time though my husband was out watering the yard in summer and literally walked past a tree with two young owls they sat face to face for a few moments before he slowly pulled out his cellphone to call inside the house and get us outside. Once again, we were unlucky, but just the thought of them being right in our yard was so exciting. I think a owl house would be great.
    We also have a lot of bats and I have consisdered installing a bat house out there too.
    Thanks for the great post.

    Stefani February 9, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Oh so cool! I often hear Great Horned Owls here, but have yet to see one face to face.
    We finally erected our owl house today, so our fingers are firmly crossed. And guess what else went up???
    After more than a year of having it in our laundry room, a BAT HOUSE! I have heard that it can take a very long time for these to be occupied, so we shall see….

    Michelle February 6, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    I am so excited about all the nature ideas you have been sharing! My family and I spend a couple months during the summer living at a Boy Scout Camp in southern Indiana. I’m really excited about making a nature journal with my boys who will be 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 years old. Thanks for sharing!

    Stefani February 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Living in a Boy Scout camp??? Wow! Super cool!
    Happy journaling to you guys!

    Mikael Behrens February 8, 2010 at 10:40 am


    I’ve created some local resources for identifying our neighborhood birds here. In particular, I think my Top 20 Bird List and Challenge is a good structured way to start learning them.

    daffodil lane February 11, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    We have just been studying and falling in love with birds too. Your list makes me a little jealous, ….oh how we would love to see a cardinal! (Not likely, here in Washington State!) And mourning doves? Wow. Have you seen the acrylic backed nesting box for windows? You might enjoy that too. (There’s a link on my blog to them).

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