Project Feederwatch

I have never been a birdwatcher. And as much as it feels like heresy in the homeschooling community to say it, I have to admit I’ve never even really particularly liked birds. It’s not that I hate birds, it’s just that the whole birdwatching thing always seemed kind of boring and odd to me.

But David developed an interest in birds early on. I kept seeing references to Project Feederwatch on various homeschooling blogs and I thought I’d check it out this year to encourage his interest.

It has been so much fun. Definitely one of the highlights of our homeschool this year. If you aren’t familiar with Project Feederwatch, it’s a program sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where individuals around the country send in data on the birds at their bird feeders. It’s very easy to do. You simply record the birds you see at your feeder for two day periods. You can do it as much as once a week throughout the winter, or count only one two day period. You can count for only a few minutes on each day or as long as you want.

Our feeders are in our front yard and right outside a bay window in our kitchen. On Mondays and Tuesdays we do school at the table there so we can count. Grammar and math lessons are frequently punctuated by “Hey, look a woodpecker!” It’s been interesting to see the patterns of when the birds come and to see which birds come back most often. I admit to becoming more of a bird lover, they are really fascinating creatures. I like that it’s a way for us to be more attune to nature that is very close to home. In addition to the birds, we really enjoy watching the acrobatics of the squirrels as they try and get to the feeders.

You knew I’d find a way to include a book in this post, right? I think one of the reasons I was never that interested in birdwatching is that it seemed intimidating. I know people who can quickly identify birds by song or flight silhouette and I always thought it would take a lot of time and effort to be able to enjoy the hobby at all. I think the biggest surprise to me has been that it isn’t really that hard. We’ve been using this little field guide by Stan Tekiela. This one is for our state, but he has also done similar guides for many other states. This is not the most comprehensive guide but it’s excellent for a beginner. First, it focuses on the most common birds in your area. Secondly, it is organized by color. All the other guides I have seen organize by things like shape, size, or beak shape/size. As a beginner the first thing I notice is color and it has been great to be able to turn to the “brown” section and look for the bird I just saw. There is a nice color photo of each bird along with a small amount of information about the bird (including a state map so you can see how frequently it is in your area).

In addition to the book, when we signed up for Project Feederwatch we got a nice color poster of common feeder birds in the Eastern US. That has also been very helpful to us. Before we started I think I could probably identify robin, cardinal and blue jay. Everything else in my mind was “some kind of sparrow” or just something I didn’t know. Recently, my two year old correctly identified a downy woodpecker  and the boys are both already well beyond me at noticing and identifying the birds that frequent our feeders. I don’t think our list includes anything exotic so far but part of the joy is not just in the identifying but in becoming familiar with certain birds who return again and again. We have one little Carolina wren in particular that visits frequently and that feels like a friend.

The Cornell Ornithology Lab is also one of the sponsors of the Great Backyard Bird Count which is very similar, but for a shorter period of time. It’s coming up Feb 17th-20th and a great chance to try birdwatching and see if you enjoy it.

4 thoughts on “Project Feederwatch

  1. We have the Birds of Massachusetts field guide, and it’s been one of my daughter’s favorite books for as long as I can remember (partly because it’s small, and she would read War and Peace if only it came in a cute, mini-book edition 🙂 We’ve both learned much more about birds than I had ever expected. We haven’t had much luck getting birds to come to feeders, though. We’ve tried a variety of locations and foods, and the food just sits there until the wind or rain washes it away. But I guess we should try again!

  2. I have a similar view of bird-watching, I’m sorry to admit! But we’ve gotten into finches because someone gave us a nice little “sock-style” finch feeder, and finches are absolutely lovely. Thanks for pointing out Project Feederwatch; I hadn’t heard of it and we’ll check it out.

  3. I could’ve almost written this post, Alice. We now have a feeder in front, right outside one of our school room windows, and one out back where we can see it from the kitchen. I’m excited about the Backyard BIrd Count, although Project Feederwatch might be better for us in terms of freedom and timing. Right now my favorite guide is the Peterson First Field Guide. I’d love to have a poster, though!

  4. My husband didn’t want to do Feederwatch. He didn’t want to pay to do something we do anyway. But we’ll be in on the Backyard Bird Count.

    Birding is something that’s come to the fore for me over the last year, but I come from a long line of bird-lovers, if not hardcore birders. It was inevitable.

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