Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Many little hands release a Wilson’s warbler after it was banded at Ridgway State Park. Students observe and assist bird banders as part of the Rocky Mountain Bird Banding Project at Ridgway and at the Audubon Nature Center at Connected Lakes in Grand Junction. The banding operation occurs annually in early September.
Chick-a-de-de-de-de, chickadee in the tree, I see a chickadee, chickadee in the tree.
Making up quick songs while hiking with little kids is a fun way to connect and remember birds. Chickadees are a favorite for kids and adults of all ages because the words we use to describe their song is also their name!
Another fun bird call to listen for is the Ruby Crowned Kinglet. It is called the “cheeseburger bird” because the mnemonic for its song is “cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger”. Mnemonics (words to help us remember) are fun and easy to learn. Visit Augubon.org to learn some tricks on remembering bird songs. (https://tinyurl.com/remembering-bird-calls)
How do you spark that interest in nature with your kids? Summer is a great time to start thinking of ways to get your young ones out there and engaged with the outdoors. It could be as simple as buying a pair of binoculars and a basic bird book, or taking walks in the woods to just look and listen. Get them prepped with anticipation by going to the library and checking out some books about nature. There are many children’s books that can introduce kids to the wonder and beauty of nature. Some even provide a variety of cultural interests. One example is a children's book about the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and how it became part of a movement to embrace Indigenous languages in Mexico (tinyurl.com/the-tale-of-one-tiny-songbird). Image courtesy of Audubon Society.
(image courtesy of audubon.org)
Audubon is all about getting out there and appreciating nature and birds! Their website has so much information; it is worth a browse to get a few DIY summer camp ideas. Their page - JUST FOR KIDS! (Or kids at heart) “aims to bring together activities from across Audubon’s national network of environmental educators, including the classroom curriculum Audubon Adventures, plus related DIY activities and content from Audubon’s editors.” (tinyurl.com/audubon-afterschool-fun). There are even events for family participation – to help you and your kids contribute to citizen science projects. Here is an example of a virtual event on the site: tinyurl.com/audubon-afterschool-fun
One doesn’t need to be an expert; maybe just being a “student” along with a child is a fun way to learn and bond together. The more kids love and understand our natural world, the more they will want to protect it. www.audubon.org/news/easy-ways-get-kids-birding
Cornell Lab of Ornithology also has many resources on their website. Check out their bird sleuthing curricula (www.birdsleuth.net) which uses bird watching to get young people enthused about science and nature. This Bird Sleuth video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5OPTvrHh0U) encourages students (or anyone!) to get outside, watch birds, and take part in citizen science.
There are several citizen science projects through Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, such as the great backyard bird count. www.birdcount.org . Also, a fun app to use on your phone while out in the field is iNaturalist. www.inaturalist.org/. It has a variety of uses to not only record what you see with pictures and descriptions, but other users can help you identify your plant, bird, bug, or whatever else you’ve seen in the natural world.
Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a butterfly, flitting around some flowers? Because they are pollinators, it is important to protect these wonderful creatures. Since they are an “indicator species” (project the health of the environment), awareness of their importance is increased. Ridgway State Park started a citizen science project through the Colorado Butterfly Monitoring Network in 2017. Interested volunteers attended a training at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado in 2015. There are now five routes in the park consistently monitored by volunteers. The idea is to expand this to other areas on the Western Slope next year. If you’d like to learn about starting a route for you and other families, please visit butterflies.org/research-and-conserve/butterfly-monitoring/.
Here is a suggestion for a fun summer garden project to help monarch butterflies – establish a certified “waystation” for these critters to stop and rest during migration. Monarch Watch also has links to other monarch butterfly projects (www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/).
Looking for more action packed activities in the outdoors? Try orienteering with your kids! It’s a great way to learn how to use a map, a compass and learn to observe subtle landscape features. There are many sites for guidance before you head out with your kids such as rainydaymum.co.uk/orienteering-with-kids/.
Geocaching – It’s like a treasure hunt! Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity in which participants use a GPS or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. It’s fun for them to see what “treasures” people have left behind in the “caches” and its great activity to lead you to explore places that you never thought of going. Go to www.geocaching.com/play to find out more and look at the available apps.
With each interaction in nature, children can acquire a sensitivity to nature’s elements. The more kids love and understand our natural world, the more they will want to protect it. Nature experiences can light up a spark of fascination and curiosity, and elicit many questions. Whether it involves plants, birds, butterflies or other critters, citizen science projects are a great way to engage your child with nature.
If you want to learn more about what other citizen science projects are out there including planets, plants, weather and even ticks, Popular Science has a website for that: www.popsci.com/story/diy/citizen-science-guide/ . This site provides links for those projects and other resources. So, get out there, have some fun, and do some science!
Birds of a feather flock together, as they say, and what better outdoor activity is there than bird watching in your backyard, or on your nearby public lands? Birds are everywhere, but we often don’t take the time to learn about them. Friends of Youth and Nature wants to encourage you to learn more about local bird species and start your bird list by offering a chance to win one of three pairs of Celestron or Vortex binoculars as motivation. The age categories for winners are: 5-9, 10-14, and 15-19 years old.
How do you enter? Visit our website at www.friendsofyouthandnature.org and download the bird identification worksheet, or contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org, 970-901-1459) with your mailing address for a hard copy. Go outside with your family – anywhere local will do: your backyard, a local park, or nearby public lands. Take your identification worksheet - it lists nine of the most common birds seen in Western Colorado. And don’t forget your phone! There are several apps that can help you identify birds. Some helpful apps that have both pictures and songs are: The Audubon Bird Guide of North America (found at audubon.org); the Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Labs (merlin.allaboutbirds.org); and eBird, which also has a cool song sleuth app that will listen to the bird song or call you hear and identify possible matches. When you complete your bird identification worksheet (link below), take a picture of it and email it by July 31, 2020 to:
email@example.com.. Be sure to include your name, age, and the details you have recorded about your birding experience. You can also mail it to FOYAN at P.O. Box 634, Hotchkiss, CO 81419 by that date. We will draw one name for each age category on August first and arrange for you to pick up your new binoculars!
So, how do you start? If you want to attract birds to your backyard, the best way is to provide a bird bath. Bird baths are better than bird feeders, because bird seed is known to attract rodents and even bears! Just sitting quietly under a tree in your backyard offers easy access to many common birds such as Robins, House Finches, and even Hummingbirds. You will be surprised at how many birds there are so close to home.
Where do you find birds? Everywhere! How do you find them? Some advice from the Audubon society helps make it easier. There are four basic bird finding steps: Stop, Look, Listen, and Repeat. First, STOP: take a minute to stand still and take in your surroundings and think like a bird! Second, LOOK for possible perches like powerlines, fence posts, and tree tops. Look for movement. Third, LISTEN. Your ears can detect vocalizations, tapping, or rustling of birds as they communicate with each other. Finally, repeat. You will become more and more aware of birds around you as you meander slowly though their world.
If you choose to go to a local park or forest, make sure you gear up! Parents, take your children under your wing, wear comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes, take a pack with snacks and a water bottle, and use your eagle eyes to see the birds around you. If you don’t have a pair of binoculars, your local library has a Colorado Parks and Wildlife outdoor backpack for check out – complete with binoculars, and a state park pass. Before you know it, you will become so absorbed in the bird search that all the world’s problems and your anxieties will melt away.
Searching and identifying birds and observing their behaviors is a perfect way to focus on something positive together as a family. Give it some time and patience; you will take to it like a duck to water, and feel your stress roll off your shoulders like water off a duck’s back! Enter our birding contest by August 8th for a chance to win a new pair of binoculars!
Bird Identification Worksheet
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Snow by any Other Name (12/2021)
Bundle up for Winter Fun (12/2019)
Wanted: A Few Young Snow Rangers (12/2020)
Keeping your family connected to nature (4/20)