How to Go Birdwatching with Kids

If you're interested in birdwatching with kids, consider these tips for helping kids fall in love with Michigan's birds.

Have a love of birding that you want to nurture in your children or are you looking for a fun new activity to do with them outdoors? We talked to expert local birders from the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) in Detroit and Stage Nature Center in Troy for advice on how to get started. Several tools and tips are available to help, but getting started can be simple.

“For someone who is looking to start birding, you don’t need to look further than your backyard,” says Natalie Cypher, educator at the OAC.

Ways to get kids involved

Treat birding as more of a mindfulness experience – practice being still and aware of the different birds you see and hear around you. “Birding is a very mindful activity. It’s about observing your surroundings,” Cypher says.

As with many things, it can be fun to turn it into a game like a scavenger hunt. On the flip side, making it more of a laidback birding adventure to see what you find without feeling pressure to spot certain birds can be just as much fun.

Install a feeder to attract birds to your own yard. “Getting kids watching birds at bird feeders is also a great way to get them excited about birding,” says Christina Funk, assistant naturalist with the Troy Nature Society.

If you have a budding birder in your family, check out the Michigan Audubon Society’s programming for young birders.

Great places to look for birds

Locations around lakes and waterways make great places for birdwatching. Here are a few to put on your list:

Detroit Audubon offers birding field trips in the area. For information about Michigan’s birding trails, visit the Michigan Audubon website. 

Common birds to spot

There are many types of birds to spot in Michigan during the spring, including more familiar Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mourning Doves and Goldfinches.

“Some popular/common birds to see as they start coming back include the Harbinger of Spring, the American Robin (even though some of them do stay around all year long), Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Eastern Phoebe, many different hawks as they migrate back, Killdeer, American Woodcock,” Funk says.

Birders can find information on bird sightings and their location on ebird.org, that can be searched by region.

Helpful tools

You can definitely start birding without any special equipment or tools, but there are some things that can help make it more engaging.

“Binoculars are great for older kids, but they can be difficult for younger children to use. Monoculars are easier for children to use. Also just get them used to using their eyes to spot birds without binoculars,” Funk says.

  • If you do try binoculars, Cypher suggests they should have a magnification such as 7×35 or 8×42. The challenge can be fitting them on the face without them being too wide. Try a few different pairs to see which work best.
  • Bring along an easy to carry field guide like the Michigan Birds Pocket Naturalist Guide.
  • Use an app on your phone or a device called Identiflyer to play bird calls.
  • Get the full download on all things birding in Michigan from the Department of Natural Resources.

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