For the Birds: A Rabbit Trail


Throughout the spring and summer, we caught the "birding bug."  We hung a feeder and set out some simple birdbaths and even built a rudimentary nesting box.  We rejoiced in the nest and the eggs, celebrated the birth of the babies,  and mourned the terrible, violent death of the baby birds. As ugly as the twist of nature was, we were still pretty amazed by the birds in our backyard. I especially love the early morning, before the busyness of the day and the traffic in the kitchen frighten the birds away from the window feeder.  This morning, as I sipped a very mellow cup of tea, I pondered the bird-coffee connection (for some reason this made me think of Dawn; I'm sure she'll appreciate it).  We've certainly developed a bird-watching habit.


As the sunflowers grew, the goldfinches came to entertain and a red-winged blackbird and a cardinal were regulars at the feeder. More and more bird questions were generated while we watched from the sunroom windows.  It is time to officially launch a rabbit trail into the world of birding.


My plan, rough as it is, is to study birds intensively for the next month or so (until the baby is born) and then to just maintain our watching and recording habits through the next year.  Birding is a year 'round venture and so this is a year 'round rabbit trail, with some instensive time up front. We began our study at Wild Birds Unlimited, a great store and place of resource that is located within my five mile pregnant mom travel radius.

The very knowledgeable and helpful salesclerk got us all set up with an array of feeders and food to take us well into the fall. She assured us that it isn't too late to attract hummingbirds and she showed us how to attract even more goldfinches. We talked a bit about the demise of our nesting birds.  We'll try again with those in the spring. We returned home to set up feeding stations around the backyard, all still within clear view of the sunrooms windows.  And we were richly rewarded with goldfinches and hummingbirds within an hour of hanging the new feeders!

While the children spilled seed all over the backyard filled feeders, I busied myself sketching out content I want them to learn from this unit study.  We know that if they understand the vocabulary of a topic, they know the topic.  So, I began with a preliminary vocabulary list.  I fully expect the list to grow as we read and watch our birds, but this is a beginning.

  • birds of prey
  • swimming birds
  • diving birds
  • game birds
  • aquatic birds
  • songbirds
  • hummingbirds
  • warm-blooded
  • ornithology
  • migrations
  • resident birds
  • homing instinct
  • flight muscles
  • keel
  • humerus
  • upstroke
  • downstroke
  • syrinx
  • hatchling
  • countour feather
  • down feather
  • semi-plume
  • filoplume
  • bristles
  • preening
  • plumage
  • motling
  • nesting
  • scrape nest
  • brood nest
  • woven nest
  • no nester
  • cavity nester
  • mound nest
  • earth hole nest
  • adherent nest
  • platform nest
  • mud daub nest
  • hanging cup nest
  • clutch
  • mating/courtship
  • brooding
  • egg tooth
  • fledgling
  • camouflage
  • field marks

We'll encounter much of this vocabulary in the books I've chosen for the "Bird Basket."  For the younger children, Crinkleroot will be their guide and they will become well-acquainted with Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds.

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds (Crinkleroot)

Jim Arnosky does a masterful job of introducing even young children to some pretty sophisticated bird concepts and vocabulary.  It's well worth the search you may have to undertake to find a copy.  Our other "spine" is a brand new book in the the Apologia series for elementary/middle school children.  I'm not a huge fan of Apologia science in high school but I do like the series by Jeannie Fulbright. Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day is no exception. 

Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the 5th Day (Apologia Science Young Explorers)

We'll just use the first section of the book (on birds) this fall and then perhaps hit insects intensely next spring and summer.All the bird info this mom needs to know can be found in Fulbright's book and at the Wild Birds Unlimited store.  That's a good thing because I'm going to be doing some pretty intense nesting of my own while we undertake this study!

The bird book basket is at the ready.  This is where the stories and the pictures will take us beyond our backyard and nurture intimacy and interest with all things avian.

Picture Books
Bird Watching with Margaret Morse Nice
I'm looking for a biography of John James Audobon for children.  I know I read one with the big kids but I can't remember the title or find it here.  Any suggestions?
Coloring Books
This will be a notebooking rabbit trail as opposed to a lapbooking one.  The vocabulary lists will go in the notebooks and so will drawings of birds they observe in the yard.  They will map a bird and label the parts and they will draw and label the parts of an egg. We're going to talk a bit about taxonomy and all the birds we observed will be labelled correctly. Our field guides will serve us well in this endeavor. 
In the beginning, we are going to talk extensively about how to attract birds to our backyard.
We don't have a lot of trees of hedgerows for cover, so we're going to have to do a bit work outside.  We are planning to build some nesting boxes, though the nesting season is pretty much past (except for goldfinches). Other hands-on acivities will incude dissecting owl pellets and identifying and labelling what we see, making suet feeder food and making pine cone bird feeders.  In February, we'll participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. As with all our nature endeavors, there will be much blogging and record-keeping at Blossoms and Bees. Please visit there frequently to see what's new in our bird-friendly backyard!