Family fun in nature before back to school: Discover birding!

Birding at the Tabusintac Estuary, NB (Photo by NCC)

Birding at the Tabusintac Estuary, NB (Photo by NCC)

August 25, 2014 | by Wendy Ho

“Look! What’s that bird?” 

“Did you hear that?”

“It sounded like dee—dee, the first dee higher pitched than the second!”

Can you tell what I’m trying to describe?

Attempts of bird identification often involve me asking these questions to my husband, who is equally clueless. After encountering various birds in nature walks and vaguely remembering their sounds and appearance, I usually turn to Google but have a hard time finding answers to searches like, “small fluffy white bird grey belly , Ontario.”

In my youth, I recall keenly asking the same questions to my father and learning about several frequent backyard visitors, including the robin, mourning dove and house sparrow. Since then, I've always felt birdwatching was a great activity for parents and kids (and kidults like me). Not only does it deepen our natural lexicon it provides important bonding time between family members and with nature. 

While the day is still long enough and free time is aplenty, the fall migration is a perfect opportunity to get your little explorers outside for some time in nature — especially while there's still time before back to school.

Recently, I spoke to Kristyn Ferguson, the Nature Conservancy of Canada's program director of Georgian Bay–Huronia, about some of her birding tips. 

What you need

  1. Binoculars: A simple pair of binoculars can go a long away for beginners. As you become a better birder, you can opt for more advanced binoculars. 
  2. Sound recording device: An audio recorder or app allows you to make identification and verification easier. Thanks to recording a “voice memo” of a bird call on her phone, Kristyn was able to confirm her encounter with a rare golden-winged warbler!

What’s helpful to have

  1. Birding field guide: Sibley’s and Peterson’s are good illustrated guides to help with bird identification. Keep in mind that gender, maturity and season are factors that influence appearance. 
  2. Mobile apps: providing recorded bird calls and songs, apps can help train your ability to recognize birds by ear. Often, you will hear these feathered friends before you spot them.  
  3. Camera: No picture, no truth is what some netizenssay. Capturing that first encounter with a bird species on camera would make a great show and tell for adults and children alike!
  4. Our NCC sample birding checklist: see it here
    Golden-winged warbler (Photo by Christian Artuso)

    Golden-winged warbler (Photo by Christian Artuso)

Where to look

Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) properties are excellent places to observe migratory birds. For example, BC's Tatlayoko Lake Ranch and Johnson’s Mills are two excellent natural habitats that offer cover, rest and food for migrating birds. Each year around August and September, spectators can feast their eyes on the variety and abundance of migratory species stopping by the properties before their long journey south to their wintering grounds.

Making birding an enjoyable time for all

While birding is a relatively tame activity, there are definitely precautions and basic rules to follow.

“Respecting property rights is a big part of birding, which means sticking to public or conservation lands only. It’s also important to not disturb birds that may be nesting or breeding by lingering too long. Also, refrain from unethical practices such as luring birds with food or flushing them out for a better view. As with any time out in wilderness, you should try to be with a buddy or at least have someone know where you are and when you expect to be home that you can check in with,” advises Kristyn.

When taking the young ones outdoors, ask them to describe what they see because it helps enforce their memory and vocabulary. You can help form the memory of these special encounters better by repeating the name of bird. On the other hand, adults need to figure out what children see, which can be equally challenging and fun! Above all, savour the moments of joy and fondness when nature crosses your path.

As for Kristyn, herstaring contest with a barred owl remains to be one of her fondest memories.

With the peak of avian fall migration literally passing over our heads, why not introduce your family to this activity, which be continued year-round! 

NCC properties are excellent places for bird watching. If you are thinking of visiting any of our properties and would like more information, please contact our Regional offices. 

Learn my birding song!

Here’s my rendition of "Do you hear the people sing?" — an ode to birds and their songs:

Do you hear the birdies sing? Singing a song of various calls. 

Birding by ear or sight will prove to be a challenge to you all!

Cardinals, barred owls and gulls, chickadees, crows and vireos

Hear ye the music in this natural concert hall!

Wendy Ho (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Wendy Ho is Nature Conservancy of Canada's digital content manager.

Read more about Wendy Ho.

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