Frugal Family Winter Activity: Bird Watching


This winter will you be looking for a fun, educational and inexpensive activity for your kids? Consider bird watching, a fascinating activity for all ages. While many birds migrate to warmer places for the winter months, others remain, adding interest to our outdoor spaces.

Go Bird Watching in the Wilderness

Many birds gather in mixed flocks during winter months giving us the opportunity to see multiple species together.

  • Songbirds and finches prefer bushy areas with berries and nuts and orchards with fruit still on the trees.
  • Northern birds like coniferous forests that hold pine nuts and provide shelter.
  • Raptors such as kestrels, screech owl and red-tailed hawks are attracted to open fields where they hunt for rodents.
  • Open waters such as large lakes, active streams and rivers attract a wide variety of shorebirds, geese and ducks.

When venturing outside, make sure to check the weather and dress in layers. Wear insulated, waterproof boots and bring water. Stay in safe areas and watch out for thin ice!

Backyard Bird Watching Tips

You can also do winter birding right from you own yard. As winter sets in, attracting common winter birds to your yard is easy. Finches, chickadees, juncos, robins and cardinals are just a few of the many flocked friends that will enjoy the food you provide. Food sources for birds include grasses, seeds and many varieties of cones.

Start by setting up a bird feeder with a cover and dispensing trays so the seed is not buried during snowfalls. Chickadees, sparrows and juncos all make a fuss eating at the feeders. Provide an assortment of bird food and you will attract a larger variety of our flying friends. In winter, as their food sources become scarce, birds are more aggressive in foraging.

Place feeders near a sheltered area, preferably close to the house. Placing feeders near windows will allow you to watch the action from inside. For best viewing, feeders should be placed no more than 5 feet away from a wall or window. The use of decorative window clings will help reduce injuries to your garden guests.

Large capacity feeders are a plus since they don’t need to be filled as often. Cleaning feeders is important. Discard seed encased in ice and replace soggy seed with dry.

When filling the feeder, consider a mix of niger’s seed, hulled peanuts, sunflower seeds and mixes with seeds and fruit. Suet feeders also provide birds with nutrients and energy and help birds survive the long, cold winter months. Storing seed in a dry, air-tight container will keep it dry and safe from bugs and rodents.

The food you provide for the birds that inhabit your area is important to the birds’ ability to maintain their 108-degree body temperature, necessary for survival. Fatty foods will provide this benefit in winter.

Water can be scarce when it is snowy and freezing out. Immersible heaters are available to keep birdbath water from freezing. However, anything shallow and flat can be used for water. Remember birds don’t like their water more than 2 to 3 inches deep. Keep bird feeders clean and free from mold and clean birdbaths regularly and provide fresh water.

Family Activities to Attract & Enjoy Feathered Friends

A fun activity for kids is to decorate your evergreens with strings of popcorn, cranberries, apples and dried fruit that the birds (and squirrels) enjoy. Suet is inexpensive and can be mixed with seeds and either put into a suet feeder or spread on pinecones. Peanut butter or bacon fat can also be spread on pinecones or bagels and hung outside. Making edible bird feeders will be great fun for your junior birders. Be consistent with your feeding since the birds will begin to know your house as a reliable food stop.

As the birds begin flocking to your feeders, have your kids make some observations they can jot down in a notebook or journal.

  • How many different bird species are they seeing?
  • What is the weather like on the day they are bird watching?
  • Do they know what their state bird is? Do you know why it was chosen? (it just might be at the feeder)
  • Can they identify the bird’s song?

Whether you are inside with a hot cup of cocoa or outside with your binoculars and camera you can enjoy our feathered friends at their finest.

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