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Among the many characteristics that make birds fascinating for adults and kids alike (their colors, their nest-building and their ability to fly), is their captivating song. Birds are fabulous communicators and use songs and calls to share messages with each other throughout the day. And, once you slow down to really listen to the birds in your area, you’ll be amazed at just how many different sounds birds make. In this activity, kids have a chance to focus on (and try out) the diverse sounds and songs of birds in their outdoor space.
Learn about bird sounds: Audubon's beginner guide to common bird sounds and what they mean is a super resource to learn about the difference between bird calls (shorter sounds- often one syllable long) and songs (more complex sounds with a clear pattern). Bird calls communicate a variety of messages, too. For example, alarm calls alert other birds to predators; contact calls help birds stay in touch with each other while they are foraging for food; flight calls are used by flocking birds while in flight, and baby birds use begging calls to get their parent’s attention for food.
Head outside: Head outside together and listen for bird sounds in your outdoor space. The ideal time is early in the morning, but there are many times of day to try. Just try to avoid noon when birds tend to be the least active.
Try binoculars: You don't need binoculars to spot birds, but having a tool can help kids feel more "official" and can also help kids focus. Feel free to offer kid-sized binoculars or make your own using toilet paper tubes! See how here.
Listen for bird sounds: Invite kids to listen with their eyes closed (turning off one sense often heightens the other senses). Then, listen with eyes open and invite your child to use their senses of hearing and sight together to locate the birds making the sounds. Do you hear bird calls or bird songs? If you hear a song, what does your child imagine the song is about? If you hear a call, what does your child think the birds are trying to communicate? You can also use an app like SongSleuth or BirdGenie to identify the birds in your area by their sounds.
Sing with the birds: When you hear a bird sound, try to imitate it and listen to see if the bird responds to your call. Can you engage the birds in “conversation”? Invite kids to pretend to be a real or imagined bird and make up their own bird calls and bird songs. Play a game of hide and seek while giving each other “clues” to your location using bird calls. Or, attempt a conversation together using only bird sounds.
Tuning in to the sounds of feathered friends is a super way to activate kids’ senses and help them develop focus and observation skills. Listening for sounds and considering the meaning or messages behind different sounds is a great way to help kids learn about the communication strategies of other creatures and their own communication skills. And, spending time outside learning about the birds in your area supports science skills and kids’ connection to the natural world.