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Great Bird Count with Kiddos

A few times each year, people all over the world count birds together. Citizen science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count help ornithologists (bird experts) understand how and where species of birds are thriving and shifting. Plus, joining in these events is a super way for kids to fall in love with their feathered friends, feel part of a large community who care about nature and get interested in science. Trick is, how do you participate with little kids?

The Guide

  1. Learn about Bird Counts: You can read books about bird counts or visit The Great Backyard Bird Count site to learn more about the research and the opportunity to be part of the citizen science work. For example, The Great Backyard bird count runs from Feb 12-15.
  2. Download the Merlin Bird App. Once installed, you can enter your region, and the app will load photos, bird call sounds and information about the birds that make it super easy to identify and count birds! Plus, you can learn about them as you go! If you don't get the app, you can make a simple chart and tally the birds you see, then upload your counts in the computer later.
  3. Try binoculars: You don't need binoculars to spot or count birds, but having a tool can help kids feel more "official." Having a tool that helps direct where you are looking can also help kids focus. Feel free to offer kid-sized binoculars or make your own using toilet paper tubes! See how here.
  4. Head outside: Head outside to look for birds. 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.
  5. Look, listen and enjoy! Enjoy looking for birds. Feel the joy spot one—adding a count makes the excitement at seeing each bird turbo charged. Track your birds using the app or a simple chart. Or, just have fun looking for and finding birds. Even if you never share your data, just get out there with kids and you are creating a moment for kids to peek into a remarkable event!
  6. Listen, too. It blew my mind that just hearing a bird's call is enough to count that bird, and birds' calls are so unique and rhythmic, they are great to mimic, too. Have fun listening as much as looking. Get silly trying out some of the calls yourselves, too.
  7. Pretend! If it's really cold or an off time and there are few to no birds to see, flap your wings to stay warm and make bird calls. Poke around in your Merlin app to see what local birds sound like and look like, and pretend to be those feathered friends flying, looking for food, or singing to one another. Pretending to be other creatures is a wonderful way to build empathy, too!

Why is this activity great for kids?

  • Considering the needs of other creatures develops cognitive empathy.
  • Doing something to meet those needs develops compassionate empathy.
  • Spending active time outside together in childhood increases the likelihood kids will spend active time outside when they are grown.
  • Being part of science in action teaches kids to value STEM!
  • Family projects designed around helping others are wonderful ways to reinforce both family and community values. Hurrah!

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