Did you hear that? With warmer weather and bodies of water opening up again, we welcome thousands of birds back to our communities to stay the summer and also those en route up North. In our Girl Scouts River Valleys region, we’re lucky to be situated along the Mississippi Flyway with multiple tributaries of the Mississippi River (like Minnehaha Creek, and the Minnesota, St. Croix, and Wisconsin Rivers) creating vibrant ecosystems for birds to thrive.
As we continue to social distance and find new hobbies (Who else has a sourdough starter…?) and find routine in chaos, birding can be an excellent grounding and stress-free activity to do with your family.
Birding can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be. If you have binoculars, field guides, and tally sheets, great! If you have none or some of that (Like me!), also great! Birding really only requires patience, curiosity, and a wiliness to explore. As long as you are open to your surroundings and want to learn, then you are a natural birder.
One of my favorite things about birding is how accessible it is. You can bird from your kitchen window or from a state trail—it can be done almost anywhere at any time.
How Do I Bird?
When birding, focus on three main categories to identify a bird:
- Field Marks (Size, color, shape, design, etc.)
- Bird calls, songs, and sounds (What noise is it making?)
- Habitat (Where is the bird? What is it doing? What is it near?)
These three categories can help you narrow down the bird you’ve spotted to different types of birds, like how to identify a woodpecker from a hawk. To identify birds, you can use a field guide (borrowed from a friend or family member or purchased at a local bookstore) or download one of many free birding apps.
Some of my favorite free apps include:
- The Audubon Center
- Raptor ID
- eBird (A community-based app where you can see what birds your neighbors are identifying!)
Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to keep track! Birding can be a great way to get to know an area and learn how everything interacts with each other. This can be done with a tally sheet of what birds you saw or with a field journal.
To use a field journal, focus on observation and your senses (sight, smell, touch, etc.). Whether you create your own journal or use our template, there’s no one “right” way to keep a field journal and explore your surroundings. These are great steps whether you’re a seasoned birder or just beginning:
- Record the basics (date, time, location, weather, etc.)
- Record your observation (What do you see? Have you noticed any changes?)
- Illustrate a bird, tree, bush, river, etc. that you observed
- If you are observing the same place repeatedly, what changes are you noticing?
Interested in birding but prefer to be inside? No problem! You can bird, learn, and keep a field journal from inside with these virtual cams and birding crafts.
- Draw your favorite bird (YouTube)
- Make a birdhouse out of recycled materials
- Make seed balls to help birds
As we get closer to summer, you’ll notice so many new birds in your neighborhood. It’s an exciting time to take moments of pause and observe the busyness of nature in your area. If you are going outside, please practice safe social distance precautions and keep up to date on your state’s outdoor recreation guidelines (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Iowa Department of Natural Resources). Happy birding!
Grace Heneghan – Grace is a Program Resources Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in Gender and Women’s Studies and minor in Environmental Studies from Northland College. Her background also includes guiding backcountry expeditions and teaching outdoor education to youth. In her free time, Grace enjoys reading, listening to music, cooking, and exploring the metro area. Three things she can’t live without? Pamplemousse La Croix, a canoe paddle, and a manicure.