Thursday, February 25, 2010

A little bird told me...

astronomy can wait.

Our science plans for this year were to complete our study of earth and space from last year. We were doing pretty well, having completed our study of weather, and then we excitedly began our study of astronomy. But in January we got distracted. By birds.

In the winter our bird feeder is constantly busy, and it is easier to see our little feathered friends without all the leaves on the trees. It got to the point that I was taking more pictures of birds than my kids.

But it got worse. We've been using Adventures in My Father's World for our history studies, ignoring the science and Bible portions (because we were already doing our own thing for these subjects when we started Adventures). But in January, I noticed that the science portion had a birding unit that fit in well with the study of the 50 states. I also knew that The Great Backyard Bird Count was coming up and wanted to be better prepared than we were last year. The final push was when we purchased the Winter Nature Study ebook that had a section devoted to bird watching. I decided it wasn't going to kill us to put off astronomy a little longer. It just makes my planning for next year a little easier! Apparently it was a great decision, because both kids have really enjoyed our bird studies, and I thought I'd share some of the great resources we've used.


Here is a list of the books we have read (or are currently reading), with our Blue House Academy rating (5 stars = highest rating):

Bird Songs, Les Beletsky (2006) *****

State Birds, Arthur Singer (1986) *****

Our Yard is Full of Birds, Lizzy Rockwell (1992) ****

Fine Feathered Friends, Jane Yolen (2004) ****

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds, Jim Arnosky (1992) *****

Robin at Hickory Street, Dana Meachen Rau (1995) *****

My Spring Robin, Anne Rockwell (1989) ***

Birdhouse for Rent, Harriet Ziefert (2001) *****

Cardinals, Robins, and Other Birds, George Fichter (1993) ****

Birds, Brian Wildsmith (1967) ****

Owls in the Family, Farley Mowat (1961) still reading, but so far it's a five-star


A Beka Birds of North America Science Flashcards I bought these used last year, and have found them very helpful in reviewing the birds we have studied. We are using the 50 States set that includes notebook pages on each of the 50 state birds. The kids color a new picture of a state bird every day. They use the Arthur Singer book to see how the birds look, but the A Beka flash cards are also great for this. also has notebooking kits more specific to birding.

Olive Plants I've sung Dawn's praises a few times -- her blog is one of my favorites -- but I doubt you'll find many families more into birds than hers. Her sons compete in (and win) birding competitions. Dawn has some great birding tips, and I especially love her idea of making silhouettes of birds to improve identification skills.


Now here is where I reveal that despite all this preparation, we're still not all that great at actual bird watching. But we are improving! As with last year, we only participated in the count on the final day. We spent most of the morning counting the birds that visited our feeder. It was pretty much the same birds all day long -- the same birds we see on a daily basis, but they are still a joy to watch.

Our count:

Northern Cardinals - 11 (curiously, all males on this day)

Dark-eyed Junco - 5

Blue Jay - 1

Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1

Downy Woodpecker (or maybe Hairy Woodpecker) - 1

Tufted Titmouse - 1

It was a chilly day, but in the afternoon Grace and I took a walk in the woods to try to spot more birds. Just like last year, we saw nothing except one hawk flying high overhead. If we looked up the hill, we could still see the same birds hanging out at the feeder, but that was it. Maybe we should have participated in the "Great Backyard Deer Count" -- we saw three. It was still a nice walk though.


We had a lot of fun completing the bird-themed activities in Adventures. Ever wonder how many worms a robin can eat in a day? Try 40 feet worth!!! We cut a 40 foot piece of yarn to see just how amazing that is. We also learned a chickadee weighs the equivalent of four pennies! And, best of all, we made edible bird nests. Messy and yummy -- what more could a kid ask for?


The kids memorized a couple of darling poems from the Jane Yolen book, with this one about a woodpecker being their favorite:

Wood/Peck by Jane Yolen

Wood peck, peck, peck

Up the bark, bark, bark

In the day, day, day

Not the dark, dark, dark

Time to work, work, work

Flick and fleck, fleck, fleck

Look for bugs, bugs, bugs,

As I peck, peck, peck.


So, I'm not sure when we'll return to astronomy, but for now we're enjoying our little detour. And we continue to learn. A week after the count, we saw a trio of birds we hadn't seen before. It took a while (and a lot of googling) for us to find out that they were European Starlings, actually a pretty common bird across North America. But they only have these spots in the winter, which is why we weren't recognizing them in any of our books or on the internet.

Our goal is to continue working on identification skills and keep better track of who visits our yard other times of the year. And hopefully next year we can participate in the count more than one day, maybe visiting an additional location to see what other feathered friends we can find.


  1. Kellie! This post is so wonderful! Your pictures are incredible. My husband is home today b/c I have another doc appointment and I showed this post to him. His reaction to your photos was "WOW!". I may get a new camera in the near future. Thank you! When I have time, I'm going to put something on my blog about this post. There are other bird enthusiasts who read my blog who would love this post.

  2. Too funny, we just spent about 30 minutes totally distracted with the birds in our yard right before I opened your post. We enjoy the wonderful nature study breaks as the birds fly in for their breakfasts. They will soon move on and we will get back to work. What started our whole session this morning was we saw two unusual birds and we took the time to pull out the binocs to see if we could identify them...turns out they were a starling and a mourning dove.

    Birding is a life activity and you will only get better and better at identifying birds. Start a life list for each of your kids and yourself. I love looking back at all the birds we have seen over the years.

    Thank you so much for sharing your post. Make sure to submit it to the OHC Blog Carnival.

  3. Seems like a wonderful skill that you are teaching your kids! It truly is a great time to watch since you have the means. "Detours' like this make me glad to homeschool! The photos are wonderful but the nest looks too tempting to me - yum! Not likely they'll forget that!
    You can get back to astronomy when the weather is warm enough to stay up late to look at the sky!
    Great job!

  4. I wish I could hire you to teach my crew Science. I stink. Seriously.

    It looks like y'all have had so much fun. Do they actually eat the bird's nest? I think I would be psychologically hindered. It just looks so much like a real one!

  5. Great pictures and article. Thank you for sharing your post.