Birdwatching mobilizes a child's sense of wonder to observe nature in a studied, thoughtful manner. Since Max will be spending the homeschool year as a "naturalist", or one proficient and skilled in the art and science of observing the natural world, birthwatching is part of "the plan".
Keeping a Birdwatching Journal
There are many different ways to keep track of birds and many different facets of bird life and ecology to note. One way to observe birds is to pick a local "patch", or place where birds tend to congregate, and keep a record of different visits to this patch. Over time, you start to see patterns emerging – when migrant birds arrive and depart, for instance, and whether populations are rising or falling. You can record as much or as little information as you please, including:
- A list of the species seen in each place
- Brief details about the precise location, date, weather, time, and number of individual birds
- Specific bird songs or calls (which you can also record)
- Photos or drawings of nests and bird homes
- Salient features of birds you don't recognize ("mystery birds)
- Sketches of birds including plumage, particularly on the head, any patterns such as streaking or blocks of colour, coloration and length of bill, the length of the wings and tail, etc.
A life list is a record of the species of birds you've sighted over time. Typically, the list is kept in a journal. Each entry notes the bird species, the date, location and any notes you want to add. Depending on your particular bird watching exploits, you can keep one global list or separate lists as you see fit. For many bird watchers, one life list simply isn't enough. Other ways to break down your birdwatching:
- House Lists - A list of birds sighted around your home.
- Yearly Lists - A list for each year you bird watch.
- State Lists - A list for sighting by particular state.
- Trip Lists - Journals for particular bird watching vacations or tours.
- Wish Lists - A list of birds you haven't seen, but hope to. You simply cross them off as sightings occur.
We're probably going to experiment with different types of lists and see what works best for our family. In the meantime, we're starting birdwatching with a house list and a state list (see below). For Max (and other munchkins around the world), I created the following birdwatching resources which can be easily printed and added to a nature notebook, lapbook, or birdwatching journal. Just right-click to download in PDF format.
Birdwatching Wish List (one page with skinny columns)
Birdwatching Wish List (three pages with thick columns)
State Birdsighting List (three pages with thick columns)
Birdwatching Journal Pages (three notebooking pages)
Alabama birdwatchers should add the following to your notebooks to help identify birds on your outings.
Common Backyard Birds of Alabama (pictures and names of 20 birds)
Field Checklist of Alabama Birds (from 2006, but still useful)
T. Skinner, an avid birder, writes:
I'm a avid birdwatcher started birding five years ago. I know several Great spots in and around Tuscaloosa County. Including; Cahaba Wildlife Refuge that is along the Cahaba river. This is a beautiful shallow river that is covered in cahaba lilys in the spring. Perry county Fish Hatchery sure to see Bald Eagles many species of Ducks shorebirds or peeps during the winter. During the summer several species of warblers and other woodland birds also great spot during migration in spring and fall. I also have several favorite spots in Tuscaloosa Talladega National Forrest is a great spot during the summer. Airport Swamp is a great spot all year Ive recorded about 125 birds at this spot. Fosters loop road is a dirt road trough swamps and woods a great area for birding. Foster sod farm is another area great for birding sure to see Northern Harriers, Loggerhead Shrikes several species of Sparrows during the winter. Great spot during summer also.
The following resources are helpful for birdwatchers young and old, medium and tall, ornery and small:
- The Feeder Birds Coloring Book from Cornell has over 50 different pdf pages of feeder birds which you can print for free.
- Sam Crowe's Nifty Fifty for Alabama is a wonderful resource for fifty popular Alabama birds.
- Bird species coloring pages at Coloring Spot.
- Feeding wild birds, an Alabama-specific resource for making different types of feeders.
- The Birdzilla Blog, birding with Joel Greenberg.
- The Alabama Ornithology Society.
- The Adventures of Millie Mocker, an online introduction to Alabama birds especially for young folks.
- A 2009 issue of Alabama Birdlife opens many interesting doors.
- A map of Alabama counties.
- Alabama birding trails map.
- An alphabetical list of bird species distribution maps across Alabama. Awe-inspiring.
- North Alabama Birding Trail.