Arboretum News

Kids Activity: Listen to Winter Birds

Learn a few bird songs to help you find and identify your feathered friends.

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By Reba Luiken, Arboretum coordinator of informal interpretation

Have you ever heard of a snowbird?  Some people like to migrate south in the winter to places with warmer weather, just like many birds move farther south to stay warm and find food. If you’re like me, you’re an all-year-round Minnesotan, and many birds stay in Minnesota in the winter, too. Here are some you might recognize:

Many times these birds can be hard to spot, and you have to be pretty close to get a good view of them. You might spot a flash of red or blue and know that a Cardinal or Blue jay is nearby, but even these birds have feathers that are not as bright during winter. Their songs are just as beautiful in the winter though, and their sounds are a lot easier to notice from far away. 

Winter is a great time to start learning bird calls because there aren’t as many different ones as there are in spring. Here are some tips and ideas for listening to our hearty winter neighbors: 

1. Get up early. Birds are early risers! They like to sing as part of the dawn chorus, which starts before the sun even rises. You don’t have to get up quite that early to hear birds, but morning is a great time to listen to birds.  

2. Before you head out, listen to some local birds on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology guide (ornithology is the study of birds). You can use the list of birds above to get you started.

3. Pick one or two songs to focus on. You might start with a Black-capped Chickadee or a Northern Cardinal. 

4. As you listen, making a picture in your mind can help you remember the sound later. Start by listening to the bird’s song and closing your eyes. What does it sound like to you?  Maybe a squeaky wheel, someone’s name, or the start of your favorite song? Now, open your eyes and check out which bird makes the sounds. See if you can make a mental picture that connects your image to the bird. The sillier the story the better!

Here’s an example: I listened to the White-breasted Nuthatch‘s song. To me, it sounded like a tree bending in the wind, but really, really fast. I know that nuthatches peck on trees kind of like woodpeckers, so I imagined a very windy day, with two giant nuthatches pecking on the tree really fast so that the top of the tree is swaying wildly back and forth, kind of like a see-saw. In my imagination, the tree can bend over all the way so it makes a rainbow shape!

Of course, your story will probably be different (and hopefully even more fun and creative!)

5. Download the Merlin bird app to help you while you’re out. You can listen to bird calls in the app or use their tool to help you identify a bird that you see.

6. Head outside and listen for familiar bird songs. You’ll probably hear many calls that you don’t know, but remember, you’re listening for your new friends in the crowd! Once you have practiced recognizing a few calls, you’ll be ready to add in a few more. 

1 comment on “Kids Activity: Listen to Winter Birds

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