Teaching Math Through Bird Watching
We love to watch birds at the feeder in our backyard during the winter months! Bird watching is an excellent activity to inspire a love of wildlife in your children or students, provides a calming, quiet activity on busy days, and is engaging for even the youngest learners.
Preschoolers love to spot birds, and enjoy learning the different types. If you set up your bird feeding station near a window, kids can observe during any weather and throughout the day. A bird-themed center or discovery table near the window allows you to share books about birds, set out kid-friendly binoculars and chart paper to keep track of what birds are spotted.
Setting Up a Bird Feeder
Setting up a bird feeder is easy, and there are many different options for doing so. Think about where you will put the feeder, what your goals are for your students and what will work best for your location. We like to use our squirrel-proof feeder because it doesn’t get emptied out quickly onto the ground like other feeders might. We hang our feeder a little away from the window on a shepherd’s hook, this way we don’t constantly startle the birds. You may want a feeder that attaches to the window with suction cups so that children can see the birds up close, or you might choose a flat open feeder so that you can observe the birds AND the squirrels. It’s really up to you!
I highly recommend finding a copy of Donald and Lillian Stokes’ The Bird Feeder Book: An Easy Guide to Attracting, Identifying and Understanding Your Feeder Birds. Unfortunately, this book is currently out of print, but many book sellers carry it used, and you can probably find it at your local library. Not only is it a great guide for setting up bird feeders, but also provides kid-friendly images for identifying the most common feeder birds.
The more you vary the bird seed and other food you provide, the wider variety of birds you will see visit. Black oil sunflower seed is what we usually use. It attracts a variety of birds and has a high fat content, giving the winter birds maximum benefit for their effort.
Bird Watching Math and Science Activities
Once your kids or students can identify your most common feeder birds, you can incorporate birdwatching into some math activities! This is a great counting and graphing opportunity. Set up a kitchen timer for a few minutes of observation time and help children keep a tally of the different birds they see. To download an easy to use free printable bird counting sheet follow this link.
Once you’ve counted the birds, you can introduce the children to graphing! Use the “How Many Birds” graphing printable included at the bottom of this article to graph your feeder birds. Students can color in the grid to represent how many birds of each type visited the feeder.
Alternately, you can create a large graph using poster paper and sticky notes. Have students place the sticky notes on the graph in the appropriate spot, one sticky note = one bird.
Set up an easy bird behavior science experiment by providing different types of food in different feeders and observe which birds eat the different types of food. Collect data once again by counting and graphing!
Download Printable Here!
Take your birdwatching a step further by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. The count is a joint project run by the Cornell Lab, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada. Each year for 4 days in February people of all ages count birds and report their data. It is easy to participate, and you and your children or students will be helping to contribute to a great citizen science project.
Here is another great blog post by Sarah!! Take a look!
Sarah Benton Feitlinger is a science educator with over a decade of experience teaching in museums, nature centers and the science classroom. She now shares her passion for teaching science on her blog, (Share it! Science). www.shareitscience.com She loves exploring the outdoors with her family in rural New England.