Birdspotting with the Kids


The rest of the family was feeling a little run down with head colds on Saturday, so our hiking plans were put on hold. Instead we stayed at home and had a bird-themed day, setting out our feeders, slathering pine cones with peanut butter, and sticking apples on branches.

For the pine cones I followed a recipe from “Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars,” a wonderful book we talk about in “A Kitchen Garbage Garden.” We followed the recipe loosely – it’s not like we were making a souffle or anything – and essentially took a jar of peanut butter, added a couple of cups of cornmeal, a cup of whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, and whacked in a handful of dried fruit that was languishing in the pantry. Let the kids give that a good stir then slap it into the nooks and crannies of a pine cone (doing this over wax paper facilitates clean up), and hang them up outside, giving the birds, particularly insect-eaters, an appreciated boost of fat and protein.

Peanut butter pine cone with natural wood sculpture we found in Slovenia

Our other activity was to make a poster of ‘Our Backyard Birds’. I simply took a piece of poster board and had my son write a heading, then we stuck it on the side of the fridge with some magnets. Now every time we see a new species, we take a bit of blue tack and put up a card of that bird from Usborne’s set of ‘Fifty Birds to Spot.’ (Inexplicably, they didn’t include nuthatches in the set, so we made our own card.) In about 20 minutes of watching we clocked 7 species, and ultimately we should be able to rack up about thirty. It really gets the kids engaged and motivated to watch the birds, and the cards have great information about each species. If you live in North America, good options are these ‘Birds of North America’ flash cards, or the ‘Sibling Backyard Birding Flashcards.’ Or you can always make your own.

Our Backyard Birds poster

Oddly, and sadly, enough, as I was writing this I heard a loud thwack and went out on our terrace to investigate. A greenfinch had unfortunately had its flight suddenly and permanently checked by one of our windows, and was lying lifeless on the tiles. What to do with it? Well, if you’re like me you put it in a Ziploc bag and place it in the fridge to show the kids when they get home from school. They were both amazed and saddened as they stroked its soft feathers and admired its tiny clawed toes and the brilliant yellow in its wings and tail. And if you think having a dead songbird in your fridge is somewhat offbeat, I have a friend who has an owl, a hummingbird, and a flying squirrel in his freezer. So there.

Great tit

Male greenfinch

Hooded crow

Blue tit

3 thoughts on “Birdspotting with the Kids

  1. Oh the joy of backyard birding! The peanut butter pinecones are a great idea, and I also had a quick look at the Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars (wouldn’t everyone be intrigued by such a whimsical title?) Hat’s off to you for the inspiring way you are teaching your children about nature.


  2. I’ve checked out Project Feeder Watch, and it looks great. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a European counterpart. I’d love to participate, but it seems not an option. Good luck with PFW!


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