The big RSPB birdwatch is coming up at the end of January so this week is a great time to add a few bird themed activities to get everyone in the birdwatching spirit ready for the main event! I never need any encouragement to sit and stare out of the window at the birds but the Big Garden Birdwatch is not just fun and relaxing - it also has a very important purpose. The more information and data the RSPB can collect about our garden birds, the better able they are to move towards supporting those species in decline. The RSPB birdwatch gives a fantastic snapshot overview of what is out and about in our gardens and workplaces all across the country on this particular weekend. It is super easy to take part and upload your own observations, so you get the joy of watching the birds outside your window and the benefit of stopping and staring for a little while as well as the good feeling that your actions may have helped support biodiversity and wildlife. It is free and easy and fun - what could be better!
So, if you are convinced and want to take part, check out the RSPB website to get all the details an in the meantime, here are a few bird related activities you might want to have a go at to build up to the birdwatch itself.
1. Clean out your bird boxes and feeders.
Take down any boxes and feeders and give them a good wash with some eco friendly detergent. Rinse them well, let them air dry and put them back up. This will ensure no parasites and other moulds and bacteria will affect the birds and their new chicks in the Spring. It can be fascinating to see the materials the birds have used for their nests the previous year and sometimes a bit gruesome if they have left any skeletons in the closet, so to speak, but nothing is more fascinating than set of bird bones, right? When the birds are coming to your feeders, they will be checking out any possible nesting sites so it's great to have everything ready for them when they decide to start building their nests. Make sure you wear some protective gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after this job as some bacteria from birds can be harmful to us humans too!
2. Make bird feeders
It is fun and easy to make bird feeders at home and no specialist knowledge or materials are needed so its an ideal activity to do with children! It is important to keep feeding birds at this time of year as berries are scarce and the ground can be hard and frozen for birds who like to forage for insects. A quick internet search will bring up loads of ideas but I like to keep it simple so here are four of my favourites:
Cover a cardboard toilet roll tube with lard or nut butter and roll in bird seed. Thread some string through the tube and hang on a tree branch.
Mix softened lard with bird seed and squidge the mixture into the cracks and crevices in a pine cone. wrap some string or twine around the top or bottom of the pine cone and hang outside.
Scoop the flesh from an orange or grapefruit (eat this!) then use a skewer to make a three holes in the skin. Thread some string through the holes and tie together at the top for hanging. Fill the skin with loose bird food and you are good to go.
Cut the lid off an eggbox. Make a hole in the each corner of the cardboard, thread through some string and tie together at the top, fill the six sections with bird seed and hang up outside. This feeder will not last long in wet weather unless it is hung in a sheltered position.
3. Learn some bird facts
This species spinner from sustainablelearning.com is a great way to discover some simple facts about the most common garden birds. Just cut out the two hexagons, stick them together then poke a short pencil through the centre with the bird information facing up. Spin it around and see if you can identify the birds from the facts.
There is plenty more information about a whole host of birds and their calls on the RSPB website.
4. Make a flying bird/aeroplane!
At its simplest, a paper aeroplane is a great way to think about birds and flight. There are so many ways to fold an aeroplane and plenty of videos online showing how to create origami flying birds.
With young children a basic paper aeroplane can be illustrated and decorated to look more like a bird and flown outside.
Older children might be able to follow some more challenging instructions. I love this tubular paper aeroplane with wings by Jeevan Jee which flies beautifully. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQPMrkCf4Eg
5. Build a bird hide
You can build a bird watching hide from pretty much anything - canes or sticks, blankets, tarpaulin, even a cardboard box! Kids love building dens in the garden but it is still pretty cold outside in January so whatever you use, make sure you have lots of warm clothes and blankets to wrap up warm with while you are peeking out to watch the birds.
Birds can be a bit suspicious so it works well if you can build your hide and then use it the next day so they are used to a new structure in your garden.
Turn it into a mini adventure with a bag of snacks, a notebook and binoculars!
I hope that has given you some quick and easy ideas to get birding on the run up to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. For more information check out their website here: The RSPB Wildlife Charity: Nature Reserves & Wildlife Conservation