Backyard Birding & Citizen Science


Let’s go birding! Here are a few steps that will allow you to identify the birds around your home.  By following these 4 steps, you and your children will be identifying our returning spring migrants in no time!


  1. Journal or paper
  2. Pencil
  3. Binoculars
  4. Bird Identification guide or access to

Head outside and put your listening ears on. You might have to wait a few moments before you hear something. If no birds start to call, go ahead and walk a little further. Your goal is to locate some birds! Once you have found the general location, you may have to wait patiently for the bird to make itself known. This would be a good time to get your journal and pencil ready! Once you spot the bird, closely observe the following, size/shape, beak type, color/markings, habitat, and sketch the bird. You do not have to be an artist to do this! A simple sketch will do, this sketch is not about making a pretty picture, it is about communicating information. This sketch is so you can label your picture in the field, and later, sit down with a field guide and identify what you saw!
Example of a birding journal

When labeling, pay close attention to these steps for identification:

  • Size and shape
    • Is it the size of a football, or the size of an apple? You want to compare it to a real world item, this way, when going back to the field guide, if you wrote it was the size of a football, but the Identification guide says it is 5 inches long, you may be identifying the bird incorrectly! And that is okay! This process may take some time
  • Beak Type – there are 4 different categories of beaks: seed eater, insect eater, generalist, meat eater. 
Seed eater – thick
Insect eater – sword like
Generalist – crow, raven, gull, jay
Meat eater – hook like
  • Distinguishing colors or markings
    • It is not enough to say “I saw a brown and orange bird”, a more descriptive image would be “I saw a bird with a brown back and an orange chest”. 
    • If you are able to see if the bird has a ring around its eye, also known as an eye ring, this is often an incredibly helpful ID tip. 
    • Does the bird have any bars on the wings?
 This yellow-rumped warbler has a partial eye-ring, and wing bars!
  • What type of habitat did you spot the bird in, and what was it doing?
    • Birds are creatures of habit. You will often see american robins running along the grass, looking for seeds or worms to eat. An eastern phoebe will be perched on a post or tree, flying back and forth from the same spot catching bugs. A eastern bluebird will most likely not be in the middle of the forest, but rather in an open habitat or a field. Identification guides will tell you what habitat the species is found in, and will often reference the behavior as well. 
    • Make note in your journal where you saw the bird and what it was doing!

Now that you have drawn out and labeled your bird, it is time to open up your field guide and ID what you saw! It would be beneficial to find out what kind of birds are most common in your area, and a great way to find out is the Citizen Science platform,

You can also encourage your children to become Citizen Scientists using eBird. This platform is an important tool for scientists to find out species locations and abundance, and it is also a great tool for people who want to know what birds are where, locally and globally. You can create an account and click the Submit tab to start your own species checklist, or, if you are looking for birds in your area, you can click Explore to find out where some birding hotspots are! HAVE FUN!

Contact with questions or comments.