Learn Our Local Birds — Birding Tips for Families and Newbies

We live in a great place to go birding. In Riverside State Park, birders have recorded a total of 153 species. But let’s face it: Birding with small children can be challenging. Kids can fidget and scare off timid birds perching nearby. They want to talk about everything they’re seeing, which makes hearing and identifying calls difficult. Encouraging them to “sneak” up on a bird has about a 50/50 chance of success, and oftentimes the slow pace of birding is hard for young kids. But do not be discouraged! Taking our kids on birding trips is probably the best and most rewarding thing my husband and I have ever done with them.

My husband and I have been surveying birds and birding together for a long time, and throwing kids into the mix does present some frustrations. However, we also know that taking kids out into nature always has to be about them, whatever the activity. There is nothing better than watching a young child staring in awe at a bird they managed to sneak up on and identify, or seeing their joy as they connect with something as flighty as they are. Teaching kids to use binoculars and to zero in on something that’s moving makes them feel like they have a new skill set.

The best part about birding is that anyone can do it. If you like to look at robins, quail, or sparrows in your backyard, you’re already doing it. And birding with kids, while it does require a little patience, does not require you to be an ornithologist. Birding with kids is as simple as a hike with binoculars. Find moments where the kids can run and moments where they learn to slow down. This is more like a scavenger hunt or a mystery to be solved. I tell my kids to look for clues. Who lives here? What do they eat? These tips will help you get the most out of the experience.

  • Sit and ask your kids how many different birds they can see or hear in one minute. Then tell them to run for one minute without stopping. Run. Stop-look-listen. Repeat.
  • Invest in a bird guide.
  • Go with Audubon or an experienced birder who can point out a variety of birds and habitats, and provide lots of trivia and facts about what you are seeing. Although some Audubon trips are more appropriate than others, most members are excited to see young people who are interested and want to learn.
  • Say the names of birds, and often. Talk about what you’ve seen after the hike to help kids remember.
  • Learn one or two bird songs and teach them to your child. The first time they hear the song their eyes will light up. The best one in this area is a black-capped chickadee, whose call sounds like “cheeseburger” — an easy mnemonic for anyone to remember.
  • Google bird calls, or find a birding app. Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great resource.

Summer Birding Outings

Spokane Audubon Society offers year-round birding trips, including the summer field trips listed below. The Society might add trips with short notice, so check the website often. More information on all trips can be found at Spokane Audubon’s website.

  • Saturday, June 4: Liberty Lake. This is a half-day trip along Liberty Lake, which has some of the best habitat diversity in Spokane County. Contact Joyce Alonso (448-2447).
  • Sunday, June 5: Mount Spokane Subalpine Birds. This is a half-day hiking trip for all levels of birders. Trip distance is four to six miles, though you may turn back at any point. Mt. Spokane is the primary (and only publicly accessible) site for subalpine breeding birds in Spokane County, making this a popular and exciting event. Contact Jim Hudlow (flyz4free@yahoo.com or 509-926-2186). Discover Pass required.
  • Saturday, June 11: Iller Creek. This trip is for birders of all levels. The Iller Creek Natural Area is famed for its flycatchers, vireos, and warblers. Contact Gary Lee (bird_fan @aol.com or 389-5474) to sign up.
  • Sunday, June 12: Palisades/Indian Canyon. This trip is for birders of all levels who want to explore the Indian Canyon area immediately west of town. Trip distance is one to two miles. Contact Lindell Haggin (446-4118 or lindell4118@comcast.net).
  • Thursday–Sunday, June 16–June 19: Conconully State Park Camping. Camp at Conconully State Park. Great birding in the east Cascade Range above Conconully and the Okanogan Valley. See www.spokaneaudubon.org for more info.
  • Saturday, July 9: Little Spokane Canoeing. This half-day trip involves floating the Little Spokane River and birding along the way. Provide your own canoe or kayak. Bring a sack lunch for a picnic at the take-out. Max 12 people, so sign up early. Contact Jim Harrison (830-313-0610).
  • Thursday–Sunday, August 25–August 28: Fall Birding and Camping at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge. See www.spokaneaudubon.org for more info. // (Crystal Atamian)

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