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Spring is nesting time for most species of birds. Take a morning walk in April or early May to listen to the beautiful songbird chorus and observe birds’ complex behavior as they seek mates, build nests, and defend their territories – all before trees fully leaf out!
Starting with geese, ducks, robins, and cardinals in early spring, and continuing with long-distance migrants like hummingbirds and warblers in May, this is the season to wonder together at the nesting and parenting habits of birds, and to ask questions like: How do birds make nests? Do different birds build nests in different places? How do nests protect birds’ eggs? How do you think the parents care for the eggs and baby birds, or are some babies ready to take care of themselves? How can we find out?
It’s okay if you don’t have the answers – the important thing is to encourage children to inquire, hypothesize, observe, and come up with their own theories and answers to questions that interest them.
Before or after your walk, extend your exploration of nests and eggs with these family activity suggestions from our early childhood team:
Wild bird eggs come in an amazing variety of colors and sizes. Check out these eggs of common birds of the Midwest from The Field Museum’s collection, and then use pencils, chalk, crayons, or paper/felt cutouts to create your own bird-inspired artwork:
A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. Available in print or electronically.
This book’s beautiful illustrations showcase a variety of nests and a diversity of ways in which animal parents prepare to keep their young cozy and safe. Encourage your child to explore the sensory aspects and hidden details of these detailed nest illustrations. In reading this book or any other materials with visual depictions of eggs or nests, use open ended questions and go on a joint voyage of discovery: What do you notice about these eggs and this nest? Why do you think the parents made the nest in this way?
Other book recommendations include Cradles in the Trees: The Story of Bird Nests by Patricia Brennan Demuth and illustrated by Suzanne Barnes, A Nest Full of Eggs by Priscillia Jenkins and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell, and Have You Heard The Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray and illustrated by Kenard Pak (the latter book is also available electronically).
Invite your child to make a nest out of playdough (or mud for an even richer sensory experience!), twine, sticks, dry grasses, brown bag shreds, ribbon, and other materials you find outside or around the house. Or use blankets, sheets, towels, and stuffed animals to make larger-than-life nests. Let your child lead you in the fun, and prompt them with questions like: What might a baby bird like to have in the nest for food? How about for warmth?
Ask your child to imagine what it would be like to be a baby bird hatching out of an egg! Have them describe what the baby bird might have to do to break out of their shell. Have fun with your child by acting out the following rhyme together:
Peck, peck, peck
On the warm, brown egg
Out comes a neck,
And out comes a leg.
How does a chick,
Who’s not been about,
Discover the trick,
Of how to get out?
For Older Siblings
Help our region’s birds find a suitable spring home by building a nest box! Competition from introduced and native species, coupled with diminishing natural habitats, means that some types of nests are in very high demand every year. Find out what birds would most benefit from a nest box in your type of environment, how to build the boxes, and how to install them, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch website.