MSU EXTENSION: Birdwatching is a great way to spring into science

By Jan Brinn, Michigan State University Extension, and Kara Haas, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station

Spring is in the air and a perfect time for some avian, or bird, science. Youth can be introduced to the avian world by bird watching in their backyard or places that offer avian educational opportunities of our fine-feathered friends.

Have you seen your first robin or bluebird yet? If not, take a walk and you will likely hear the “cheer up cheerily” of the American robin. Have fun outdoors and be introduced and learn about birds in spring by bird watching. All of your senses come to life when bird watching. The sense of smell as you enjoys the fresh air; the sense of sight enjoying the beautiful colors of spring; the sense of touch of the dirt beneath your feet; and the sense of hearing as the birds sing to establish territory and find a mate.

The spring migrant birds will be returning, such as the American robins, song sparrows, sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds and even the turkey vultures. The resident birds, or birds that stay through the winter, such as American crows, house sparrows, barred owls and northern cardinals, are already making nests.

In preparation for a bird watching adventure, simple tools can be used. For watching birds, Michigan State University Extension recommends having a pair of binoculars, a bird identification book, a journal and a sense of adventure. Take a seat in your own yard or take a walk in the neighborhood. A camera is another great tool to take along; many people photograph birds so they can use the images later for identification. You may want to research and collect other resources before or after your walk. Some suggestions include eBird, a citizen science site for reporting bird sightings; Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds, a website to help identify birds by sight and sound; or Grassland Birds and Pastures, the MSU 4-H website. You could also join your local Audubon club or even start a 4-H SPIN club for bird watching!

If you want to venture out of your own neighborhood for a great bird watching experience, take a day trip to a nature center or local park.

Spring into action and enjoy your bird watching educational adventure with friends, family or club members. Who knows, maybe an interest will be sparked for a future career in the study of birds!

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your county MSU Extension office.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call (888) 678-3464).