When you think of nature studies, do you picture outdoors nature walks, catching critters and enjoying the simplicity of being outdoors? Depending on where you live, as the autumn and winter season approach, you may be putting the nature study on hold until the spring time. I want to encourage you to consider continuing nature studies throughout the year.

Bird watching is a fun, simple project that is easily done from the winter confines of your home. In my family, we have found strategically placed bird feeders have brought us great enjoyment through the harsh winter months. Many a cold morning, my heart has been warmed as I watched my children run for the bird identification books, in order to learn more about a new bird that has arrived at our feeders. The fun thing about bird watching is that it is an activity that can involve all ages in the family. Yes, it is most convenient to head out to your local store and purchase a bird feeder; however, there are several “easy to make” bird feeders that may give your children a sense of “ownership” of the bird study.

For younger children, the Pine Cone Feeder is a simple, fun project to do at home. You will need:

  • Pine Cone (and if not available a Styrofoam ball may be substituted)
  • Wax Paper (or paper plate)
  • Butter Knife
  • Smooth Peanut Butter
  • Bird Seed
  • Ribbon or Yarn
  • Scissors


  1. Cut a length of ribbon (yarn) to hang the bird feeder.
  2. Tie the ribbon in a knot around the pine cone near the top (about 3 sections down) and tie a knot at the end of the ribbon.
  3. Place a large clump of peanut butter on the wax paper/paper plate.
  4. Spread the peanut butter inside the cone and around the edges using the knife.
  5. Sprinkle birdseed over the pine cone. You may also wish to sprinkle the birdseed on wax paper and roll the pine cone through it several times.
  6. Hang the bird feeder in a tree near a window.
  7. Observe the birds that come to the Pine Cone Feeder. Encourage your children to identify the birds using nature guides or the internet. Draw the birds in a sketch book and include identification. (Older children can list common names and Latin names!)

If you have older children, they may enjoy creating the Garland Bird Feeder to wrap around a tree in your yard, once again, preferably one that is near windows for observation.

You will need:

  • Unsalted and Unbuttered Popped popcorn (it is best to pop the popcorn and allow to sit out for a day to get stale)
  • Fresh cranberries
  • Optional Dried Fruit (raisins; blueberries; bananas; trail mix etc.)
  • Heavy Weight Sewing Thread or Fishing Line
  • Sewing Needle (may need different sizes to prevent fruit from crumbling)


  1. Depending on your child’s age and abilities, teach him how to thread the needle. Younger children may need your assistance for this project.
  2. Lay out long lengths of thread (or fishing line) and knot one end. Thread the other end of the thread.
  3. Gently thread the popcorn, cranberries and/or dried fruit in an alternating pattern.
  4. You may wish to leave a couple inches of thread at the end of the thread this will allow you to tie the strands together to make longer garland.
  5. Once completed, hang the garland on a tree near the window.
  6. Observe your feathered visitors. Have children identify any unknown birds. Document their visit in your nature book.

If you find your family greatly enjoying their bird watching experiences, you may also wish to become involved with Project Feeder Watch or the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Project Feeder Watch is a neat site that even includes a sample free curriculum guide for homeschool families. This project sponsored by Cornell University focuses on collecting data on birds through out the US and Canada. This information is then sent to scientists who study bird populations. There is a small fee to participate (covers materials and administrative costs).

The Great Back Yard Bird Count is a joint effort from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies of Canada. This 4 Day Event seeks to engage bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent.

Happy Bird Watching!

— Deanne Crawford