Studying birds is a great activity for homeschoolers with little ones underfoot — all my toddlers thus far have been fascinated by birds.  Two years ago we purchased Winged Migration primarily for the enjoyment of then-two-year-old LP. 

I should clarify before I begin the gift guide: let no one get the idea I know very much about birds.  It is because I don’t know very much about birds at all, that I am learning more and more about bird-related books, videos, and singing plush toys.

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My favorite bird-identification book is Peterson Field Guides: Birds of Eastern and Central North America, Fifth Edition.  (By Roger Tory Peterson and Virginia Marie Peterson, 2002 Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-395-74047-9 and ISBN 0-395-74046-0.)  I tested a number of guides from the library, and browsed through others at bookstores, and this is the one I found most useful for a novice bird-watcher.  I imagine the other regional Peterson’s guides would be just as good, for those who don’t happen to live in this part of the country. 

The illustrations are nearly all on the right-hand pages, making it easy to scan the book by flipping the pages.  Birds are grouped to help distinguish similar breeds, and arrows point to the distinguishing features.  As with every bird book I’ve tested, it has the special ultra-sonic alarm device that causes the mystery bird to fly away as soon as you think you have found the right page.

I think this is a very safe bet for usability if you are, say, ordering a gift online to send to a beloved homeschooler.  But if you get the chance, do test run various guidebooks yourself – I’d expect most public libraries carry a decent selection.

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For those who live in North or South Carolina, Birds of the Carolinas, Second Edition is an excellent supplemental resource.  (Potter, Parnell, Teulings and Davis, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006 SBN 0-8078-2999-4 & ISBN 0-8078-5671-1 http://www.uncpress.unc.edu/books/t-7681.html ) 

 For each bird listed there is a detailed discussion of its range within the Carolinas, including what seasons and what activities are common for each area.  Rare or notable visitors get special treatment, such as the Yellow-Nosed Albatross sighted from the window of hotel on April 22, 1997, which we learn “circled three times before sailing out of sight to the north without ever flapping its wings.”

 Birds are grouped by family, and descriptions are geared towards helping distinguish related species.  We also learn about the birds feeding habits and often its nesting, mating, and socializing behaviors as well.

This book would not stand alone for bird identification, for the simple reason that there isn’t a photo of every bird listed.  But used in combination with a general field guide, it is fascinating source of more local information.  I don’t have a copy myself, yet, but it is on my wish list. 

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Bird-loving woodworkers may enjoy Birdhouses You Can Build in a Day (2004, Editors for Popular Woodworking Books, www.popularwoodworking.com , ISBN 1-55870-704-2).  We have not yet built one of the projects, so I can’t comment on how helpful the plans are.  But all the designs are very simple, appropriate for a junior woodworker, and most would be simple enough to build according to your own plans.  A middle-school student could certainly build one independently.  There are a few more elaborate designs for ambitious types.

 The best thing about this book, though, is that each bird house or feeder is targeted towards a specific type of bird (or, mammal, in the case of the bat house).  So even if you don’t plan to build one yourself, the guide will help you choose the structure best suited to the species you want to attract, and tell you where to locate it.

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Yet another great library find is the DVD Birds, Birds, Birds!: An Indoor Birdwatching Field Trip.  ( By John Feith, author of  ‘Bird Song Ear Training Guide’, www.caculo.com , 2005, produced by Northland Adventures.) 

It is what it says:  There is an index of 218 bird species, and you can select the one you want or play through them all.  For each bird, still photos and short video segments are shown slide-show style, while the bird’s song plays in the background.  After enough time has passed to allow the viewer to guess at an identification, the narrator names the bird, and intones a mnemonic to remember the bird’s song (such as “cheerily cheerily” for the Robin). 

For learning bird songs, this is just fantastic – ordinary mortals simply can’t do so well reading a description in a book.  Production quality is high, but the approach is friendly and casual.   The promotional material suggests multiple uses for the DVD, including “entertainment for children and pets (especially cats)”.  No cats here, but our kids did enjoy it, especially seeing examples of the birds for which they own the singing plush toy . . .

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. . . When Mrs. R came to pick up the two of her children we borrowed earlier this month, she came bearing gifts.  Homeschooling minds must think alike, because just this past spring I was admiring these cute little bird toys at one of the state park gift shops:  http://www.wildrepublic.com/homeflash.asp – then click on “Audubon Birds”. 

The birds are approximate likenesses of famous birds.  You won’t, for example, be able to tell their black-capped chickadee from a Carolina chickadee, but if you know both of those, you’ll know the plush toy is supposed to be one or the other.  Squeeze the birds’ rear end and you get a fairly loud recording of  the birds’ call (only one call is recorded).

For educational purposes, this is firmly in the edu-tainment category.  But it does what edu-tainment is supposed to do: my kids are suddenly interested in the real-life counterparts to the stuffed birds that came to our familyMr. Boy, for example, delights in finding bits of string to feed his robin, now that he’s learned robins like worms.  He used the information from the birdhouse-building book to craft a suitable cardboard roost, leading to a flurry of nest-building activity among the other new bird-owners as well.   Be warned, the Christmas tree is the most logical place for a plush bird to make its home this time of year.

But the best thing about these little guys is their littleness.  For loving friends and relatives who just can’t resist buying a stuffed animal gift, this one wins the compact-and-lightweight award, meaning it is less likely to be come an endangered species when the clutter-police come hunting in late January.

 

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