February 2013

Bird Feeding Fun

Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation

Feeding birds at a bird feeder or by providing correct landscape plantings is not only enjoyable, it's a great family activity that can be enjoyed no matter your age or ability and no matter the season!

Here are some basics about feeding birds (and don't forget the water):


To help young people focus, provide child-sized binoculars or help them make their own "TP binocs." You don't need to focus on identifying every bird that comes to your feeder - start by simply describing the bird - what color is the body, head, wings; describe the shape of the beak; talk about how that bird moves about and what you think the bird is eating. Sketch the birds you see or take digital photos.

Be sneaky and add some math to your bird watching! Make a two-column chart with the bird's picture in the left column and use the right column to make a tally mark for each bird you see. You could start a new chart every day or have a chart for a week / weekend.

Need to know?

If you absolutely MUST know what bird that is eating from your feeder - make a family activity of researching the correct name. You can use the "old-fashioned" bird book or use a reputable website:

    • All About Birds: Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great resource for sounds, identification, and to improve your birding skills.

    • eBird: Real-time, online bird checklist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

    • whatBird: Bird identification search engine and guide plus some great apps and Avian Sleuth game

    • Iowa Birds and Birding: Searchable online database of Iowa birding reports, birding site guides, and checklists from the Iowa's Ornithologists' Union.

Are you ready to see some photos of birds at or near a feeder?

Go to the Bird Feeding Google Photos Web Album!

If you are lucky enough to have both house finches and purple finches at your feeders... here are some hints to help tell them apart!

Male house finch

  • Brown back

  • Lighter underparts streaked with brown

  • Red extends back from forehead

  • Red breast and rump

Male purple finch

  • Streaked, brownish red back

  • Whitish belly

  • Rosy head, rump, and breast

Female house finch

  • Lighter underparts

  • Streaked with brown

House finch photos copyright Ron Huelse.

Female purple finch

  • Heavy streaks

  • Whitish eye stripe and underparts

  • Dark jaw stripe

  • Brown upperparts

Purple finch photos copyright Daniel Behm Photography

Please visit Daniel's Facebook page!

You can be a scientist, too! Check out these 'citizen science' projects:

Can you identify the visitors to these bird feeders?