A Great Holiday Gift Idea for Children of Any Age (Really!)

If you’re on a budget this year and want a gift that will give hours of pleasure, here’s an idea to think about.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has all sorts of great resources that can help you join the most popular hobby in America—birdwatching!  And some, like the wonderful phone app “Merlin”, are available to download free.  Merlin helps to identify birds through visual cues and song, and is easy to master. If you can see three colors, estimate the bird’s size, and describe where it is, Merlin will quickly provide photos that let you reach an ID in moments.  Then you can activate the listening function, and Merlin will listen for birds nearby and list them for you.  How’s that for an exciting way to become a birdwatcher?  

But wait—if you’re feeling cozy and warm inside, here’s another idea from the Cornell Lab:  you and your family can become citizen scientists by joining their Project Feederwatch.  https://feederwatch.org/join-or-renew/  For a small annual fee you’ll receive a full-size poster of common backyard feeder birds and a wealth of information about what you’re seeing and how to record your sightings. Even better:  scientists will use your data to track bird populations!  (You’ll need a birdfeeder, of course).  You can even download a small bird poster here:  https://feederwatch.org/learn/identifying-birds/download-feederwatch-posters/  

You’ll have fun exploring the Cornell Lab’s website—they even have games. “Bird Song Hero” is my favorite—it helps you learn to recognize bird songs.  Plus livecams, videos and lots more. https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/multimedia-inspired/  

And if your family really enjoys backyard birdwatching, you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count in February, and your observations will become part of a global bird count.  New birders can use Merlin to report sightings, while experienced birders may prefer to use another free mobile app, eBird (available at https://www.birdcount.org/ebird-mobile-app/).  

Happy holidays—and happy birding!

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