Birds of a feather — A contest to grow your family birding skills

Children doing some birding. Friends of Youth and Nature announced a bird watching contest that ages 5-19 can enter for a chance to win some prizes.

Birds of a feather flock together, as they say, and what better outdoor activity is there than birdwatching in your backyard, or on your nearby public lands? Birds are everywhere, but we often don’t take the time to learn about them.

Friends of Youth and Nature wants to encourage you to learn more about local bird species and start your bird list by offering a chance to win one of three pairs of Celestron or Vortex binoculars as motivation. The age categories for winners are: 5-9, 10-14, and 15-19 years old.

How do you enter? Visit our website and download the bird identification worksheet, or contact us (friendsofyouthandnature@gmail.com, 970-901-1459) with your mailing address for a hard copy.

Go outside with your family — anywhere local will do: your backyard, a local park, or nearby public lands. Take your identification worksheet — it lists nine of the most common birds seen in western Colorado.

And don’t forget your phone! There are several apps that can help you identify birds. Some helpful apps that have both pictures and songs are: The Audubon Bird Guide of North America (found at audubon.org); the Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Labs (merlin.allaboutbirds.org); and eBird, which also has a cool song sleuth app that will listen to the bird song or call you hear and identify possible matches. When you complete your bird identification worksheet, take a picture of it and email it to friendsofyouthandnature@gmail.com by July 31.

Be sure to include your name, age, and the details you have recorded about your birding experience. You can also mail it to FOYAN at P.O. Box 634, Hotchkiss, CO 81419 by that date. We will draw one name for each age category on August first and arrange for you to pick up your new binoculars!

So, how do you start? If you want to attract birds to your backyard, the best way is to provide a bird bath. Bird baths are better than bird feeders, because bird seed is known to attract rodents and even bears! Just sitting quietly under a tree in your backyard offers easy access to many common birds such as robins, house finches, and even hummingbirds. You will be surprised at how many birds there are so close to home.

Where do you find birds? Everywhere! How do you find them? Some advice from the Audubon society helps make it easier.

There are four basic bird finding steps: stop, look, listen, and repeat.

First, stop: take a minute to stand still and take in your surroundings and think like a bird! Second, look for possible perches like power lines, fence posts, and tree tops. Look for movement.

Third, listen. Your ears can detect vocalizations, tapping, or rustling of birds as they communicate with each other.

Finally, repeat. You will become more and more aware of birds around you as you meander slowly through their world.

If you choose to go to a local park or forest, make sure you gear up! Parents, take your children under your wing, wear comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes, take a pack with snacks and a water bottle, and use your eagle eyes to see the birds around you. If you don’t have a pair of binoculars, your local library has a Colorado Parks and Wildlife outdoor backpack for check out — complete with binoculars, and a state park pass. Before you know it, you will become so absorbed in the bird search that all the world’s problems and your anxieties will melt away.

Searching and identifying birds and observing their behaviors is a perfect way to focus on something positive together as a family. Give it some time and patience; you will take to it like a duck to water, and feel your stress roll off your shoulders like water off a duck’s back! Enter our birding contest by Aug. 8 for a chance to win a new pair of binoculars!

For more outdoor safety tips, trail game ideas, and hiking trails, visit the Friends of Youth and Nature website: (www.friendsofyouthandnature.org). FOYAN is a non-profit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to go outside, experiencing outdoor activities and exploring nature.

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