Robin in the rain
you’re such a saucy fellow
Robin in the rain
mind your socks of yellow
In Minnesota, spotting the rotund orange-yellow bellies of the Robin is one of the first signs of spring. Being smarter than most Minnesotans, robins along with flocks of other migrating birds head to places with sun and sand in the winter. They return in the springtime. Perhaps, they miss Minnesota niceness. It is more likely due to the explosion of insects and other sources of protein. After being dormant for six months, as we all know, they hatch in droves. It is an All-You-Can-Eat bug buffet. Perfect for feeding the ravenous beaks of their little hatchlings.
My mother used to eagerly point them out to me. I now do the same with my own children. By exploring our backyards or taking a walk in a nearby park, we have front row seats to these migrating miracles. Birding is the perfect year-round family activity for all ages. You may think, “Who goes birding? Isn’t that just for older people?”
No. it’s not! The benefits of birding as a family are numerous. It fosters a love for nature, helps us learn about our native species and wildlife, is good exercise, and it can be the ultimate inter-generational activity. Yes…older people do bird, but it is a hobby for all ages.
For family-birding here are a few tips to help you involve the whole family. First try focusing on bigger species of birds such as Bald Eagles, Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, Wild Turkeys, and Sandhill Cranes. In addition, try to find easily identifiable species like Robins, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Hummingbirds. Start with your own backyard, or visit people you know who keep bird feeders. Set one up yourself, and get a poster of Minnesota birds to keep nearby.
When you go, appoint a child who loves to make lists to keep a journal of what kinds of birds you see as a family. You can keep a family life list. A life list is a record of all the birds a birder has identified in their lifetime. Another child may like to try out their photography skills. Your younger children may enjoy building their own nests out of mud and sticks in the back yard. Remember birding is about being in nature and being together. It also isn’t just about birds. A favorite memory of a birding trip with my son is the huge porcupine we spotted high up in the treetops in the middle of winter. Who knew porcupines climbed trees?
A few things to get you started birding:
- Outdoor walking shoes
- Snacks and Hydration
- Camera (optional)
- Mosquito and Tick repellent
- Birding Reference Guides
- Knowledge of Birding Hot spots
Recommended Family Reference Guides:
Birds in Our Backyard: Say Hello to Minnesota’s Feathered Friends
Author: Adele Porter (geared towards 4-8 years)
Wild About Minnesota Birds: A Youth’s Guide to the Birds of Minnesota
Author: Adele Porter (8 years & up)
Recommended Birding Hot Spots around Rochester, Minnesota:
Quarry Hill Nature Center: Check out all their birding activities and resources. They have bird feeders, binoculars to rent, and books about birds in their library section. There are frequent events held like bird banding and a monthly bird walk on Saturdays with the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society. Check the Rochester MN Moms Blog Calendar for upcoming events.
Kutzky Park: Located at 213 13th Ave. NW in Rochester. Many migrating birds can be found passing through in late Spring. Check it out.
Chester Woods Park: With the hiking trails and water, it is a great place to discover Minnesota birds. In April, go in the evening, and you may see the Woodcock performing their unique mating rituals.
Recommended Birding Day Trips:
National Eagle Center– Travel to Wabasha, located about an hour from Rochester, to discover all things Eagles. Open year round, their displays and interactive activities along with the eagle ambassadors will be enjoyed by all.
Brownsville Overlook-Hop into your car, and head south about an hour and 15 minutes until you reach the little town of Brownsville, Minnesota. Then continue south for one mile on Highway 26. Several high-power telescopes are set up for viewing the Bald eagles, Blue Heron, Common Egrets or in the late fall the thousands of Tundra Swans that rest here before continuing their great migration.
Zumbro Valley Audubon Society: This is your best resource for on-going activities related to birding and trips. These people are passionate about sharing their love for birds and wildlife with the next generation. Check out their website for a list of their activities. The fourth Tuesday of every month they meet at Quarry Hill Nature Center in the evenings to talk about every from Cougars in Minnesota to the Sax-Zim Bog. All events are free and open to the public.