Birds: Backyard Birds

Golden Goldfinch

Can a brown bird turn yellow? It can if it’s a male American Goldfinch!  In spring, the male Goldfinch loses its old, brown feathers, a process called molting. They are replaced with fresh, yellow feathers.

In July the bright yellow male and olive-green female Goldfinch search for a site for their nest. Building the nest in 6 days, the female weaves materials so tightly the nest can hold water. She even repurposes spider silk to hold the nest in place.

Color your male American Goldfinch bright yellow.

Listen to their calls and learn more about them here!

State Birds of the U.S.

In 1935 the American Goldfinch became the state bird of New Jersey. The American Goldfinch is the state bird of Iowa and Washington state also.

Learn the state birds from other states and put your knowledge to the test!

What Makes a Robin?

The American Robin (left), a member of the Thrush family, is larger than the European Robin (right), from the Old World Flycatcher family. Although not from the same families, when settlers came to North and South America they named the species, new to them, using names from the Old World if they looked similar.

Listen to American Robin calls and learn what they mean!

The European Robin is an important character in the story of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In the attached coloring page, see if you can find the robin.  What secret do you think the robin knows? Read the story to find out.
Spot the Robin

Which is the robin? Actually, they are all robins from different parts of the world!

Top Row: White-throated Robin, Siberian blue Robin
Middle Row: European Robin, Australian Robin
Bottom Row: American Robin, Clay-colored Robin

Nesting Mourning Doves

Believe it or not, in the bird population the Mourning Dove leads the flocks with over 360 million birds followed by the robin at 320 million birds. The Mourning Dove, a cousin to pigeons, makes a sad cooing sound that reminds people of an owl’s call. Click to listen to the coo of the Mourning Dove.

Why are their numbers so large? Mourning Doves can have up to six broods, a group of baby birds born at the same time, in one season.

Print the coloring page and color in the roosting Mourning Dove.

Ready, Set, Build A Nest

Within one month, a pair of Mourning Doves will build a nest, lay two eggs, take turns sitting on the nest, and feed the hatchlings until they leave the nest. Once a baby bird has its flight feathers, it prepares to leave the nest and will then become completely independent. Compared to other birds’ nests, the Mourning Dove nest is not built to last with intricate patterns.

Materials Needed:
Small twigs
Tall grass
Ribbon or yarn
Leaves or seeds
Straw from a broom
Shredded paper
Other found items from a nature walk

Use your found items to build a nest for a small bird. You can try weaving and stacking your materials but do not use glue. Test your nest by picking it up to see if it will stay together.  If it doesn’t, try again with another design.  Birds are great engineers and they have had lots of practice so don’t give up.  When you are happy with the design take a picture of your nest and find a location in a covered area outside so birds can use the materials to build their nests this spring!

Did you know birds build their nests like engineers? Check out this New York Times article to learn more.

All About Cardinals

Cardinals form flocks in winter in order to find and share food. The seeds, berries, and insects that Cardinals eat actually cause the red color, called pigment, in the male Cardinal’s feathers. If Cardinals eat fewer berries, containing carotenoids, their red feathers will not be as bright.

Print the coloring page below and give your Cardinal red feathers!

Both male and female Cardinals sing which is unusual for songbirds. The female Cardinal sings to tell her mate to bring food. Click to listen to the Cardinal’s call.

Read Flap Your Wings by P.D. Eastman or listen to the story being read on Youtube.

Beak to Nest Game

Our food travels from farm to table but birds’ food goes from their beaks to their baby birds called nestlings. Birds’ beaks come in many shapes and sizes and their design depends on what they eat. Hummingbirds’ straw-like beaks are made for sipping nectar while the chisel-like beak of a woodpecker is designed to find and eat insects in trees. The Cardinals’ cone-shaped beaks are designed to crack and eat seeds. Sunflower seeds are their favorite! Play the beak to nest relay game with your flock!

Materials Needed:
Masking tape
Two medium-size bowls
Different sizes and types of kitchen tongs (for salad, for grilling, for the stove)
10 to 15 small objects such as markers, toys, cards and medium objects such as blocks, socks, and a ping pong ball 

After collecting your materials, set up a relay space with the bowls on one side of the room and spread out the objects on the floor.  Use masking tape to set up two spots for team participants to stand. Set a timer or play a song while participants collect objects one a time, bring to their team’s bowl, and return to collect more. At the end of the relay count objects in each bowl to see which team has the most objects.  Discuss which objects were the most difficult to collect and why.

For older students:

Try a table-top version of Beak to Nest by using two plates, a tweezer, toothpick, plier, small tongs, and smaller objects like sunflower seeds, marshmallow, and dry beans or popcorn kernels.  Using a timer see how many objects can be moved from one plate to the other with different tools during a set time.

Celebrate the Blue Jays

We often see Blue Jays in MHHM’s garden because they find their favorite foods there. Blue Jays like to eat beechnuts, from the Beech tree, and acorns, from Oak trees.

Blue Jays make different sounds and calls, imitating the sounds they hear. They often mimic the call of hawks and even cats and cell phone tones! Click to listen to the call of the Blue Jay.

Feather color and pattern, called plumage, is the same on male and female Blue Jays. Print the coloring page below to show you know the colors of the Blue Jay!

Can’t get enough of Blue Jays? Make a Blue Jay paper plate bird mask! Print the template below, color it, glue it to a paper plate and go explore. 

Materials Needed:
Crayons or markers
Glue stick
Large paper plate
Elastic, yarn or string
Hole punch (for elastic, yarn or string)
Colored construction paper (optional)

Step 1: Color in the bird mask template with crayons or markers.
Step 2: Cut out bird mask and use glue stick to attach to center of paper plate. Let dry.
Step 3: (Optional) Use construction paper to cut out small and large-shaped feathers and glue to your bird mask.
Step 4: Carefully cut out eyeholes in the mask. Cut away parts of the paper plate that you do not want. Use hole punch to make holes for string or elastic.

Be a wild bird photographer. Take photos of three different Blue Jays and see if you can tell the difference among them. Tag us in your post! 

To learn about the Blue Jays visit and the Audubon’s field guide for more information.