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Zoomazium to You: Caring for Neighborhood Birds

Posted by Janel Kempf, Early Childhood

Editors note: While Woodland Park Zoo is temporarily closed to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in our community, our staff and educators want to share a few ways you can connect young learners to nature and nature play... and what better way than to bring Zoomazium to you! Each week, we'll add an activity to this blog to help your family create innovative and educational play time at home. For more information about activities for families, visit This week, enjoy some more time with the birds...

We know you miss all your favorite zoo animals—and we know there are plenty of you who especially miss the birds. From Lola the aplomado falcon to Gomez the Humboldt penguin to Mbuni the ostrich, we have as many wildly different birds as there are people to love them!

Sweet little chickadee! Photo via
If you have young bird lovers at home missing their feathered friends, Susan Parke from the zoo’s Early Childhood team knows how they feel. She misses the zoo’s birds almost as she misses all her young friends in Zoomazium, but she’s found something to love about staying home, too. More time to watch—and help—her neighborhood birds!

Spring is a great time of year to watch birds! And there are lots of things you can do to help make their lives easier while bringing them closer to your home for easier viewing, using materials you already have at home.

Caring for Neighborhood Birds

What you need: See individual food, water, and shelter projects below
Time: From 10 to 30 minutes per project; plus however much time you want to watch!
Age range: 4-8 years old

Ask your early learner what they might need if they were a wild bird—any answer from serious to silly is fine! Together, make a list of their ideas. You’ll find even the most imaginative answers tend to fall into the five basic needs of every living animal: food, water, shelter, air, and space. Air and space are already covered, so you won’t need to worry about those. But you can have fun helping out with the first three!

Pinecone feeders, photo via
Food: Making bird feeders is a lot of fun, and doesn’t require a trip to the store! First, make sure you’re offering healthy foods. Good choices are nuts like peanuts, walnuts, and especially sunflower seeds (all unsalted, please!); cornmeal; and dried fruit like raisins. Don’t feed bread to birds. It harms them by filling their bellies, but without giving them enough nutrition.

Gather up a bowlful of those healthy foods, then check around outside your home for a pine cone—if you can’t find one, try a piece of branch, or something else sticky food will cling to. Tie string, yarn, or dental floss securely around the object so you can hang it up.

Spread peanut butter, shortening, or jam on the outside of the cone or branch. Roll it around in the food, coating it as completely as possible. Then hang it outside for the birds to find!

Townsend's warbler, photo via
Water: Why, yes, your neighborhood birds would like a beverage with those sunflower seeds! Water is just as important as food, and even easier to provide.

Take a shallow bowl, pan, or plate, and put just a little water in the bottom. Deep water in a slippery-sided container could be dangerous. Another way to make it safe is to fill the container with a layer of rocks, so the water is accessible in the spaces between them. Then just set it outside in a spot you can see from your window!

Do you have a pet that sheds a lot in the spring? Photo via
Shelter: A lot of local birds are building nests this time of year. They do a great job on their own, but we can enjoy seeing them work by providing a central location for nest materials!

Find a bag with holes in it. There are lots of good choices--maybe a mesh bag you bought oranges in, or an old sock with holes in the toes. If there aren’t many holes or all of them are small, use scissors to make a few bigger holes.

Gather up some soft, natural materials birds can use to line their nests. Handfuls of moss are ideal, if you have any growing on your walkway. And if you have a dog or cat, you’ve probably noticed this is shedding season—gather up that loose fur and put it in your nesting materials bag! (Don’t use pet fur that was recently treated with flea or tick medication, or acrylic yarn, polyester stuffing, or anything else that won’t decompose naturally. But shredded 100% wool yarn is fine!) Stuff the nesting materials into the bag, pulling a little out of the holes to make sure it will come out easily. Hang it up outside.

When you have your projects done: Remind your early learner that you’ll need to be patient together as you wait for the birds. Ask how they might feel about something new in their habitat if they were a tiny bird. It will take the birds a few days at least to find what you’ve left for them, and likely a few more days to feel safe enough to use them.

Nest made of many types of material. Photo by ali gh on Unsplash
Extension for younger children: Babies and toddlers love to simply explore different craft materials and natural objects! If you and your older child are creating a project, give your little one some of the materials. A pie plate of cornmeal, a pile of moss, or paper bag full of shredded paper gives them a chance to make discoveries that grow their brain power!

For previous week's Zoomazium To You activities, click the links below:

Play Like An Otter: March 16

Creature Feature at Home: March 23

Relax with Springtime Bug Yoga: March 30

Have you and your family tried any of our Zoomazium to You activities yet? If so, we'd love to hear how it went! Tag us @WoodlandParkZoo and use #ZoomaziumtoYou to share photos, stories or videos of your own Creature Feature sessions.