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The Young Birder's Backyard Guide

By on Dec 7, 2017

There are between 8,700 and 10,000 different species of birds, and while all birds have wings, not all birds can fly. Birds live all over the world in all types of habitats, from the coldest to the hottest and from the wettest to the driest areas. Birds vary greatly in size, ranging from very large ostriches to the tiniest of hummingbirds. If you study birds near your home and in your backyard, you can learn about the features and behaviors of these fascinating animals.

Bird Basics

Most birds are designed for flight. The feathers on their wings allow them to fly, and the feathers on their tails help with steering and directing their flight. Feathers also help keep birds warm, and the coloring of feathers is also helpful for hiding birds from predators. Most birds' muscles and bones are also designed for flight. Powerful flight muscles in the shoulders and wings attach to bones, and birds' humerus bones in their wings are hollow, making them lighter in weight.

Types of Birds

Within the subclass of Neornithes, different orders of birds exist, with birds divided into orders based on their characteristics. You are probably familiar with many of these orders, including birds of prey, flamingos, game birds, hummingbirds and swifts, loons, ostriches, parrots and cockatoos, and more. Different types of birds have different behaviors, different diets, and different appearances. Some birds, such as cockatoos and canaries, make good pets, while others, such as eagles and ostriches, are wild.


Ornithology is a science included in the discipline of zoology. What begins as a hobby or interest in birds may lead someone to pursue zoology with a focus on the scientific study of birds. Ornithology is the study of birds, focusing on their physiology, behavior, and habitats. Ornithologists also study conservation, which often involves surveying and recording typical bird activity. Ornithology can be a broad study, or a scientist can specialize in specific groups of species of birds.

Migration & Nesting

Some birds migrate, which means that they move from one habitat to another at specific times of the year. Birds migrate when the resources they need decrease, making it necessary for them to move to another area where resources are more readily available. In the spring, many birds in the Northern Hemisphere migrate north because insects and plants will be more available and nesting locations will be easy to find. In the autumn, these birds will migrate south in search of food and nesting locations. Birds can be grouped according to their migration habits. Some birds don't migrate at all, staying in one place throughout the year. Other birds migrate only short distances, while still others will migrate a few hundred miles or even greater distances.

Nests are necessary for holding eggs and protecting baby birds from predators. Birds also have specific nesting habits depending on their size, their habitat, and other behaviors. For example, some birds, such as partridges, nest on the ground in tall grasses, while other birds, such as woodpeckers, make holes in tree trunks for their nests. Other birds don't even build nests. Birds such as cuckoos prefer to use other birds' nests for their eggs.

Bird Conservation

Bird conservation is the science of protecting threatened birds. Some bird species are at risk due to habitat loss from human development. Other birds are threatened because of hunting or from the overabundance of predators such as domesticated cats. Pollution is another source of harm for birds, from oil spills to the use of pesticides in farming. Working to protect birds involves conserving their natural habitats, reintroducing captive birds into the wild, and managing hunting to prevent declining populations.

Bird-Watching & Citizen Science

If you like watching birds around your home and backyard, you might take part in citizen science projects designed to help scientists learn more about birds. You can participate in projects that involve keeping track of birds in specific areas. By noting bird species in different locations, nesting locations, the number of eggs and babies, and migration dates, you can contribute to the data scientists have about how birds are impacted by the environment, habitat loss, and diseases.

Additional Resources for Young Birders

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