Academic journal article Science and Children

Birds in Winter

Academic journal article Science and Children

Birds in Winter

Article excerpt

Byline: Peggy Ashbrook

Science and art go hand-in-hand, as scientists make art to share their observations. Two scientists who are widely known first as artists are Leonardo de Vinci, anatomist and inventor, and Beatrix Potter, mycologist. Both of these scientists used observations of the natural world as the springboard for their discoveries.

Young children like to paint and draw and are learning that they can make representations and share their stories with artwork. Use your students' interest in drawing to teach about recording and sharing scientific observations. Making observations about living things is part of the National Science Education Content Standards A and C for grades K-4.

Birds are an interesting subject to observe and draw because they are so beautiful and so varied. Children can observe birds, draw birds, identify birds, and measure and count them. Making observations gives an additional purpose to taking the class on a quick walk around the school building whenever they need a short break to sharpen their attention. Comment on birds around the school and passing by the playground. Name them or ask the children to name them, if possible. It's okay to use an appropriate made-up name such as "the black ones with the white speckles" or the "red bird" to help others identify the bird another time. The birds you see will vary depending on many factors, including place on the continent, elevation, proximity to water, amount of vegetation nearby, time of year, and time of day.

For several days to a week, have your students observe birds during a walk around the school building or the first five minutes of their daily recess and record what they see by answering these questions: Where do you see birds? Are the birds in trees, on the ground, in the water, or in the air? Do you see the birds in the same place every day? What are they doing? Where have you seen birds eating? What size (color, shape) are the birds? The questions can be written on a checklist for students who read to record one- or two-word answers. The answers for that day or week can be tallied and graphed. With subsequent observations, students will begin to recognize some birds and describe them by color, relative size, and sometimes habit-where they are found or what they are doing.

In some regions it makes sense to do this activity in winter because there may be fewer birds than usual due to bird population migration-and they can be easier to spot when trees are leafless. In regions where winter temperatures may not allow for outdoor observations, do this activity in another season.


National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Peggy Ashbrook ( is the author of Science Is Simple: Over 250 Activities for Preschoolers and teaches preschool science in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bird Shapes

Objective: To identify birds common to your area by shape and color and to introduce scientific illustration


Bird identification chart or book

Noncorrugated cardboard, plastic sheeting, or art foam

Large crayons with the labels peeled off in colors that commonly occur in birds (typically black, white, red, blue, gray, and brown)


Masking tape

Teacher Preparation: Make silhouette shapes of local birds the class has identified by tracing around the pictures in an identification book and using a copier or overhead projector to blow the image up to life size (see measurements listed in the book). Include various sized and different colored birds. Cut the shapes from noncorrugated cardboard, stiff plastic, or art foam.

To make a rubbing, tape each shape to a table by sticking loops of masking tape on the back, then tape a piece of paper over the shape to cover it. Using the appropriate color(s), rub or "wipe" the paper with crayons. …

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