So many things to celebrate this weekend! But I wanted to mention one that can be one of the most educational of all, which is The Great Backyard Bird Count.
The GBBC is an event sponsored every year over Presidents Day weekend by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and the Bird Studies of Canada. For the Friday through Monday of that weekend, they ask people all over North America to count the largest number of birds of each species they see while walking, hiking, and birdwatching. They compile them all into statewide and national lists to see how the bird populations seem to be doing in the U.S. and Canada.
The great thing about this project is that you don't need to be an accomplished birdwatcher to participate. They have a lot of tools built into their website to help you learn about and to recognize the birds you are most likely to be seeing, based on your vicinity (zip code and/or habitat). You input your information about where you are birdwatching, and they come up with lists of birds that are indigenous to that area. You can click on specific birds to see a picture and to read more about them to decide if that is the bird you saw, if you aren't already familiar with the species.
If you are interested in going in more depth about birdwatching, they have a great resource on Building Skills that teaches you ways to identify birds more accurately. They have an entire section on GBBC for Kids, which not only provides simple information and some puzzles and crafts, as well as some games that are not only kind of interesting to do, but is building their online bird identification software so it will be better at helping unfamiliar birders to correctly identify the birds they see. Finally, it is a way to have your children assist with an international science data collection effort, and see how their contributions at a local level help build a national database.
We are not great at bird identification. However, we try to do this regularly, and every year we learn to identify at least one or two more birds than we did the year before. And here in the Triangle NC area, the weather has been glorious to be out with the birds.
You can still participate today and tomorrow (Sunday and Monday), so I encourage you and your middle schoolers to take a walk, or to watch your bird feeders for a sustained period, and become part of one of the largest citizen science activities in the country. Of course, the resources are available year round, so they are good to know about whenever you have a question about birds. But it is fun to contribute to a large group project like this. You can even print out a certificate to demonstrate your participation, and may even win a prize given to randomly-selected birdwatchers.