Let Them Grow: Backyard Bird Paradise Brings Toddlers Closer to Nature

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Feeding the Birds, Feeding the Curiosity

The Downy Woodpecker is one of six species of woodpecker found in Massachusetts. They are easily attracted into your backyard by building simple Woodpecker feeders.

Now that the warmer weather is here, it is easy for us to work outdoors.  Creating a backyard bird paradise is easy and fun.  By encouraging your toddler to take ownership of the feeders you will enable your child to build a great relationship with the nature in his or her own backyard.

Relating to nature allows toddlers to feel connected to something bigger, something beautiful and something alive. Toddlers love the opportunity to watch the world; by creating a backyard bird attraction you bring nature to your home and to your child.

In western Massachusetts, there are some very amazing birds that will join in the feeding frenzy if you put out the right seed, including Cardinals, Blue Jays, song birds, and of course the famous Woodpeckers.

Woodpeckers are intriguing to watch and can be easily attracted to your feeders. Using store bought or homemade suet and feeder, you can attract several different types of woodpeckers.

How to make a Woodpecker feeder:

Using non-pressure treated wood or a 2-3 inch thick log, drill ½ inch holes into the wood to create holes to stuff the suet in. Have your toddler help with the drill and draw or paint on the feeder if you want to personalize it. After the feeder is complete, attach an eyehook on the top of the feeder and hang it in your yard. In no time the woodpeckers will come and your toddler will become fascinated with birds! Toddlers love to fill the woodpecker feeders. It’s messy, it’s squishy, and it is a sensory experiment in itself.  I find store bought suet is easier to handle then your DIY suet. Suet can be rendered by melting fat from the butcher store and straining it through cheesecloth and adding a few ingredients.

Suet can be rendered by melting fat from the butcher store and straining it through cheesecloth and adding a few ingredients.

DIY Suet

  • 1 cup homemade and strained suet
  • ¾ cup chunky peanut butter
  • 2 3/4 cups stone ground cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup white or wheat flour
  • ¼ cup bird seed or nuts

Melt the fat and all ingredients together. Pour into a mold or recycled container no thicker than 1 inch and let dry.

How to Create a Wild Bird Feeder

You can create your own upcycled birdfeeder with your toddlers from many different materials. My favorite is the milk carton. To create a milk carton bird feeder, simply cut one panel off the carton approximately a quarter inch from the bottom of the carton. This will create a base to put the seed in.  You can insert a perch stick at the bottom of the feeder just above the seed tray using a drinking straw, small stick or chopstick. Filling your feeder with black oil sunflower seed is guaranteed to attract just about any bird.

Another simple and toddler-friendly feeder is the traditional pine cone rolled in peanut butter, then dipped in seed. This feeder is a messy and tactile experience that allows your toddler to stay engaged in for a long time. Set up a bowl of peanut butter and a bowl of seed. Allow your toddler to cover the pine cone with peanut butter, followed by seeds. You can hang this feeder with string tied around the top of the cone.

Encouraging your children to connect with nature is essential regardless of where you live. You can create a bird feeding area in your home or apartment, regardless whether you live in the city, suburbs or a rural area.  Birds are everywhere and always looking for a snack. Hanging feeders in the window is a great way to bring birds to homes where land use is not an option.

Each morning fill the feeders. By making this a daily toddler chore, your child will feel a sense of ownership over the feeders and in turn a deeper connection to nature. Make the seed accessible and the pouring container easy for your toddler to hold, so they can independently fill the feeder. You can also add some extras to the feeding area.

Extras to add to your bird feeding station

  • Binoculars or a mounted telescope
  • Motion activate trail camera
  • A digital camera
  • A sketchbook
  • Add birdhouses or a perch
  • Books about identification, nesting, migration, and other bird behaviors
  • Hummingbird feeder

Once birds realize you are consistent feeders, they will come regularly for a visit. By paying attention to the birds that arrive, you and your toddler will become avid ornithologists in no time. Being able to identify the most common birds is easy and educational.  You may even attract a squirrel or two, just to keep things interesting.

The web site, mass.gov, has a great resource to download to help you identify woodpeckers if you are interested.

Photo credit: (cc) Suet/Susy Morris


Candice Chouinard has worked with youth of all ages and backgrounds, creating and implementing programing for children. She revels in hand-on, long-term, messy projects that are both fun and educational. Candice comes from a background in creative writing, as well as, child development and psychology. She owns and operates a day care in Northampton, MA.

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