Birding Expedition (JHARVNC)


Short demonstrations will help participants use guides to identify common birds, recognize bird calls, learn to use binoculars and discover which birds are most likely to be seen in the Arkansas River valley.

Grade Level:

K - 12

Recommended Setting:

Seated in the classroom or on the back deck, followed by a walk down a trail

Outdoor Activity:



Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith


Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993


30 - 45 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

25 - 30 per group


  • Understand the basic characteristics of birds
  • Understand how to identify birds based on key characteristics
  • Understand how to use binoculars
  • Recognize the diversity of birds in Arkansas
  • Understand the habitat of birds

Key Terms*:


Field marks



*See glossary for definations



Bird guides


Arkansas has a variety of bird species, and more than 200 live on the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center site. Binoculars or field guides can aid in identifying bird species by looking at silhouettes and morphology. Use the following talking points to discuss how to use binoculars and field guides to observe birds.

Field Glasses
  • Parts
  • How to use
  • Types 


  • Silhouettes
  • Morphology
    • Male
    • Female
    • Role in life
    • Migratory versus non-migratory
    • Bird calls

How to Identify Birds

  • Eight main visual categories 
    • Swimmers – ducks and duck-like birds
    •  Aerialists – gulls and gull-like birds
    • Long-legged waders – herons, cranes
    • Smaller waders – plovers, sandpipers
    • Fowl-like birds – grouse, quail
    • Birds of prey – hawks, eagles, owls
    • Non-passerine land birds (birds of prey) – hawks, eagles, owls
    • Passerine (perching) bird
  • Physical characteristics to look for
    • Bird size
    • Bird shape
    • Shape of wings
    • Shape of bill
    • Shape of tail
    • Behavior
      • Tree climber (nuthatch)
      • Fly a certain way (woodpecker)
      • Swim (goose)
      • Wade (heron)
  • Field marks
    • Breast coloration (robin)
    • Tail patterns (Junco)
    • Rump patches (Marsh Hawk)
    • Eye stripes and eye rings (Canadian Goose)
    • Wing bars (White-Eyed Vireo)
    • Wing patterns (Blue-Winged Teal)
  • How birds fly
    • Hollow bones
    • Air foil creates lift
    • Feathers  


  • Wooded
    • Old growth
    • Regeneration
    • Management
  • Open fields
  • Riparian zones   


  • Insects
  • Seed eaters
  • Carnivores (animals and fish)
  • Scavengers




Field Trip


  1. Seat participants and instruct how to use binoculars and look for birds before going on a hike.
  2. Pass out binoculars and help participants learn to focus and use their binoculars.
  3. Give participants a test specimen or item to focus on.
  4. Teach participants what to look for when identifying a bird. See “How to Identify Birds” above.
  5. Take participants on a hike and challenge them to identify as many birds as possible.


By setting up bird mounts and images, more time can be spent in the classroom on binocular training. Or more time can be spent on the trail if a group is more comfortable using binoculars.


  • Birds are ideally suited for a variety of habitats. Give examples of different habitats and how specific species have adapted to it.
  • What are a few physical characteristics to look for when trying to identify a bird?
  • What are some common field marks that can help in bird identification?


Binoculars – two identical telescopes mounted side by side and aligned to point accurately in the same direction, allowing the viewer to use both eyes (binocular vision) when viewing distant objects; also known as field glasses


Field marks – distinguishing marks or coloration on a bird


Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs


Morphology – branch of biology dealing with the form and structure of organisms and systems