Birding Checklist – What to Pack Bird Watching

Robin feeding its young.

Birding has recently become one of my favorite family pass times. This is partially because birding with kids can happen almost anywhere. It is amazing how many birds we can spot or hear in our own backyard. Even driving down the highway near the Mississippi, we have a good chance of spotting a bald eagle. While some parks, such as Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and North Mississippi Regional Park allow visitors to check out backpacks with birding equipment, not all parks do. Even parks that have packs to loan don’t provide some personal necessities. We find it worthwhile to keep an exploration pack in the back of our van. Here’s a birding checklist of what we keep:

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Birding Checklist To Keep In the Car:


This is probably the most expensive, but also most necessary item on the checklist. I do see binoculars regularly at thrift stores, but its not always easy to determine their quality. We really enjoyed birding at North Mississippi Regional Park, where they were happy to loan us enough binoculars for the family. If you are bringing your own, sharing works pretty well. We like the Imagine Childhood’s Konus 8×21 Compact Binoculars.

Add the Konus 8x21 Compact Binoculars from Imagine Childhood to your birding checklist
Konus 8×21 Compact Binoculars via Imagine Childhood

Bird Guide Book:

Bird guides are pretty easy to find anywhere that sells books, but I particularly like The Kids’ Guide to Birds of Minnesota for a family backpack because it includes interesting facts including where each bird nests and what their calls sound like. It also has a section with additional activities families can do together. If you are bringing a phone, you could also just open up the Minnesota DNR’s Interactive Bird Songs Poster.

The Kids' Guide to Birds of Minnesota: Fun Facts, Activities and 85 Cool Birds
Find it from

Hats for everyone:

I have a family full of Scandinavian children with pale skin and sensitive eyes. I always regret when we don’t have hats with us. Luckily this bucket style hat is cheap and easy to find. I usually thrift them so they are no big loss when they get left behind, which they often do. I actually like this style for myself too, but my teen prefers a Sherlock Holmes style hat and my husband usually prefers a baseball cap or Aussie hat. Whatever their preference, it’s good to keep a few extra tucked in the van.

Birding Checklist - A Hat to shield from the elements


As cute as sunglasses are on my kids, and as sensitive as their eyes are, they don’t keep them on. So we pick them up cheap at thrift stores and more often than not, rely on hats. This pair would be adorable:

Birding Checklist.

Bug Spray:

I wish I had a good recommendation on this. However, I’m on the search for a safe but effective bug spray to use with my own kids and dog this year. Some State Forest Campgrounds where we ave camped have been pretty miserable with mosquitoes and this is supposed to be a bad tick year. Still, I’m uncomfortable using pesticides on kids and dogs – both of whom may just lick themselves at any time. If you have a recommendation or a recipe, leave it in the comments. In the meantime, we’re going to try this one:


I really, really don’t like to use sunscreen, but again, Scandinavian children burn easily. I try to find one with the least harmful chemicals, use sparingly and do my best to keep my kids out of the sun during peak hours. We also double up on green smoothies during summer months.

Birding Checklist of Items We Grab Before Going:

Clean and Refilled Water Bottles:

I like a strap on mine so I can carry it. An insulated bottle like the Klean Kanteen will keep your drink cold (or hot).

A Kleen Kanteen from Imagine Childhood is a good addition to a birding checklist
Klean Kanteen from Imagine Childhood


I envy parents who remember to keep snacks packed. I always end up stopping to buy a box of granola bars.

Your Cell Phone:

This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it’s nice to compare bird songs with an online resource. As we mentioned above, the Minnesota DNR offers a great resource here. Plus, you might be able to get some good photos.

How to Dress for Birding:

Dress comfortably for the weather, wear layers and comfortable hiking shoes or walking shoes. If you are worried about ticks, you can wear longer clothes and tuck your pants into your socks.

At Home Birding Checklist:

Although sometimes a set of binoculars are nice at home, usually, in the summer, we can just lie quietly on the deck and lazily watch the trees above. Its fun to do this in the morning with a cup of coffee or in the evening when the squirrels are going to bed. In the winter, we can set up a bird feeder right outside of our living room window. There are different types of bird food that attract different kinds of birds. You can learn more about that from the Minnesota DNR. You can also visit a local nature center.

Bird watching at Carl Kroening Interpretive Center

Recently, I grabbed the Book House Sparrows Everywhere by Caroline Arnold from a Little Free Library and read it while my kids played at the park. Although its a children’s picture book, I learned a great deal from it, and can’t wait to spend some time watching common house sparrows now.

Birding at home.

DIY Birdfeaders to Encourage Backyard Birds

I always love visiting Non-Toy Gifts for fun craft ideas. This list of 15 DIY Bird Feeders Made From Recyclables doesn’t disappoint. My favorite is made with an old dust pan. This can be a fun start to a backyard (or front yard) bird-watching area. We’re working on setting one up in front of our bay window.

Urban Birding with homemade bird feeders.

6 Year-Round City Birds

You don’t have to leave Minneapolis or St. Paul to watch birds. We found Winter Bird Identification signs at a Minneapolis park with five birds that you might see in the winter in the city1.  I actually looked up after taking this photo and saw a Red-tailed Hawk flying above us. This grouping didn’t include my favorite, the cardinal, which are prevalent and easy to spot. We’ve added links to more information from the Minnesota Bird Atlas and to videos of each bird’s call.

  1. White-Breasted Nuthatch (Information)(Call)
  2. Black-Capped Chickadee (Information)(Call)
  3. Red-Tailed Hawk (Information)(Call)
  4. American Goldfinch (Information)(Call)
  5. Downy Woodpecker (Information)(Call)
  6. Northern Cardinal (Information)(Call)

MPRB Signs Showing Winter Birds in Minneapolis MN

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