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The Easiest Family Fun Is Right Above You

Looking for a fun activity to do with your kids this summer, one that requires little preparation, gets your spawns out of the house and can be done in any neighborhood, state, country in the world? Go birding.

It's not just for old people anymore—no really.

Here's how to make it work for you.

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Mornings are best for bird activity. A great time for your early risers, who are up at the crack of dawn even during summer break. Just like kids, early rising birds are calling to others, staking their claim on territory and looking for food.

"People love being out at a special time of day watching nature doing its thing," Rebecca Weiss, a birding expert at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies in Aspen, Colo., says. "It's like a well-kept secret out here. Everyone else is in bed, and we're out there as a pine mountain is feeding on grouse, a bear is swimming across (a lake) or baby sandpiper chicks are foraging near the water. These are really special encounters in nature, and you feel like you just had this incredible moment."

In the U.S., there are 51 million bird-watchers. They contribute approximately $36 million to the national economy annually.

"Birds are the most watchable form of wildlife," Weiss said. "You are always seeing birds, and we enjoy trying to identify them. It keeps you in touch with your place and the time of year. You begin to notice when the first hummingbird zooms by in spring or when the swallows are back. It is an endless learning opportunity and also a humbling and exciting thing to do."

Birding as a hobby is growing and seeing a new breed of enthusiast, kids and their parents. Families are finding and identifying birds through sight or sound, their eyes turned to the sky searching for birds on simple walks around town. Two great apps that help parents identify with their kids is, iBird West and MerlinBirdID.

Awareness of birds and conservation of the animals and their shrinking habitat is something that brings Mary Harris, president of the Roaring Fork Audubon Society, near Aspen, out every day. She explains that overall the number of birds is declining due to loss of habitat, cat kills (up to 4 billion in North America every year) and window collisions (up to 1 billion each year in the U.S.).

All you need to be a birder, Harris says, is a pair of birding binoculars and bird book. Two greats for kids are "National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America" and "Silbey's Birding Basics."

All birds can be interesting to find—from the smallest chickadee that weighs the same as three paperclips to raptors that patrol the fields like great horned owls.

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"Great horned owls are amazing animals," Devin Paszek, executive director of Nature's Educators in Aurora, Colo., said. "Think of them at dusk as they sit in trees, move their heads back and forth so they can hear from ears on the side of their heads. They have silent flight and flutings that baffle the sound that blows through their feathers on their wings, and 500 pounds of pressure in their feet. They are like ninjas. You never hear or see an owl coming."

Image via Getty Images

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