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Backyard Exploration Guidebook: 5 Ways to Explore Your Backyard

Let's go outside! You can celebrate Earth Day by exploring your own backyard. Here are five ways you can discover nature right outside your door!

1. Create a backyard field guide

All you need is a notebook and a pen or pencil. Brainstorm things in your backyard that you want to include in your field guide: trees, flowers, birds, and wildlife. Draw pictures, make observations using your senses (but don’t taste anything!), and take notes in your notebook. Each entry should include the date, the time of day, and the weather during your observations. For example, if you are observing a tree in your yard. Notice how it looks, smells, and feels. Draw the tree, its leaves, and any flowers if it has them. Take notice of any animals in the tree. Don’t feel like drawing? Take photos of your items and add notes of your observations!

2. Design a pollinator garden for your backyard

Use the internet to research what pollinators are native to your area. Do monarch butterflies migrate past you? What kind of bees live nearby? Once you know what pollinators live near you, you need to know what plants they like to pollinate. Use the internet to find out what plants attract the pollinators native to your area. Check out this Pollinator Garden Toolkit for help.

3. Become a Birder in your backyard

The Merlin Bird ID app identifies birds. The free app asks you the bird’s size, color, behavior and location and then suggests what it’s likely to be.

Birds - Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal

Bird Calls

Listening to bird calls is a great way to identify birds. Try out these mnemonics, or tricks, to help recognize a few you might have in your backyard. Search “bird mnemonics” for more!

Here are a few sounds to listen for:

  • Blue Jay—“jay”
  • Tufted Titmouse—“peter, peter, peter”
  • Northern Cardinal—“what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer”

4. Spruce, Fir, or Pine?

Spruces, firs, and pines are all conifer trees that grow needles as leaves. How can you tell the difference between them? Try out these tricks!

Spruce: Single, Square, Spiky

Spruce branch

The needles of spruce trees grow singly, each from its own spot on the branch. Most spruce needles have a square shape, which you can feel if you roll a needle between your fingers. They are also spiky and can prick your fingers.

Pine: Packets, Prickly

Pine branch

Pine needles grow in packets, which means that more than one needle grows from the same place on a branch. If you gently push the needles in a packet together, they will form a circle. Pine needles are usually very sharp and prickly.

Fir: Flat, Friendly

Fir branch

Fir trees have flat needles which do not have a sharp end. Because of their flat needles, fir trees are friendly and don’t hurt when you touch them.

5. Keep a Night Sky Journal

Scientists—from ancient Babylonia to modern countries around the world—have observed and used the moon cycle to determine their calendars. Why not make your own moon observations by keeping a moon journal?

What you need:

  • A blank calendar or pencil and paper
  • A view of the moon

Look at the moon each night after it has risen and record its phase, in writing or drawing, as it makes its monthly rotation around the earth. The amount of moon we see is really the amount of sunlight that is reflected on it during each phase. New moons are between the earth and the sun, so that the sun almost entirely shines on the part of the moon we don’t see. Full moons are on the side of the earth opposite the sun, so that sunlight shines on them in full.

The moon always follow this pattern:

  • New
  • Waxing crescent
  • First quarter
  • Waxing gibbous
  • Full
  • Waning gibbous
  • Third quarter
  • Waning crescent
  • New


There are many free astronomy apps that let you stargaze from your backyard! Star Chart helps you find the locations of stars, planets, satellites and space stations using augmented reality. Other apps include SkyView and Sky Map.

Share your Earth Day activities with us by using the hashtag #TCMatHome on social media!