Birding is something all children in the world can enjoy. It can be done without cost. Birding can be done in the middle of the city, in the thick of the jungle, out in the country, up in the mountains, along the seashore. Birding knows no physical or socioeconomic barriers.
I grew up in a family surrounded by birders and wildlife enthusiasts. My grandfather kept his birding binoculars on the kitchen table next to a huge picture window. From this window, one could view the sunlit James River running past the south side of his Virginia farm. All of us cousins eagerly awaited our turn to peer through those alluring lenses.
My earliest memory of birding came on Thanksgiving Day. It followed the traditional, southern meal with all of my relatives gathered at my grandparents’ farm. I was about seven years old, drifting to sleep in the back of the family car as it curved down the pine-shaded lane. I heard my mother excitedly shout, “Oh look! There’s a GREAT BLUE HAIRY!”
What in the world?! You can believe I bolted alert to find out, “What’s great, blue and hairy?!” As the laughter from my mom subsided, she repeated what she had actually said, “A great blue heron.” I missed it. Whatever it was, it was a great bird. Next time, I would stay alert and discover the great blue heron at my grandparents’ home myself.
During our university years, Brent and I often pulled away to visit nearby marshlands to observe the birds. Even before we married, I loved Brent’s appreciation for ornithology. Sixteen years and nine children later, we enjoy passing on a passion for nature’s intricate design. For us, birding is woven into the fabric of family life.
Just go outside with your children and look for birds in your backyard, or go for a walk in the park. Anyone can enjoy birding just about anywhere. A city park, a McDonalds parking lot, the local creek bed, a cow pasture, or a suburban lawn–all provide a birding venue. Wherever you live, whatever your income, you can bird anywhere in the world with your children.
Encourage keen observation skills. What nesting materials are available? How did the bird make her nest? Bird watching is a great way to get children thinking and using their sense scientifically. Listen to the bird’s song. Here’s a fantastic free library of bird songs.
Record what you see. Older children may like to keep a written record of the birds they find and where they were found. Our children like to sketch birds they see. For the younger crowd, download free coloring pages.
Create bird feeders. It’s a useful family project and will give you a way to watch birds even from inside your house. In the US, we like to “paint” pine cones with peanut butter and roll them in bird seed. It makes an attractive winter treat. In tropical areas, a plate of fruit draws in the birds.
As your children become more interested in birding, plan an adventure around birding, giving them a lifelong appreciation for nature. Our children love spending an entire morning or afternoon birding. We have taken them on treks for no other reason than to find a local or regional species.
Although observing birds can be done without cost, to take birding to a deeper level you will need a few basic tools: a notebook and pen, a bird guide and a decent set of binoculars. If you are in the US, I highly recommend getting a Peterson Field Guide. The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guides) is filled with with color photographs, drawings, and authoritative information about each bird, including its vocalizations and habitat.
A good set of binoculars can be costly. However, when you hand your child his own pair of binoculars, you teach him how to focus, tuning out everything but what’s in that lens. His observational skills will increase as he focuses on details. I recommend investing in a decent, lightweight pair. We give these two thumbs up.
Timing and Location Birds are most plentiful in the early morning or late afternoon. When we are birding in a new area, we like to check our field guides for the local birds we are likely to spot. Then, we can identify the bird by name as soon as we find them. The children enjoy knowing the birds names as telling us what they have discovered.
Open water wetlands provide an excellent habitat for birding. You will spot water birds easily and be able to identify their field marks and behaviors. Are the birds flying, catching bugs, perching, walking, swimming, building nests? Is the beak curved or straight? Long or short? Small birds like marsh wrens and song sparrows abound at wetlands.
Once your child can spot and identify smaller birds, he will be on his way to being an advanced birder. The idea is to observe one bird as long as possible; you can take note of every detail. You might see an osprey, a flock of pelicans, or even a bald eagle! Keep your eyes peeled for other wildlife too.
Dress for Success Wearing neutral-colored clothing can be helpful. Dress in comfortable clothing and shoes. Bring repellant if you are going into woodland or marshy areas. We use a natural repellant-coconut oil, water and essential oils of lavender and citronella
Conservation Concerns Birding is great way to teach even the youngest children the value of conservation. When you go birding, you are entering the habitat of wildlife and birds. A child can be taught to walk on the trails, to speak softly (avoiding scaring the birds), to collect trash and keep habitats clean. We have had countless scientific discussions just taking nature hikes.
Birding is a wonderful way to bond with your child while combining learning and fun.
Is birding something you enjoy? Do you have any tips to add? We would love to hear from you the comments. If you liked this article please share the love or pin it.
Click on the photos below to enlarge a few of our favorite birds we have spotted on our bird walks through Central America.