My daughter yells frantically in her high chair while the rest of us are still struggling to wake up.
“Mmhm,” I say. “Pretty. Yup. Okay honey, eat your breakfast.”
“Pretty! Pretty!” She yells louder, pointing out the window.
See Also: A Beginner’s Guide to Birding
I look. A crow has landed at the very top of the big tree in the backyard.
“Oh! Birdie? Birdie. Yeah! I see it too. Birdie,” I reply smiling. Looks like we’ve got another birder in the family.
She leans back in her high chair, relieved to be understood. “Pretty,” she says again.
While children have virtually none of the qualities we might think are necessary to be a dedicated birder – they are neither patient nor capable of sneaking around the woods quietly – birding is an excellent way to introduce kids to a lifetime of loving the outdoors.
It’s hard for any child to resist the intrigue of their feathered neighbors. Like my daughter, both of my sons took early interests in birds, confiding in me that sometimes they wished they too could be a bird.
And I get it.
When you’re five years old, what could be more enticing than a creature that doesn’t have to worry about memorizing sight words, gets to play outside all day long, and like their favorite superheroes, can fly?
It’s a pretty good life.
And like superheroes, birds come with a dizzying array of superpowers – the ability to divebomb at hundreds of miles per hour, the ability to survive in subzero temperatures, the ability to run faster than a coyote can detonate TNT or drop an anvil off a cliff. Their plumage comes in more colors than a 64 box of Crayola crayons, exceeding the capabilities of even the most active imaginations.
From even the earliest years, birds are one of our children’s first introduction to the world of the outdoors. Whether they are watching a crow from the kitchen window, or spying a Western Tanager on a hike, birds invite kids into a world they might have otherwise overlooked.
See Also: Birdsong Identification Tips
At a time when children are spending less and less time outside, encouraging a connection with nature has never been more important. Parents can use a kid’s natural interest in bird watching as one way introduce them to the outdoors and help them develop a lifelong love of nature.
For babies and toddlers
Every parenting book will tell you to spend time talking to your baby, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll run out of conversation topics by the end of your maternity leave. Luckily, babies don’t tend to care what you are saying as long as you are talking to them. So hang a bird feeder outside your window and tell your little one how you still can’t remember the difference between a Cassin’s Finch and a House Finch. Retell the story of happening upon some wild turkeys the day before Thanksgiving. Count the number of crows sitting on the telephone wire.
If you dread the thought of whisper-yelling to your preschooler to stay quiet during story time at the library or monitoring toy-sharing on a play date, try taking your kid outside for a hike instead. Sure, you might not get that far past the trailhead, but you’ll get a chance to burn off some of that boundless energy, and hopefully see a few birds yourself.
On your way from your hike, encourage your child’s imagination to soar. Ask them: If you were a bird, where would you fly to? Where would you build a nest? Would you eat earthworms or field mice?
For school-age children
School age children are often eager to meet a challenge. Can you make it a goal to add ten new species to your life list this summer? Have you ever found your state bird together? Can you identify three birds by their calls alone?
School age children might also be ready to pick up on some of the more subtle differences in similar species – how to tell the difference between crows and ravens, or Black Capped Chickadees and Mountain Chickadees.
Many birding organizations host field trips or birding walks, especially during the summer. Call ahead to see if they are kid friendly. In my experience, most people have been delighted to see youngsters joining along.
See Also: Rufous Hummingbird Identification Tips
Birding helps connect children with the outdoors
You don’t need to spend a week camping with your children in the backcountry with a telescope to plant seeds of interest in birding and the outdoors. Even simply
pointing out, “Hey, that bird is yellow!” will help show your kids that there is grass, sun, and trees outside their front door. There is a world teeming with life, and it is inviting them in.
The benefits of birding with children go beyond just clocking some more hours outside and away from screens. As any birder can tell you, once you start trying to name the birds around you, you will see more than you had ever noticed before.
And when kids start to notice and name the world around them, they begin to connect on a deeper level. This connection with the outdoors can be the start of something beautiful – a healthier lifestyle, a desire to protect endangered species, or a love of learning. Birding with children is not only a way to share an interest together. It is a way to teach children about the beauty the outdoors has to offer.