When I first took my son on a bird walk with our local birdwatching group, I was pretty nervous. What if kids weren’t welcome on the walk? What if he ran around and scared off all the birds? What if I was the only one who couldn’t tell a chickadee from a nuthatch?
But as soon as we arrived, my fears were relieved. All the other attendees were excited to see him, and helped him look through their bird spotting scopes and binoculars. I learned more about the birds in my area than I had by simply flipping through field guides. And, my son and I had a chance to spend quality time together.
If you’re interested in attending a local bird walk with your kids, here are some tips to get you started.
Find a Local Bird Walk
Your best bet for finding a bird walk is by calling your local Audubon chapter. With over 450 chapters, there is a good chance you have one nearby. If you don’t—or if they aren’t currently hosting any bird walks—check out ranger programs at state and national parks. Local conservation groups also often host public naturalist events. Hike it Baby is a national organization that hosts hikes for children, and while it is not a birding specific group, kids are always welcome and hike hosts may sometimes offer bird walks.
See also: How Birding Benefits Your Health
Choose a Kid-Friendly Walk
After you find a bird walk to attend, call or email the host to make sure kids are welcome on the walk. In my experience, people have been excited to see the next generation take an interest in birding. But not all walks may be suitable for children, and some hosts might be concerned (or at least surprised!) to see a parent roll up with a minivan full of tots.
Even if kids are welcome, you will want to make sure it is a spot that will be interesting for your family. We have had the best luck attending ones that are by water, where more birds are usually found. Easier birding means more satisfaction for kids.
Since most bird walks are early in the morning, you’ll want to make the transition out the door as easy as possible. Pack up everything you need the night before: water bottles, snacks, sweatshirts, sunglasses, hats, kid-friendly binoculars—and more snacks. Occasionally, I have let my kids sleep in their clothes so we could roll out of bed and straight into the car for a granola bar breakfast.
Encourage Kids to Keep a List
While someone on the walk is probably already keeping an official list, having children write down birds they see is a great way to build confidence in both birding and writing skills. Younger children can even help count birds. On one Christmas Bird Count walk, I designated my son the (unofficial) magpie counter. He took his job seriously, and it helped hold his interest longer.
Try Going One-on-One
Most parents feel like they never get enough one-on-one time with their children. While going on a bird walks together as a family can be fun, you may also end up spending more time keeping siblings from fighting (or from playing too loudly together) than bird watching. Because my children are infinitely calmer one-on-one, sneaking out together for an early morning birdwatching date can be a great way to spend time together.
Leave Early if You Need to
We rarely stay for an entire bird walk. After about an hour, my children have typically had enough of staying quiet and are ready to run around. Out of respect for the others on the walk, we usually leave and head to a nearby playground so they can release their energy.
Attending bird walks can be a great way to meet other local birders and spend time together with your family. If you find one that works for your family, don’t hesitate to go. It could become your new favorite way to spend time outdoors together.