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Today I’m thrilled to share with all of you a fantastic article by birding expert Ernie Allison. Ernie is passionate about birds and has some fantastic suggestions helping kids enjoy it too. Thanks for sharing Ernie!
Let’s be honest, when we think activities for children birding isn’t exactly at the top of the list. It can involve long hikes and periods of time without much stimulation for the kids before actually seeing a bird. The key to a successful birding with kids is to build their interest in ways that are more easily accomplished and predictable.
Start young! Who says your kids can’t start gaining an interest in birds at an early age? Get your kids familiar with birds of all kinds with plush toys or coloring pages. Take it a step further and have them help you set up a birdfeeder in your backyard and spend some time learning about the species that visit your feeder. Try combining this with coloring and work on teaching them to identify different species that visit the feeder, then change/add a new feeder with different seed and discover the new species that visit for the new food! All of this can also be applied to science! The Cornell Lab hosts Project FeederWatch which utilizes citizen submitted information to help expand their data and discover trends in bird migration and long-term bird distribution
Pro tip: Make it a competition! Allow your kids to choose the feeder, seed, and placement (using what they’ve learned) and see which feeder attracts the most birds!
If they show an interest in the coloring and feeding, get them reading; Susan Stockdale has a great book for younger children called Bring On the Birds which has very colorful illustrations as well as an identification guide at the end of the book. Take things a step further with The Young Birder’s Guide by Bill Thompson which can be used as a more in depth guide into the habits of the local fowl and can serve as a great spring board into the first birding outing.
Their First Birding Experience:
Location, location, location! Much like real estate, birding is all about location depending on the type of bird and season; contact your local Audubon Society for inside tips on where to find the local birds. Once you’ve chosen your location, plan for it! Have your kids color or learn about the birds you might see so they’re familiar with them and then pack accordingly. Always have the right clothing, shoes, and equipment for an outing and then also make sure you have plenty of food and water, nobody likes birding on an empty stomach.
Pro tip: Extra entertainment may be needed to keep the kids occupied between sightings. Try creating a game of Bird Bingo for when birds are sighted and play I Spy when you’re in between sightings.
Not all outings have to be far from home; bird watching can happen in almost any urban environment or city park! Celebrate Urban Birds is dedicated to helping individuals and groups to discover opportunities to bird watch in urban settings. Your local Audubon might already be a participant and you can join one of their group outings.
The key to any successful birding experience with your kids to make sure they’re interested and the experience is fun for them. We all know kids can hold grudges if their first experience is less than entertaining and birding is all about experiencing nature and exploring a world that is so often ignored beyond the thought of “oh, a bird”.
When your kids invest themselves into this wonderful pastime, walking is no longer a chore, waiting outside, long car rides, and lawn work are no longer chores, they’re opportunities to observe, watch, and see new birds. It’s a skill, passion, and activity that can be done anywhere, no matter the amount of supplies or location. Birding teaches patience, perseverance, and dedication to a singular goal of discovering the species you’ve been chasing for weeks or catching as it passes through on its yearly migration.
Best of all, birding is fun and can become a passion that you share with others creating friends around the globe.
When nature made the blue-bird she wished to propitiate both the sky and the earth, so she gave him the color of the one on his back and the hue of the other on his breast. ~John Burroughs
Ernie Allison is an avid hiker/birder who loves to share his experience with others. He particularly loves getting his grand-kids involved in the outdoors because they spend too much time on those “Darn fangled” electronics. Birding is his passion and you can follow his exploits on his twitter.