The splendid creature outstretched its wings and dove toward the water. I was at the waterline and my son was about 10 feet from me on the beach – I hissed his name as quietly and excitedly as I could all at the same time – hoping I was loud enough to catch his attention and quiet enough not to halt the phenomenon that I was sure was about to occur. The creature was an osprey, a large bird of prey, and it was diving toward the water only about 20 feet from the shoreline…
As an ecologist, my father has alway been obsessed with bird watching. When I was young, we travelled a lot in Europe with his job. We would be driving on narrow switchback roads in the Alps, and my father (the driver) would stop watching the road and say “Look! A bird!!!” And then he would try to figure out what it was while he swerved back toward the center of his lane. My mother was constantly terrified that she would personally learn the details of Grace Kelly’s tragic death and I thought my dad was a nut job.
But no matter how much he loved bird watching, his brother loved it more. It is a life time passion for him and it took him to the far corners of the world to develop his lifetime bird list. Enter my older son – and he has always loved watching birds and knowing their names. When he was two and a half, my uncle came to visit. My uncle asked him if he could see the “red bird” out the window. My son sighed and said “That is NOT a red bird. It’s a cardinal!”
My Child Will NOT Enjoy Bird Watching…I’m Sure of It.
But are you really sure your children won’t like bird watching? Children are capable of so much more than we give them credit for and their minds are open and excited to try new things!! What’s more fun than going on a treasure hunt or an adventure? Do your children love pirates? Go on a hunt for the lost pirate parrot! Will you find the parrot? How will you know if the bird you find is a parrot or not?
That’s what bird watching is all about – the treasure hunt! They never know what they will find, if it will be new or a bird they already know, or they might need to do some research with mom or dad when they come home to figure out what bird they saw. If they want, they can always draw or paint pictures of the birds they saw, search for feathers or bird nests… The possibilities are endless!
Children can craft bird houses and bird feeders. Most home improvement stores have kits to build a bird house. And many have weekend programs for little ones to attend and make a feeder while they are there! Children can put gross and fine motor skills to work building houses, feeders, or bird baths. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: fine a pine cone. Tie a piece of string or yarn around the top. Spread peanut butter all over the pine cone and then roll it in bird seed. Tie your “feeder” to a tree and watch the birds flock around!
What Will My Children Learn from Bird Watching?
Bird watching is such a great learning tool! Children enjoy everything about this hobby – they love animals, they enjoy the outdoors and time with a parent, they love searching for things (think hide and seek), and, frankly, critters that fly are just cool. Children can learn so many things directly from bird watching:
Diversity: Each bird has its own niche and coexists with other birds and animals in the same habitat. Children learn that everyone can contribute to their family and their community in a unique and meaningful way.
Environmental Responsibility: Children who are taught about birding and who enjoy birding will grow into adults that care deeply about our environment. They may also choose to become involved in youth programs aimed at conservation.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum (Senegalese Forestry Engineer)
Geography: Birds are found on every continent on earth. Most species migrate (seasonal movement).
Adaptation: Birds in different locations all have different and specific adaptations that they have made to thrive in their environment.
Food Chain: “All birds need to eat, but not all birds eat the same things. Young birders who actively feed backyard birds can quickly learn about the food chain, and studying other wild birds can teach kids about predators, prey and the natural balance in food populations.” (source)
Flight: Animals that fly are naturally intriguing. Bird watching will teach children that different birds fly in different ways. Some catch wind currents and soar gracefully, while others dip and dive, while still others like the hummingbirds have such rapid wingbeats that they look more like insects. Watching birds can help children begin to understand the mechanics of flight. They can also examine the benefits of different methods of flight.
History: “The birds in the backyard may be here and now, but studying birds can actually teach kids a lot about history. Bird mascots, state birds and other symbols all have historical significance, and learning about extinct birds can connect human history with wildlife history.” (source)
Why Should I Introduce My Children to Bird Watching?
This is a video of an osprey fishing. It’s what my son and I were lucky enough to witness from the beach. Seeing something like this and understanding what is happening is truly an awe-inspiring experience.
Children benefit from bird watching by developing a love for learning; an appreciation for multiple scientific disciplines; hiking is great exercise; and finally, being outside in nature provides innumerable and immeasurable benefits. In addition everything that they learn directly about the natural world, bird watching provides children with an opportunity to develop really important life skills. (source)
Studying birds and learning how to be a birder can teach kids great secondary skills, such as:
- Observation skills to find birds in the wild
- Listening skills to identify birds by their songs
- Deduction when comparing two challenging bird species
- Research skills for following clues to a bird’s identity
- Patience when waiting for birds to appear
How Do We Start Bird Watching?
Just step outside! That’s all you have to do to start. You don’t need any fancy equipment or skills. As you begin to see a few birds, you can do more and more to encourage them to come to your yard. Birds need shelter, water, food, and a place to raise their families, so if you provide those four things – they will come. Researching favorite treats for various species can help you attract that bird that you’ve just been waiting to find. Try to place feeders close enough to windows that you can enjoy the show the birds will put on for you. That’s really all you need to get started. I have some other, more specific, suggestions for you at the bottom of this post.
If you want a great app for identifying more common birds, the Audubon Society has a free app that you can download!
At the end of the day, I need to spoil my children with “luxuries” such as bird watching because they are so enriching for children and adults alike. Children learn so many things from being outdoors and witnessing nature. But I also think that the enjoyment my boys get from birding is something that their grandfather and I teach. It’s something that Grandpa, uniquely, can pass down to them for a lifetime. It’s passed down for them to enjoy during their lifetime going forward and as a tradition with their grandfather that reaches back into the past. I really enjoy sharing our family traditions and hearing about yours!
Here are some of our favorite products to help further your bird watching once you’ve gotten started. (Affiliate links)