In the year 2000, when my nephew was 4 years old, we introduced him to his first nature walk in our woods.
That weekend was filled with beautiful sunshine and ideal temperatures. I fixed him a sandwich and he had his water bottle, a pencil and his checklist. He had chosen for his outfit of the day his cowboy chaps, vest and hat. Robbie was ready for his adventure.
We spent about half an hour walking in the woods and searching for those items on the checklist. He found quite a few, but seemed to be distracted by the birds more than anything. Soon after this first nature walk he requested a pair of binoculars for Christmas. It was then I knew that he would be a part of the next generation of birdwatchers. To say I was ‘tickled pink’ would be an understatement!
Here is my list of fun things for children to help spark their interest in nature and especially bird watching.
· Go on a nature walk looking for birds, wildlife and bugs. There are several good books for young or beginning bird watchers. Take a Backyard Bird Walk by Jane Kirkland is very good, as is her book entitled Take a City Nature Walk, both of which are available online and in book stores.
Things to take along on your nature walk: pencil or pen, checklist or tablet on which to note your sightings, time of day and weather conditions; camera and or binoculars; water bottle; healthy snack; trash bag and gloves to pick up any litter or garbage, and help keep our Earth clean.
· Kid-friendly Bird Guides. Again there are several very good ones just for kids that help them to identify birds they see. Young Birders Guide by Peterson is a comprehensive book geared toward youngsters, and is the best I’ve seen.
· Cornell Lab of Ornithology has programs for kids, as well as a downloadable PDF file of common birds they would most likely see. Their website contains a wealth of information.
· Binoculars made for children. These should be powerful enough so that they can actually make a good identification, but not so heavy or cumbersome as to render them unusable by small children.
· Audio CD’s for identifying birds by their songs. Even if children are not able to actually see the bird, they can learn to identify it by listening to the bird calls. For example, when I hear “Chip-Bang” I know that a scarlet tanager is nearby. They often perch way up high in the tallest trees and are very hard to see.
· Purchase an inexpensive 4″x6″ photo album where kids can tuck in pictures, feathers, etc. from their walks. They can also add bird stickers, and or images and articles from magazines for future reference. A small inexpensive scrapbook or journal would work for this as well.
· Plant a bird seed garden and bird-attracting flowers. Perennials like bee balm and purple coneflowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This is a great way to introduce children to planting things and watching them grow.
· Purchase a simple bird house and show kids how to approach carefully to check on whether or not a bird has nested. Make sure to buy one that has an easily accessible door that can be securely closed after observations are done!
· To entice birds to nest nearby, cut lengths of twine or cotton yarn 4″ to 8″ long and drape them over branches where birds can find them. Do this on a dry day because they don’t use wet materials when making their nests. Most birds nest between March and June.
· In order to make a soft liner for their eggs and baby birds, Mama and Papa bird use animal fur, moss and other birds’ feathers. You can use an old feather pillow or find one at a thrift store. Open up the pillow and pick out the curly small feathers. These can be stuffed into a mesh produce bag so that the birds can pull them out of the holes in the mesh. Hang your feather bag in a protected area to keep the feathers dry.
· Window-mounted bird feeders are a wonderful way for kids to watch birds up close without disturbing them. Because birds have to slow down to approach this type of feeder, there is no danger that they will be injured by hitting the window. To insure the feeder suction cups stick securely to your window, clean the window thoroughly with one part vinegar to 2 parts water. Make sure the window is dry; rinse the suction cups in warm water, then dry thoroughly. The warmth makes them more pliable and easier to attach. Mounting a window bird feeder is best done when the outdoor temperatures are above freezing.
· Make some popcorn and share it with your bird friends; or fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut it into small bird-size pieces and leave them on a feeder for your birds to discover.
Our newest generation of bird watchers is just ‘waiting in the wings’ to be inspired. Help them spark that interest to enjoy and protect our wild birds, and all wildlife for that matter. We’ll all benefit in ways that will reach far in to the future.