Candice Leigh Bagley
by on October 28, 2020
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Family time, birdwatching is an activity for everyone  

The memory of waking up early to drive to special places is a key takeaway from my childhood. Nature, wildlife, and especially keeping track of birdlife have all been a part of my family for as long as I can remember. My father always packed a bird book in the car, and since we loved seeing places off the beaten track, we were often blessed with some incredible sightings.

Sharing the joy of nature with your children in a pursuit you enjoy will give you even more pleasure. Birdwatching is an outing that can appeal to older and younger children, parents, and grandparents. It can be something relished from the comfort of your backyard, or, on your family stroll along the beach or through the woods. If you are an adult with a particular passion for birds, family birdwatching can be an opportunity to engage with other family members about something you care for. Who knows, maybe your passion will become infectious!?

The environmental crisis at hand

Today’s children will grow up in a very different world to the one many older folk have grown up in. The reality we all face is of largescale global environmental and social challenges. These challenges must be met by every citizen, and while many businesses and governments including the European Union have agreed upon protecting biodiversity (EU Bioversity Strategy for 2030 and associated action plan, 2020), it has never been more important to educate young adults, teenagers, and children about the biodiversity of the countries they live in – and the countries they impact upon through consumer and lifestyle choices. This is in the hope that they will continue, and further build on, biodiversity conservation efforts.

While much could be said about the disrepair that current and previous generations have had on biodiversity, it remains apparent that today’s youth will be responsible for driving businesses and governments of the future to make sustainable and ecologically sensible choices.

Birdwatching, or the more competitive angle, birding, allows people to peacefully observe an important element of the natural world, while actively engaging with it. What’s more, birding is FUN!

Getting children out into nature and engaged

Getting out into nature and enjoying their surroundings goes a long way to show children ways to appreciate the environment and reasons to protect it.

Showing kids WHY something is important is a lot easier if it’s something that they actually like doing. By introducing fun bird-related activities and games, you can turn it into something engaging for kids of all ages. And while birdwatching may not be first on every child’s list, there are many who are looking for something new, intellectually challenging, and diverse in its offerings – a pursuit that keeps giving. There is a myriad of content written by young birders online who exemplify exactly this. If you’re on the hunt for some cool young birders to keep an eye on and provide inspiration, here are two amazing young birders and bloggers to watch, who happen to almost have the same name! 

 

Mya Bambrick: Mya’s Birding Blog

Mya-Rose Craig: Birdgirl UK

 

In the times of COVID-19, many children need new things to do. Fresh educational material is being looked for by teachers who are teaching online, and indeed by parents, many of whom are resorting to home school options. Parents, grandparents, and family will enjoy finding fun recreational activities that will broaden a child’s perspective because birding activities are rewarding, for everyone involved.  Creating a dynamic bird watching list for young learners that they can share with their friends and classmates will transport them to each other’s backyards without having to pay an actual visit.

 

Age-appropriate birding activities

Kids of diverse ages have differing needs. Getting children involved in the world of birding will mean you MUST take into consideration what is age-appropriate for them. If not, you may be left with bored or less-than-satisfied youngsters who don’t feel like they’ve accomplished much. If the activities and outings planned are not geared for the right age, and indeed the specific child, you will have a hard time getting them interested in repeating a similar outing.

Do your children like to sit still and listen quietly? Many don’t! But with the incentive of spotting another bird to identify and add to their list you may find even the most active children will watch and wait patiently.

2- 4 years

Toddlers may seem too young to benefit from the joys of birding. But many toddlers’ sensitive ears will tune in to the bird calls. Focus your child’s attention on common birds in your area and help them learn the names of the birds that are easy to spot. If you live in a city, the worst you can do is teach them about crows, or similar birds like magpies, and even the highest apartment blocks will be privy to the gentle coo of pigeons. If you live in a bird-deprived nation (such as South Korea and other city areas) you may find backyard birding more tricky, but keep your eyes open for the cranes overhead, and don’t forget the wild turkeys on the mountain paths!

 

I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area surrounded by birds. My parents’ and grandparents’ backyards were home to the loud Hadeda Ibis (a rare sighting for the Northern Hemisphere, but common for those of us resident in southern Africa). My grandmother always helped us tune in to the call of “ha, ha, ha-deda” to distract from woeful tears or disgruntled sibling rivalries. These birds were big and slow-moving, common in our suburban areas and very strange looking! Thanks to Gran’s encouragement, whichever of the grandchildren was still in nappies (diapers) would hear the Hadeda call and imitate it long before the adults in the room had noticed it flying overhead.

4-6 years

Pre-schoolers will listen to your every word given the opportunity. It is a wonderful time to show them how to engage with their surroundings. If you are able to go for a walk in your local park you will find the joy of waterbirds in the pond and you’ll catch glimpses of songbirds in the trees. While children of this age will still find binoculars difficult to use, you can almost certainly see birds close to you. At this age, the fun may be short-lived while attention spans develop, but enjoying a walk in the park with the odd sighting will make a story to tell everyone when you arrive back home.

 

Check out the craft section of our resources and you will find a fun way to build binoculars that will appeal to this age group with a bit of help from adults. This is also the perfect age to explore nests and other garden treasures like feathers.

One of the most engaging ways to observe birds in your garden with your little ones is by creating a bird feeder. You can see birds returning to your garden daily and the entire family can appreciate the birds chirping in the garden.

7- 10 years

From about 7 years old, you can definitely begin to introduce real binoculars. Some will struggle more than others, so give them a try, and see how much your youngster can work out.

 

If your child is struggling, my suggestion is that you don’t become fixated on using binoculars. As the skill develops you can help them focus on objects but remember the width of the binoculars could still make them a challenge to use for some children. There are many great child-friendly binoculars, or you can make these awesome craft binoculars.

Take a look at field guides from your area that are aimed at children. This fantastic field guide from Faansie Peacock is great for those of you in or planning a visit to South Africa. 

If you’re in Ireland, this is one of the coolest sources I’ve seen for children. It’s a series of magazine publications designed for children to learn about birds. 

This is a good age to help children remember the names of less common birds. They could begin to draw parallels and differences between the birds they see at home and on holiday. Consider making checklists of likely-to-see and rare-finds for these young birders, or, have them compose lists of what they see. Holiday bird lists, backyard bird lists, and of course life lists!

10-14 years

This is a wonderful age to introduce children to group birding. Many birding associations host young birder groups. It’s a fun way to learn about birds and make friends. The science of biodiversity starts to become more interesting at this point, so introduce concepts to youngsters based on their interests and questions. Help them with the intricacies of using a bird book and have them hazard informed guesses before looking up birds they aren’t familiar with.

If there are no birding groups near you, why not make one? You can limit the size of the group, and meeting outside makes this a fun and relatively safe option in these times of COVID-19.  It is, after all, a contactless sport! (Please check regulations in your area before organizing any group events, and consider the safety of those involved.) 

Useful resources for young birders online:

Explore your local library or visit their website. There are some amazing resources out there for adults and kids alike. Here are a few of my favourite birdwatching resources which your children might have a bit of fun with. Some have been mentioned in the article above. While these are specific to regions, you may wish to check them all out and see what you can come up.

General craft

Create a birdfeeder

Make some bird watching binoculars

 

The UK

Bird song resources

Some garden games

 

Ireland

A series of e-zine publications for children about various aspects of birding

 

South Africa

A field guide for kids!

 

Canada:

https://thebackyardnaturalist.com/wordpress/portfolio-items/junior-birders/

https://www.birdscanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2018-Junior-Birder-Guide-EN.pdf

 

USA

https://floridabirdingtrail.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/WOF_teacher.pdf

https://floridabirdingtrail.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/jr_booklet_sig.pdf

https://thebackyardnaturalist.com/wordpress/portfolio-items/junior-birders/

 

Birding will open your children’s worlds to the natural world. You may find the next David Attenborough amongst them, or perhaps the next ornithologist. My guess is you will help develop someone interested in the beauty of nature and our wonderful world of BIRDS.

 

References

(2020). EU Bioversity Strategy for 2030 and associated action plan. Brussels.

 

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Topics: kids