Have you ever stopped to think that many kids know the names of animals commonly found in zoos, but not the names of the birds that live in their own backyards? With so much of today’s youth turning to technology for their source of entertainment and spending hours staring at screens, it’s no wonder that kids aren’t spending nearly the same amount of time outside exploring nature as they have in the past. Get them in touch with the outdoors and let them fall in love with birds!
Birding for children, especially toddlers, is very different than it is for adults. Kids are naturally very curious and imaginative, but also lack the same level of patience that you do, so the more creative you can make birding for them, the better. Since young kids are very hands-on, help them make a simple feeder by using a pinecone with peanut butter and rolling it in birdseed. Attach a colorful string and tie it to a nearby tree branch in view of a window so that kids can watch whether or not they’re outside. As birds begin to come to the feeder, now is the perfect time to start with the backyard basics—pigeon, crow, magpie, robin, etc. Once your children learn that all birds aren’t simply called “bird”, it’ll become a game for them to point out and identify these different species.
As both a birder and an adult, you already know that birds are hard to spot, but easy to hear. With this in mind, taking kids to an area near water will likely yield more sightings and better opportunities to point out species like ducks, geese, swans and herons. If you’re having a hard time spotting anything, don’t let your kids become discouraged. Instead, point out tell-tale signs that birds have recently been in the area, such as whitewash, cracked seeds, feathers, or nests.
Once you start taking them on more regular birding trips, be sure to supply them with a simple pair of children’s binoculars, snacks for the journey and a birding journal of their own. For older children, Moleskine notebooks hold up great outdoors, while for younger children you can opt for a free printable book instead. Armed with markers, colored pencils and pens, let your kids sketch out and jot down anything they find interesting along the way.
One of the most important things to remember when getting your kids interested in birding is that they might not be interested—and that’s okay. Don’t focus solely on birds while you’re out and about. Other wildlife or even an interesting looking rock or pebble might be the highlight of their trip. Kids are fascinated by nature, so while a bird might not be the focal point of every birding trip, unplugging and spending time outside should be. However, if they do take an avid interest, we highly recommend enrolling them in a young birder’s club, as this is a great opportunity for them to meet other young birders and continue to learn more about the many fascinating species we share our planet and our own backyards with.