By Christina VanGinkel
Introducing young children to bird watching can lead to a life long love of this fascinating hobby. In order to make sure that they are not overwhelmed with the technical end of things, introduce them to the idea with just the simplest of tools, a decent pair of binoculars, and a book identifying the local birds. A notebook to record their sightings and thoughts can also be given, providing them with an outlet for the birds they do see. Best yet, these are all the tools they will ever need. Bird watching does not require many expensive or complicated tools to start or continue.
Actually, besides the binoculars, a book to identify the birds they see, and a notebook to jot down the birds they wish to keep track of, the only other thing I can think of that they might want or need is an adult to go with them, especially when they venture outside of their own backyard. You can also bring along your own pair of binoculars, and who knows, you might just discover a love of bird watching yourself!
I heard or read somewhere else that one of the saddest facts about our children's education is that they often learn about the birds and wildlife of other countries through school, but often lack knowledge about what is in their very own backyards. The hobby of bird watching is such that it solves that dilemma, by awakening in kids the interest of what bird life is right out their very own back door. If you are knowledgeable about even a few of the birds that land on your feeders, start by getting them interested in those birds. Look them up together in a book that identifies the birds, and read about where the bird lives, what they eat, how they nest, how many and when they hatch their young, and often much more details than even those. If you happen to live along any migration route where geese or other birds travel, spring is a good time to catch site of those too. Again, a book identifying the facts of the bird's migration can be more interesting than you ever realized. If any local groups host artificial nesting platforms, those can also be fun for the kids to check out and learn about.
A few good books to choose for any budding bird watcher include:
Backyard Bird Identification Guide
Backyard Bird Identification Guide (T.F.H. Wild Birds Series), by Jerry G. Walls is a field guide in an easy to carry size, that tells the bird watcher what to look for, common bird families, and how to identify over 90 of the most common birds, with over 120 photos to help illustrate what to look for.
Backyard Bird Watching for Kids: How to Attract, Feed, and Provide Homes for Birds
Backyard Bird Watching for Kids: How to Attract, Feed, and Provide Homes for Birds, by George H. Harrison and Kit Harrison, is ideal for the child, ages 8 – 14, who is going to start exploring the hobby of bird watching in their own backyard, and will continue on just in their backyards at least for a while. It will help them attract and keep a variety of birds that they might otherwise not have the opportunity to see. It touches onto other subjects too, such as photographing the birds that do stop by, and includes a log to keep track of the birds that they do see. The book is somewhat limited as to the variety of birds it lists, but it is a great book to start with.
If you cannot find either of these, look for one that is fully illustrated, to help make the identification process as fun and easy as possible. Also, consider an identification guide that offers a look at birds local to your specific area. I remember when my daughter was younger; we found a book that was all about birds native to the state of Wisconsin, which was where we lived.
If your child enjoys this hobby, consider heading out with them to a local park or zoological center to see if they can identify any other bird species besides those that you uncover in your own backyard. Even somewhere such as a public park, due to being home to different species of trees and plants, may offer a much wider range of birds than those you can find easily at home.