In my nine years as a parent, I’ve come away with a universal observation: Children like to collect things. My sons specifically like to collect information. I marvel at how the kindergartener absorbs every stat and bit of trivia surrounding each kooky character in the Pokémon, Marvel, and Star Wars universes. Birds can be the real-life channel for the same collective obsession, especially because there are so many free and inexpensive ways to inspire little avian lovers. Here are four I’ve picked up on while raising my kids in Brooklyn, New York.
Start at the library. There's a huge selection of kids’ bird books at our local library, and we’ve borrowed them all. My five-year-old loves learning about new species. He absorbs every fact and takes great pride in sharing the information with any adult who crosses his path.
Embrace everyday birds. While they often seem invisible to adults, everyday birds can be magic for children. Watching a sparrow give itself a dust bath is a joy that, to my kids, is as thrilling as any rare sighting. And it’s not just sparrows: The avian population in cities can be just as diverse as the people.
Invest in a feeder. No yard? No problem. I don't have my own lawn space, but I have a stoop and trees on my block. Anyone can hang a bird feeder on the fire escape or a branch out front (if your landlord permits it, of course). Suction-cup window feeders might also do the trick.
Keep track of local events. My sons love dissecting owl pellets at our Audubon center, which regularly offers kids' programs. Raptors are a strong draw, too; seeing them up close is an unforgettable experience. These activities tend to be free, just like most small-scale birding walks.
Foster creativity. I sometimes wonder if my kindergartner's passion for birds has done more for his education than school. He's practically willing himself to write just so he can fill out his bird log. He spends hours copying pictures of avians, so I found several drawing books to encourage them.
Over the last few years, birding has endlessly absorbed both my children. Some kids take to birds like fish to water. All you need to do is turn on the faucet.
Three More Ways to Get Your Family Birding
Participate in 'Celebrate Urban Birds': This fun and interactive project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology aims to reach diverse birders from preschool age on up. It offers species-ID tools and supports local art, gardening, and science events.
Join a young birders club: Founded in Ohio, these groups, usually for birders between the ages of 8 and 19, are now spreading across the nation. If there isn’t one in your community, talk to your teen about starting one through school, 4-H, or your local Audubon chapter.
Get involved with community science: Birding ventures that ask and answer scientific questions can fuel inquisitive young minds. Options include the Big Sit! in October, Project FeederWatch in winter, and the Great Backyard Bird Count in February. —Jason “The Birdnerd” St. Sauver, community education director, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center