Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fledging a Child into Bird Watching

Within a week of setting up a new bird feeder, birds will begin to show up. Especially in inclement weather, the feeder will likely be very busy.  Watching the birds come and go - what a great rainy day activity! 

As birds begin to show up, a need-to-know arises.  What species are these birds? Do male and female birds look alike?
What do immature birds look like? It is now time to get a field guide. Not only does this resource teach about the different kinds of birds, but also teaches the concept of seeking answers through research.  Of course, the Internet is a great immediate resource, but nothing beats a well organized, pictorial field guide. Time to go shopping again. Take the child to look through bird books. The books listed on this site are only a sprinkling of those available. http://www.birderslibrary.com/features/childrens-bird-books.htm  The library may be the next stop on the bird-book outing. Reading stories about birds is a great way for a young birder to develop a relationship with the little creatures. What child doesn't enjoy a good story?
With a field guide on hand, it is time to look at the birds more closely. The matching game begins. Find the picture of the bird that looks like the one at the feeder. Field guides provide pictures of both the male and the female and sometimes, images of the immature bird. 

Most often, when species arrive at the feeder, there will be the presence of both males and females. Notably, the males have brighter colors than the female. The Purple Finch above are a very obvious example of how different the male and female present. The Pine Siskin is a little more subtle.  The male has more bold splashes of yellow on the wings than the female. Can the child pick out the males at the feeder?
The Dark-eyed Junco is likely to be among the first to arrive at the feeder.  The adult wears a dark gray suit of feathers and has a contrasting white belly.  Seems easy, but then Summer ushers in a whole to new look on the young of this species.  For a while, the junco looks a lot like a sparrow.
Then, if you are lucky, there may be some very special species show up at the feeder, like this Red Crossbill that frequents the Barrett's feeder in Goulds.
In fact, many great species visit their feeders such as the White-throated Sparrow. The surrounding woods and quiet setting hasten these occurences.  Not all of us are so lucky.
However, in August the young warblers  begin  to show up in back yards.  The presents of other birds like the finches and juncos seem to attract the little birds to the area.  Just this week, I have been lucky enough to have a Black and White Warbler, Yellow Warblers, Blackpoll Warbler and Northern Waterthrush just appear. As I write this, I can hardly sit here, because there is a Blackpoll and a Yellow Warbler flitting around my yard with the Purple Finches.
The color and variety of warblers will grab the attention of most children. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes.  The more a child can watch you flip through the field guide looking to match the birds in the yard with the birds in the pictures, vicarious learning will occur. In no time, they will see a bird and go to the book to model your behaviour.
This little Yellow Warbler did everything but fly in through my patio door. It explored every area of the yard, the flag pole, the patio umbrella, etc.  What fun! Some have actually experienced a little bird getting into the house when opening the door to see all of the activity. That can be a bit of a challenge.
Numerous bird-related, rainy-day activities can spring from a visit from a bird.  Computer activities, drawing or coloring, story-book reading and so much more. Developing a child's curiosity and appreaciation for birds is all about opportunity, creativity and learning. It is very important, however, to watch for signs of sessional saturation.  When the child is done, s/he is done.  Look for another chance to begin stacking new information onto previous learning. Learning will occur when the child is ready.  To push that is to risk making a fun activity seem like work. A good activity at the end of a learning session is to top up the feeder. Keep the birds coming.

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