This year I was asked to lead a bird walk at a local hummingbird festival in Colorado Springs. I stood outside by the vendors, where people were selling artwork, hummingbird feeders, and knickknacks for your yard. I realized my group was going to be very small. In fact, no one had arrived yet for the bird walk. A family with two children walked by and I asked them if they would be interested in a bird walk around the nature center trail. “Sponsored by the American Birding Association”, I added, hoping to peak curiosity. The little girl replied with excitement, “Sure!”
Right away she began relating experiences of the wildlife around her house. We found a flock of Pygmy Nuthatches and I handed her my binoculars. After looking, she handed them to her brother. “They are so small!” he said enthusiastically.
I do not have much experience mentoring younger children in birding, but I know from this one instance that they can be very excited about the natural world around them. There is something thrilling in seeing the flashy yellow patches of a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and then learning how to use binoculars to bring it in closer.
Young birder programs are a budding enterprise. Although the ABA offers a few for birders around the country, there are other programs offered in local communities. Many of these programs are offered to younger children rather than youth, but they are great opportunities to mentor the next generation and encourage a fascination for the natural world. One such fledgling program, the Sonoma Valley Audubon Christmas Bird Count for Kids, had its kick-off last holiday season. The bird count was developed as a result of the overwhelming participation by children in past bird counts. The program not only allowed children to participate, but trained them in how to use binoculars and the basics of bird identification. The count was attended by 34 enthusiastic children.
Already, a few programs have sprouted as a result of the Christmas Bird Count for Kids, including a Summer Bird Camp for Kids and a Birdathon for Kids. Veronica Bowers of Madrone Audubon, one of the organizations that made the Christmas Bird Count for Kids possible, hopes that other communities in the U.S. will begin their own Christmas Bird Count for Kids.* Such programs require a lot of time and assistance, but in many places there are older birders willing to help. Even taking one child, perhaps a younger sibling, nature watching can be enough to give them a profound respect and awe for the wildlife in their area and around the world. And this is the ultimate goal, to develop an awareness of and desire to preserve Earth’s profound beauty.
For more information on the Christmas Bird Count for Kids, contact Tom Rusert, [email protected]com
* Rusert, Tom. "Kids Count: Audubon’s First CBC for Kids Launches in California’s Sonoma Valley." American Birds. Pp. 14-16.