Pacific Northwest Birds for Kids
January 22, 2022
A review by Bryony Angell
Look at That Bird!: A Young Naturalist’s Guide to Pacific Northwest Birding, by Karen DeWitz
Sasquatch Books, 2021
224 pages, paperback
If you’re a kid interested in birds, you’re in luck. Birding has exploded as a pastime in the U.S. and Canada for both adults and children, and authors are responding to the interest with books for practically every age level and birding region.
Karen DeWitz’s new book, Look at That Bird!: A Young Naturalist’s Guide to Pacific Northwest Birding, fills an age niche for which she saw a gap in the market: kids ages 9 to 12. DeWitz knows this age group well. As a former middle school teacher, and now full-time photographer and author, natural history was a focus of her teaching to tweens, and it shows in her upbeat, conversational, and photo-filled book.
When I was a kid getting into birding, I relied on the old standbys developed for adult birders: illustrated field guides with maps and language designed for seasoned adult birders. While I made do at the time and eventually grew to understand these guides, it never dawned on me that such a book could be redeveloped for a kid reader to be easier to follow as a beginner birder. DeWitz aspired to fill this need to meet kids where they are now in order to capture their interest in birds.
“I was motivated because I didn’t see a book for this age group,” DeWitz shared over the phone. “I wanted to create a foundation that was easy to read with fun facts, and that was also a field guide for birds most readily seen where [kids] live.” Having photographed birds for years, she had a voluminous collection of photos to draw from when developing her book.
She was also filling a vacuum for kids birding books for a region not yet well represented: the Pacific Northwest—also known as Cascadia—of the continental U.S. and British Columbia. As a resident of Oregon, she knows Pacific Northwest birds well and purposely included birds found throughout the region, not all specific to her area. So while Wrentits are charming birds you might see in Oregon, they didn’t make it to this book because they are not present throughout the region. “I wanted kids to be able to easily identify any bird they might see that occurs in the areas covered by the book,” she said. So you will see similar small birds like chickadees and Bushtits instead.
To that end, this attractive soft cover book introduces the reader to birds in two parts: It begins with an introduction to basic bird facts and identification tips and then merges into a beautiful photo-illustrated field guide for over 50 commonly seen birds in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. Photos and descriptions accompany each bird, but not maps since the book is both specific and general for a region. Throughout the book DeWitz includes blurbs about conservation, community science, attracting birds to your yard, and resources to check out like eBird, all in kid-approachable language that might inspire respect for birds and wildlife. “I hope kids who pick this up will go on to be bird advocates,” she said.
As for the target kid, this book is best for a child already showing interest in wild birds. I can’t promise the book will convert a tween in your orbit whose passion for birding is more your wishful thinking than the kid’s true direction. My own son, a bird-indifferent 11-year-old, looked at me incredulously when I asked him to give the book a look-through. But for the kid already there, the book is visually stunning, and hits all the marks for what a 9- to 12-year-old has grown to expect from a soft science introductory title: gorgeous and abundant images, scientific accuracy that’s relatably conveyed, chatty and sometimes goofily humorous text, and pacing that is scannable, easy to revisit, and not reliant on reading everything in order.
Several other similarly photo-heavy titles are already available for kids in this age group that more generally cover North American birds, and lean toward East Coast birds, as DeWitz observed.
National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America, Second Edition, by Jonathan Alderfer follows the National Geo Kids magazine and book visual formula of colorful photos and eye-catching graphic design containing species vital facts with a few zany “Did you know?” blurbs for commonly seen birds throughout North America.
Audubon Birding Adventures for Kids: Activities and Ideas for Watching, Feeding, and Housing Our Feathered Friends, by Elissa Ruth Wolfson and Margaret A. Barker, published by Cool Springs Press, has a continental focus as well as suggested indoor and outdoor activities for kids for attracting birds and supporting their conservation.
But regional representation is growing! The Kids' Guide to Birds, by Stan Tekiela, published by Birding Children’s Books, includes titles on California, Florida, Michigan, and Texas among other states in a state-specific series of birding books for kids.
As part of a greater collection for a bird-interested kid who’s living in or visiting the Cascadia part of North America, Look at that Bird! is a solid building block toward understanding and respecting local birds. Having encountered this book in the limited field of age-targeted birding titles, I appreciate even more what a locally focused book can do to make birds and their conservation relevant for a budding kid birder.
Bryony Angell writes about birding culture for Audubon.org, Birding magazine, and as a columnist for Bird Watcher's Digest. Her work highlights lesser-known voices in the human side of the birding world, especially the voices of women. You can read more at her website: bryonyangell.com.
This book will be a great gift for my friends boys who are always out hiking and camping with their parents in the Pacific Northwest. I will present each of them with gift bags with this book, binoculars, small notebooks, pencils and snacks for an adventurous day.