Basics for Birding with Kids

By: Jeannine Marshall, Travis Audubon Master Birder

Perhaps you are interested in introducing the birding hobby you enjoy to a young child. I would encourage you to go for it! First of all, any trip to the outdoors is a fun adventure for a child, and will naturally be a learning experience. You are almost certain to hear and see birds. As a teacher with experience leading small groups of children on walks, I can pass on a few things that help to make the experience both educational and fun.

To begin with, kids are naturally curious, so all you have to say is, “Let’s go bird watching!” But before you run outside, or drive to a park, sit down with them indoors to introduce the binoculars for a practice session. Allow a little play time because it is a new “toy” and lots of fun for the first time. Show where the focus knob is and how to adjust for both eyes. Show how to protect them by using the neck strap. I bought some for my Green Team kids at school from Amazon. They are rubber-coated, lightweight, and have a wrist strap, which is safer. They are made for kids and cost around $30. You can add a beginner bird field guide or laminated tri-fold version featuring local birds. Practice focusing on indoor objects, modelling how to use your eyes to follow a moving bird, then lifting the binoculars back up to your eyes and focusing again.

Allowing practice time will ensure better success during the more challenging walk to come.

Also, while at home, introduce a few species you are most likely to encounter. Show pictures of males and females, play the bird calls, and discuss how it is best to walk slowly, and listening quietly (ha ha, this is the most challenging part for kids). Take a notebook and pencil to record your sightings. Kids love to collect things, and keeping a list still has me hooked as an adult. I wish I had started mine at age 10!

Most importantly, know before you go that the actual bird-watching time will be very short at first. Little hands have trouble holding binoculars steady, but think about how everything we do well takes practice and repetition. Celebrate your sightings together with high-fives! Impart your knowledge as you go along, and remember that kids like to share what they know with you too. That’s a big part of learning.

Finally, if you’ve read this and don’t have a young person in your life to mentor, consider going on an Audubon hike for kids and beginners. While it may not be the quietest birding you’ll do, it might be the most rewarding!

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