Birding with Children: A Rewarding Change of Pace

By: Lindsey Hernandez, Travis Audubon Volunteer

“Do you see it?” I asked my three-year-old son.

“Where?” he asked as he turned his head all the directions a stroller would allow.

“It’s right there.” I knelt down to his height and pointed a straight line to the Great Blue Heron standing seven feet from us.

Several times a week, I walk on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake with my three-year-old son Mordecai and one-year-old daughter Kateri. Not only do we go because it’s a nice place to walk, but we go for glimpses of wildlife, especially the birds.

“Yes! Yes, I see it. It’s waaayyy big!” he yells with a huge smile.

At this moment, my one-year-old daughter, strapped to my chest in a carrier, squealed, startling the Great Blue Heron. She had found her own bird of interest – a Great-tailed Grackle bathing in a small puddle of water near my feet.

Mordy stared at the tall bird perched on a dock on the south shore of the lake. The bird is at least a foot taller than him.

“What is he doing, Mom? Is he looking for something? Is he going to fly way up high in the sky?” Mordy begins a series of questions, all about this beautiful bird, asking them more quickly than I can respond.

Kateri, though, is still taken with the Great-tailed Grackle, and though I’ve seen this bird thousands of times, the bird is striking with the deep violets and blues of its plumage glinting in the sun. The bird fans its wings and lifts its beak in the air, the light gleaming off its iridescent feathers. She giggles as she watches it dip its beak in the water and splash water with its feathers.

Both children get louder in their enthusiasm as they watch the birds, and quick enough, their loud questions and squeals send the birds flying away and we continue to walk the boardwalk, looking for any bit of wildlife that catches our eye. Shortly, two Green Herons fly to a rest in a lush tree, so nicely camouflaged only I was able to see them. Mordy’s interest was waning and snacks were running low, so we began to head home.

This is what happens on a good day of incidental birding with my children. A beautiful bird comes in view, Mordy is able to see it, possibly identify it, and discuss the bird. Kateri, meanwhile, finds her own bird of interest. Then, when we get home, Mordy and I will take out the books to identify some questionable birds or learn more about the birds we saw.

But this is good day. Other days, the only bird that will interest my son is one “working” at a construction site. Or the kids are too loud for any bird to stay in place for long. Birding with small children, like doing most things with small children, requires a change in expectation. While I’m out with my children I won’t be ratcheting up my eBird stats. I won’t be able to closely listen to any one bird. And I won’t be able to stay out for as long as I’m comfortable. Once these changes are accepted, though, birding with small children can be some of the most fun and rewarding birding. It gives the chance to look at all birds with awe, appreciation, and squeals of joy.

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