The other afternoon I was drawing in a coloring book with my five-year-old. Coming across a page asking us to draw a sparrow perched on a pole, Annabel looked at me with a funny expression and said, “What’s a sparrow?”
The bells went off. Teachable moment. Time to learn about the birds.
Not being able to identify a sparrow is not an eco-crime, but it is an indication that we might need to spend a little more time teaching our kids to appreciate nature because it is the first step towards getting them to be good stewards of the environment. The more familiar we are with all the creatures with whom we share this earth, the more likely we will develop a conscience about how our actions impact the world around us. And, better yet, she wanted to know what a sparrow was!
First, we visited the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All about Birds site. Annabel loved all the different sounds. We listened carefully to the Chirping Sparrow and to the variations of whistles, trills and flutelike songs of other types of birds. She particularly liked the Northern Mockingbird. Then we watched the how-to Bird Watching videos where we learned basic tips like looking at the size and shape of birds, color patterns and carefully observing their behavior. We took a bird quiz on the Great Backyard Bird Count site. I scored only 25 out of 38. Clearly it is not just the five-year-old in this house who needs help identifying birds.
Putting Our Knowledge To Work:
Now that we had our ornithological instincts finely-tuned, we grabbed our binoculars and headed to the park. We brought along a little notebook to start a bird journal. And my daughter used my phone to snap shots of the birds around the playground.
She thought it would be a good idea to print the pictures out and paste them into the journal. We saw lots of sparrows but didn’t get a good picture of one. But we found one on the Internet. As we walked, we found nests, watched sparrows taking dust baths, robins gathering food, and we stood mesmerized listening to a Cedar Waxwing in a tree having a long conversation with another bird. My daughter’s keen eyes paid particular attention to the colors of the birds. She would run from one bird to the next saying. “That one is orange. That one has a brown tummy.”
We'll Keep Watching!
As we headed home, my daughter suggested that we come back again and take pictures of the different kinds of dogs we see in the park. We also talked about signing up for the Project Feeder watch in the fall and becoming “citizen scientists.” It is a winter-long survey of birds. You count the birds you see and send the data into the scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Bird Studies Canada who track the movements of the bird and bird population. Sounds like a plan.
Happy Bird Watching!
Francesca Olivieri is co-founder of sage baby, an online eco-friendly baby store offering everything from organic clothes and skin care to furniture. She also runs a green consulting business; blogs for The Family Groove and Scenic Hudson; and contributes to Daily Candy Kids, YogaCity, Citiscoop, and NRDC’s Simple Steps. Please visit her website at FrancescaOlivieri.com.