Fostering kids’ interest in nature through bird watching at home
Bird watching is often thought of as something for older people or those who like a bit of quiet and time to themselves. But it’s been one of the little positives since lockdown 1 and working from home. And it’s been a good way to get N more knowledgeable about British birds that aren’t involved directly with farming.
When I was a child I was part of BBOWT’s WATCH nature group in our area. We did lots of nature based activities:
- Went away for a weekend nature study trip elsewhere in the county
- Sunday morning walks around the nature reserve.
- Got involved with local conservation activities
- Went to talks and activity evenings – corn dolly making and crayfishing
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It was great fun and something I could do without my mum dragging my brother out too, as it was all run formally by group leaders. I was pretty knowledgeable back then about everything British wildlife based. I even wowed a guy running a butterfly identification competition at a visit somewhere once, age 8.
My recognition is terrible nowadays. Dredging the back of my mind for what I remember about trees, butterflies, birds and insects. But I’m more appalled by N’s lack of knowledge considering he’s out and about on the farm so much. While we also usually go out for day trips, we don’t really do just walks, and he’s never been interested in learning about animals from books or documentaries like I used to.
So putting seeds and fat balls back in the bird feeders in March was a great way to enjoy bird watching, (get distracted from work and school work sometimes), and to teach N more about the birds we have at home.
Obviously we weren’t the only people to do this because buying bird seed online wasn’t easy. Usually I’d buy from a local greengrocer who tends to sell a variety of bags, but with lockdown we weren’t really travelling out their way when going for food.
What we’ve been feeding the birds
In the past we’ve made fat balls ourselves, which went down well, but we tended to get too many starlings taking over from the smaller birds. So we gave up on those. Buying them was better in getting more birds, but they demolished them so quickly, I couldn’t keep up with refilling them. You also need wire/open feeders, and that definitely attracts larger more bullying birds, so we moved back to plastic tubes and seeds only.
We have a real mix of garden birds visiting us through the seasons so I generally buy a bird seed mix. Sometimes I’ll buy nuts and other individual seed bags, and will just top up the feeders with a different order of seeds in turn to keep them mixed up.
Which garden birds visit
Being on farmland, we have a real mix, and over the fields even more that don’t come to the garden. We do watch out for birds of prey as we do get buzzards, the odd red kite and sparrowhawk. And there’s a barn owl somewhere nearby. We’ve even had a buzzard try and swoop down to the feeder, but luckily missed taking the bird on it. Pheasants are numerous, plus the usual rooks and some crows, the occasional magpie. And the odd starling comes and goes.
Unsurprisingly we get a lot of sparrows. Quite a few great tits, and a couple of robins. The blackbirds mainly stay at the front of the house where there’s a pile of rotten decaying apples from the trees near the hedge. Over the summer and early autumn we had chaffinches and goldfinches, but we’ve not seen more than one of each this winter.
We’ve also had a few more unusual birds appear. A greater spotted woodpecker and a green woodpecker. We also have a jay which I’d never seen before and got excited about. Until I found out they like to steal baby birds from nests. Thankfully it seems to be staying around the front where the blackbirds aren’t so scared, but the jay terrorises the other smaller birds, so I’d be glad if it left.
I’ve also been trying to work out a mystery bird which was more speckly than a blackbird. After finally managing to get a photo where I could see the details, and another of a similar looking bird, I’ve worked out we also have redwings and fieldfares. I’ve not seen as many as I’d expect to see together but maybe the others aren’t brave enough to come out and about. I’m not surprised with one of the dogs around. Luckily the farm cats don’t usually come up as far as our garden, otherwise we’d see a lot fewer around.
Every year we get migrating returning birds like house martins and swifts. A nightmare to get photos of as they’re always flying – more practice at fast photography needed. I need to set myself up a little photo hide in the garden because they won’t come near once I’ve opened up the patio door to take photos out of. I’m looking forward to seeing those again this summer when they arrive.
We get a good variety, and it’s nice to see new ones arrive each season, and find their place around the feeders or in the garden.
Mostly they muck along together. In the past the robin who’s come has been aggressive, but the ones this year are fine with the sparrows.
I’m pleased that N’s knowledge is increasing. He spotted the return of the green woodpecker this year, and he recognises most of those in the garden now. He’s also a bit more interested in wildlife documentaries on tv (and not just the ones with funny commentary voiceovers!). So there’s hope that his knowledge will continue to grow.
Next step is trees and butterflies. We’ve plenty of the latter on the farm in the summer months, so a trip to the overgrown weed/flower area behind the barns will be needed to expand his knowledge there.
Tips on encouraging children’s interest in nature:
- Make your own fat balls or bird feed to put out
- Scavenger hunts – for different ages, try spotting different leaves, flowers, habitats or clues
- Add talking about wildlife and nature when out and about
- Have a bug hotel or butterfly garden area in your garden
- Visit conservation parks or nature reserves for walks
- Join a local group or activity session through local wildlife groups
- Make wildlife bingo boards and play the game
- Join in with national bird or butterfly count challenges
- Visit a butterfly farm
- Go pond dipping
- Get I-Spy books* on nature or wildlife themes.
- Set them photography challenges
How have you introduced your children to nature? Do you have garden birds visiting?
I loved this, it took me right back to my childhood. I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club as a child and I loved birdwatching. Sadly, my kids have never really been that interested but I still love spotting different birds when we are out and about.
They used to do some great nature groups back then. They still have them but I guess it’s harder for in person with all the DBS checks etc and competing against other activities/technology. I’m was pretty appalled by N’s lack of knowledge considering we live with fields surrounding us.
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