Did you know that the birds you see in your yard, your neighbourhood and your parks are the same individuals day after day? I grew up thinking that birds were random. They can fly anywhere, can’t they? Well, it turns out most don’t. They have their home “turf” and regular travelling routes just like we do. Even migratory birds return year after year to the same neighbourhoods. You may have suspected this if you have a unique bird in your yard—one that has a particular white feather, is missing a toe or buzzes you while you are in the garden. As it turns out, most birds show strong site loyalty—returning again and again to the same places. Acknowledging birds as individuals made me think about my actions and their impact on these amazing feathered animals.
You may have seen the headlines. Somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the world’s bird population has been lost in the last 70 years or so. How did we let this happen without even noticing? It’s easy to see the clearcuts in the forests, and we know about our fishing and other resource industries, but the loss of wild birds is unintentional. If we aren’t deliberately harming them, is there anything we can do to ensure there are still lots of birds in our children’s future? In short, yes!
Most children are naturally drawn to birds. They can fly, after all! Whether it’s being followed by a flock of ducks at a local pond or watching a robin with a beak full of earthworms flying back to its nest, bird behaviour is something most children already notice. Here are some things you and your children can enjoy together that will build on their interest, and could ultimately lead to caring about and protecting birds:
Create a bird-friendly environment: A garden with native berry or seed-bearing plants and nectar-producing flowers will provide both food and shelter for birds. Bird feeders and water sources can also be a part of a bird-friendly garden but require regular cleaning and maintenance. If you do choose to have a feeder, ensure that it is very near your windows, or very far away to minimize the risk of fatal window collisions.
Learn your local bird names: Famed artist Robert Bateman and ornithologist Kenn Kaufman have both pointed out that knowing the names of plants and animals in our neighbourhoods fundamentally changes the way we think about them. A few to look up that are in almost every island neighbourhood are American Robin, Northern Flicker, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco and Spotted Towhee. And those hawks on the lamp posts on the highway? Most of them are Red-tailed Hawks.
Gamify the experience: Pokémon Go and birding are incredibly similar. Free apps like eBird can provide a list of birds you are likely to find in your area, and you can track all of them that you find. Here is a great place to start: tinyurl.com/capitalchecklist. The free Merlin app can help you learn to identify birds by their songs!
Attend family-friendly bird events: Organizations such as Rocky Point Bird Observatory, Victoria Natural History Society, Naturehood, Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary, NatureKids, the Gorge Waterway Nature House and the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre welcome children and have several child and family-focused events each year. Visit a bird banding station, go on field trips, participate in Victoria Bird Week, World Migratory Bird Day and the Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids)!
Encourage responsible behaviour: Teach children to enjoy the birds without disturbing them or their nests. Walking around a flock of birds instead of running through them will allow them to feed and rest after a long migration flight. Keeping our pets under control so that they do not chase or catch the birds is important for their health and safety.
Getting your children started on an interest in birds can encourage empathy, responsibility and stewardship for wild birds and the environment. Enjoying the birds together can deepen the bond between parents (or grandparents) and children and help foster a generation that cares about the natural world. Before you know it, your kids will be teaching you about the birds!