My eight-year-old stills talks about the great blue heron he saw landing on a pond near our house last week. The kids know spring is on the horizon when we spot the red-winged blackbirds near the marsh. And we all tilt our heads to the sky to watch a majestic bald eagle in flight.
I never expected to raise kids who watched birds. My father is an avid birdwatcher; technically he is as “master birder.” My brother and I lovingly refer to him as the “Bird Nerd.” I tolerated bird watching a
a child, but it did have its benefits. Not all interesting birds are found in the backyard, so we travelled to some exotic locales to see species like the three-wattled bellbird.
When we moved into our house, my husband and I decided to place a birdfeeder just outside our kitchen
window. We could eat at the kitchen table and watch our feathered friends enjoy a meal, too. We tried to keep the feeder filled, but many days I would glance out at an empty feeder. The arrival of children magically changed my attention to the feeder. I realized I was pointing out the common birds to my babies. Naming the black-capped chickadee, the white-breasted nuthatch. Explaining the difference between the male and female American goldfinch. Oh my. Apparently I’d learned a thing or two from my Dad!
And so began my journey to share the beauty of birds with my children. We aren’t perfect about keeping the feeders full, but the kids notice when the birds are hungry and remind us that the feeders are empty. We always look into the marshy corner of the pond for “our” great blue heron as we merge onto Highway 52. And, I don’t hesitate to point out the Canada geese flying in a V formation while stopped at a red light.
How do you know what bird you’re looking at?
Birds of Minnesota, Field Guide by Stan Tekiela is a great resource to help guide you and your family whether in the backyard or in a field or a forest.
So where should all of this birdwatching take place?
Hand a toddler a pair of binoculars, and he’ll watch anything, anywhere. You never have to leave the yard, especially if you add a bird feeder to lure the birds to you. But when you’re ready to venture beyond the yard, SE Minnesota has some great family field trip opportunities.
If you want to learn from the experts, the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society is your best local contact. Most of their educational opportunities take place at Quarry Hill Nature Center, which is also an ideal location for wandering trails at your family’s own pace. Or there are family-friendly bird walks each month. Stay for the entire walk, or call it quits when your kids have had enough.
Looking for a day trip with a bird theme?
The International Owl Center in Houston is an easy drive just south of Rochester. Their first owl program is at 11:00 a.m. Arrive at opening (10:00 a.m.) and you can view all of their exhibits first, including a scavenger hunt, before the program begins. The perfect addition to the day is a trip to Lanesboro!
The National Eagle Center in Wabasha is a great facility with daily eagle programming and an entire building of eagle exhibits, including a giant eagle’s nest! Plus you’ll have a chance to view eagles in their natural habitat along the Mississippi River. You can extend your day by heading north to Lake City before heading home!
I’ve learned that birdwatching is really just quiet observation. I’m simply teaching my children to notice the world around them. Whether we are in the yard, on a walk, or in the car, birds create opportunities for an awareness of our surroundings.