Tips on Bird-Watching With Children
Getting Them Started at an Early Age!
For most “birders,” as they are known, one of the top reasons they go birding is to get other people interested in birds. You probably didn’t know that. Watching wild feathered friends is exponentially more rewarding when shared with our human friends, especially young children just beginning to develop their appreciation of the outdoors.
And here’s a tip – you don’t even have to be able to identify birds yourself. The fun comes from spending time together and just talking about everything you see. Actual species identification can come along later.
A little bit of planning and preparation ahead of time will certainly pay off when you are on your bird-watching excursion with a child.
• Look at pictures of birds you see in your backyard or neighborhood – or look at the birds themselves, of course. Practice describing, drawing and coloring them.
• If you have some children’s binoculars, or are considering purchasing them, be sure to practice using them at home. Eyes of every age need time to get used to peering through those tubes.
• If you don’t have children’s binoculars, make a pair with a couple of toilet paper rolls, or other cardboard tubes. Believe it or not, they will help the child’s eyes focus on a target species, whether bird or bug.
• Of course, pack up some snacks and liquids, and insect repellent if necessary. Also bring a note pad for drawing and describing.
• Select a destination where you are virtually guaranteed to see birds – the bigger the birds, the better – and expect your visit to last no more than an hour. There is a list of some places in and near the Highlands region to find big birds – like hawks, herons and ducks – later in this article.
When you arrive, get the lay of the land and give your young companion a job to do, whether carrying a field guide or note pad. It may not last long, but it gives a sense of purpose. And whenever you spot a new kind of bird, stop and talk about it! What color is it? How big is it? What makes it different from the last one? How many different kinds have we seen so far? Does it remind you of something else? You will be surprised and entertained by what you hear.
It is also fun to help kids learn how to describe exactly where a bird is located. Where on the ground is it? What other things are on the ground near it? If it’s in a tree, what does the tree look like? Are the other trees around it different? These basic descriptive skills are the building blocks for any kind of outdoor observation.
If you are coming up empty, be sure to stop and listen really hard for a while. Birds are often heard before they are seen, especially during the springtime, April through June, when they may be seeking a mate or guarding a nest.
New Jersey has more different kinds of birds per square mile than any other state in the U.S. so you are never far from a birding adventure just about any time of year. Plan a visit to any of these child-friendly locations in the Highlands:
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Kittatinny Point Visitors Center
Old Mine Road, Hardwick Township, NJ
Phone: (908) 496-4458
Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Center
605 Pequest Road, Oxford, NJ
Phone: (908) 637-4125
Merrill Creek Reservoir
34 Merrill Creek Road, Washington, NJ
Phone: (908) 454-1213
New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary
11 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville, NJ
Phone: (908) 766-5787
80 Route 206 South, Hillsborough, N.J. 08844
Phone: (908) 722-3700
For even more wildlife-viewing destinations, visit www.njwildlifetrails.org. And for a comprehensive on-line resource regarding all things birds and birding, visit www.allaboutbirds.org. This site is the work of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a mind-boggling compilation of photos, videos, birdsong recordings and bird-watching tips in a fun and user-friendly forma. But don’t let yourself get carried away on the computer – GO OUTSIDE!
For more things to see and do in northwest New Jersey’s great outdoors, visit the Highlands Tourism Partnership website at www.highlandstourism.org
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Lillian Armstrong resides in Cape May County, an international “mecca” for bird watchers. A marketing executive by trade, Lillian is involved in environmental and humanitarian causes in Southern New Jersey.
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