Friday, March 7, 2014

How to make birdwatching fun for children on a day hike

Hairy Woodpecker
For many children, spotting and watching birds – especially raptors, those that are courting, and rare species – is a great element of a day hike. Besides being entertaining, birdwatching offers many opportunities for learning while ensuring a memorable rest break.

Unfortunately, sometimes the birdwatching experience turns out to be a bad one, due to novice mistakes, and the hobby never takes root. There are a number of steps you can take, though, to ensure a birdwatch is interesting and fun for children:
g Know what to expect before hitting the trail – Many hiking guides will list what rare or spectacular birds can be seen along a trail. Look up those birds online or in books to learn more about them. This will help you more easily spot and identify them once on the trail. You also can get a good introduction to the hobby and learn some ins and outs of it by going on guided bird walking tours.
g Hike in the morning – Most birds are easier to spot in the morning than at other times of the day. That’s because many search for food during the morning.
g Search for birds in pairs or groups – Two sets of eyes often are better than one, and three even more so. You’re more likely to spot a rare bird when multiple people are looking in different directions for it on a hike.
g Skip the bird calls – While this may be useful for game birds, typically it scares off birds because it raises their stress levels. Ditto with artificial lighting during the evening.
g Bring binoculars – You’ll have a difficult time getting close enough to most birds to notice details about them. In addition, bring enough binoculars for everyone on the hike so that all can participate.
g Keep your distance – Should you be lucky enough to get close to where a bird is feeding or come across its nest, keep your distance. This also induces stress and can disrupt its natural habits.
g Leave the bird guidebook at home – The time you have to observe a bird often is flitting is best. By flipping through pages to identify the bird, one of two things likely will occur: 1) You’ll make noise that scares it off, or 2) It will fly away before you even get close to identifying it. Instead, jot down notes about the bird’s various traits or sketch its appearance so you later can look it up in a guidebook. Also listen closely for its vocalizations, as that will be very useful in identifying it.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.