Friday, September 19, 2014

Guest Post: Bird-Watching Hike with Kids

The following post is brought to us by Ernie Allison - Bird Enthusiast. Ernie approached us about doing a guest post and well with how busy we've seemed to be we thought that would be great. We love to watch birds, especially in the fall. They're always on our back deck coming to take the cat food, rather ironic eh? Well we thought a post about birding and hiking would be a great fit here as a guest post from Ernie, and he didn't disappoint. With the steps below, you can get out with your family for a wonderful birding hike. So without further adieu...
I’ve always been a big proponent of instilling a love of nature in members of my family. This means family reunions are camping trips, family hikes happen year-round, and we have a wildlife garden to attract birds and other cute critters to our yard.

My main passion when it comes to nature is birding. We’ve got bird feeders in our yard during every season, and I keep up with hummingbird migration patterns, how climate change affects different species and wildlife conservation issues.

Raising my kids and grandkids with a love of nature has meant lots of birding hikes. For me, birding is a quiet activity. You watch for activity, listen for movement, and get lost in your own thoughts and the beauty of nature.

For kids, birding is boring. Not all of it, of course. But when there aren’t birds in sight, it’s time to play, run around, and shout questions about when it’s time to go home. Of course, these activities severely lessen the likelihood that birds will appear at all.

Throughout the years, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks to make birding hikes fun for the whole family, instead of boring for kids and frustrating for adults. Here are my methods:

  • Prepare the bodies- As with most excursions with kids, everyone will be happier if all persons are well-rested and well fed. If you’re going on a morning hike, make sure everyone gets to bed early, and don’t be stingy about allowing naps in the car on the way there.

  • Prepare the minds- If you’re hiking a trail because it’s a good place to see birds, there are probably specific species you’re planning on seeing. Look up pictures of birds common in the area, and show the kids so they know what they’re looking for.

  • Make a game- print off a checklist of the birds you’re likely to see so that the kids have a goal.

  • Allow for fun- As an adult, you know loud noises can scare off wildlife. Impart this knowledge to your kids, but also allow for them to act their age. When you stop for lunch, let them burn energy and run around a bit. Don’t worry about missing a potential sighting that might not have happened anyway. Simply enjoy your time with your family and be grateful for the beautiful scenery.

  • Adopt the Buddy System- Kids like to wander off, and they should be allowed to explore. But reduce risk and worry by assigning everyone a buddy they need to stick with at all times. You can even make them a “team” in the checklist game and make it a competition between groups. This will add a fun element; plus, two eyes are always better than one!

  • Bring the right equipment- Kids love playing with binoculars. It allows them to see better, but also lets them use something that’s not an everyday item. They’ll feel adventurous and grown-up. Also, make sure to pack along plenty of food and water, enough toilet paper and diapers if applicable, and anything else you might conceivably need. Even a deck of cards or hardy toys would be good to entertain kids during stops. You can also encourage them to make up games using rocks, foliage, and other surrounding items. Just make sure to make it clear that they need to leave nature how they find it.

  • Bring birding home- For me, the best part about birding is everything you can learn from it. Kids can learn basics about how animals survive and interact. They also learn the rules of behavior in nature. They get exposure to the outdoors, which is good for their health. When you’re home, look up the birds you saw on the trail to learn more about their habits. Think about installing a bird house or feeder so that your kids can continue the check list game and learn more information about more species.

By being prepared for hikes and other outdoor excursions, you can ensure a pleasant experience for everyone and teach kids an appreciation of nature. Birding hikes are fun, educational, and active. They offer great family bonding experiences, and will build memories that your kids will never forget.
You can catch up with Ernie on Twitter at @ErnieAllison63

Thanks again for the guest post Ernie.

Happy Trails,
Tim and Robin