As a kid, I was fortunate to have many opportunities to see, touch and hold birds. Growing up in a rural area, chicken eggs, soft yellow ducklings and the occasional fallen bird’s nest in our backyard were common and meant that I grew up a casual appreciation of birds…and not just in the McNugget way. I spent lazy afternoons watching Robins and Magpies in flight, and daydreamed about what it would be like to have a birds’ ability to fly.
Fast-forward a few years and with my own kiddos, I wanted to foster in them the same sense of bird appreciation. So, it was a boon when I came across Sharon Lovejoy’s My First Bird Book. Lovejoy, an award-winning author, illustrator and lecturer who has a love of Cary Grant films, has crafted a lively book that is perfect for kids or even grown-ups who have a casual interest in birdwatching.
The handy little book has plenty of reference information on backyard birds, giving you “everything you need to become an expert bird watcher” but it also has a clever birdhouse-style feeder included. The book/bird feeder kit really revs up kiddo enthusiasm for bird-related learning in the natural world. Regardless if it is during the most accessible time of year while it’s warm, or in the winter, where kids can bird-watch indoors.
The plastic, blue bird feeder is nifty since it hooks to your outside window, and allows kids to watch as the birds fly up, land, have a snack, and take off. Depending on their ages, kids can help install the feeder, (a couple of easy-to-use window cling suction cups) then fill it with bird seed, apples, or if you’re game, a few tasty worms.
My kids weren’t sure about what birds like to eat best, but after a little convincing, we went with “healthy” bird snacks, and left the popsicles for the humans. (Pro Tip: If cheeseburgers aren’t in the book, birds won’t want to eat it in the bird feeder!)
Once the bird feeder was installed, we were able to retreat to the kitchen where we could watch the birds in action without disturbing them.
The photos to the left and right are from Lovejoy’s website. Our outdoor view is not nearly as picturesque as hers.
To be honest, I was worried that the bird feeder might entice birds to fly directly into the window glass, smashing their little beaks, all the while crying out, “Curse you tricky humans with your see-through human nest force fields!” But, my fears were put to rest after the first few successful fly-byes. (Perhaps other not-as-clever birds who have wrecked into the living room window pane have finally been eliminated by evolutionary processes… why doesn’t that work on politicians, I wonder?)
When we finally ( I say finally because it was like Christmas, but with birdseed and Robins instead of Santa and presents, the kids were so jazzed.) had our first visit from a grey bird with a bronze-colored chest, the kids raced to the book to figure out what kind of bird it was, and after discovering that it was an American Robin red breast, they were hooked.
Using the book as a guide, they devised ways to attract different species with new foods, and other bird watching sorcery. Who knew you could attract birds with socks? And that’s where the genius of the little bird book shines through, since it gives kids a wealth of information that doesn’t come across as text-bookish.
For instance, did you know that bird beaks and bills–long, cone or all-purpose –are specially shaped depending on what kind of food they eat? Or that some birds are able to remember where their hoarded winter food is hidden only because of their ability to grow new brain cells in the winter? I didn’t either.
There are beautiful watercolor illustrations of the 30 or so most common backyard birds, with plenty of tidbits about birds’ diet, range, and other fun “dirty birdy” facts. As a parent, I was a little worried that the cliche of birdwatching as “dull” would leave the kids bored.
However, with Lovejoy’s skills, she manages to weave fun and facts together that allow kids to learn about their feathered neighbors with eagerness. You can see from the above photo that our copy has gotten some wear and tear from love.
Actually, the book might have inspired a little too much eagerness, since the kids were pestering me to let them have a pet duck. Thankfully, we were saved more rounds of pet duck begging when a Robin elected to build her nest in one of the eaves of the house. It was magical, and those bright-blue eggs and their eventual hatch-lings provided an invaluable source of entertainment and…education. The book and feeder has continued to deliver as the kids mark off more species of birds they’ve seen in the kitchen window, and then recite the latest facts from the book about them.
With it’s easy format, the book also delivers additional hands-on learning with bird food recipes, craft ideas, birdhouse and journaling tips that encourage kids to explore and learn about how birds live and interact in their environments. Without trying, you and your kids might pick up a few birdy knowledge bits, and, that’s something to sing about.