You can bring a child to the woods, but can you make him appreciate the birds? I recently participated in a very fun podcast hosted by the American Birding Association where I talked about just this topic. I've birded with my son (now 8) his entire life but he is at most, a reluctant birder. My love for birds has not rubbed off on him, yet. But I can keep trying!
Here's what I do (and keep doing!), hoping one day he'll look back and consider his childhood a training ground for nature appreciation and conservation. My number one rule, as much as the birder in me shudders for missed opportunity: you gotta make it about the kid. Here are some tips:
Birding gear is cool!
My son loves technology and learning about how things work. He is fascinated with what makes something functional. The optics of birding not only magnify subjects but contain complicated structure for a kid to consider. How do those things work, anyway? And how the heck do I look through them?
We have a sturdy pair of small Nikons, which Vireo considers "his" even though he's loath to call himself a birder. I introduced him to binocs use at age three (below) and while he didn't quite get how to use the eye cup, he is now well aware of how optics enhance his world.
Bird where you are
Birding does not have to be a set aside trip of its own. Last week we rode the Anacortes ferry to Lopez island for a family vacation. Along the Anacortes ferry slip are nesting Pelagic cormorants, which you can see easily from the car deck. Depending on the tide and time of day, the ferry might sit directly alongside the structures, giving an up close (and aromatic) view of the active nests.
This kind of happen chance, birds-en-mass opportunity works well for children like my son, who might respond with mild interest as the birds are right there and there are so many of them!
Bring a friend
Any kind of outing is so much more enjoyable for a child if there is a pal included. I no longer attempt any kind of birding trip with my son unless one of his friends is along. Whatever price I pay in little boy high energy zaniness, I make up for in real time to myself while they are off playing tag or stick war.
On a recent spring hike to see nesting Tree swallows in the Skagit Valley, Vireo and his buddy amused themselves by racing along the dike, and enjoying the sun (though you wouldn't know it from my son's expression in the photo below). I added incentive to the two-mile hike by taking them for ice cream afterwards.
Take them where they want to go
Vireo loves the beach. He loves any shoreline for that matter, be it river, Puget Sound, where we live, the ocean, a lake, a creek. As we birders know, water features are a total draw for birds, so this combination of bird where you are and where the kid wants to go offers endless birding opportunity. While he can build forts or sand castles, I can bird.
Lately he has developed a sense for if and when I might grab my binoculars, and his strategy is to deter my birding--I should be paying attention to him! He might catch a hint that a proposed outing is going to include my sneaking off to spot a bird or two. Thankfully, beaches and riparian environments aren't on his radar yet for mom's surreptitious nature appreciation, and we can both enjoy these special places on our terms.