by Lorenzo Rohani
It’s not very often that I see kids out birding, which is surprising. That’s not to say birding is easy, just that I know it is something lots of kids would like. I’ve done birding presentations at schools, mainly for younger kids such as 1st or 2nd graders. In that age group kids are very interested, not only about birds, but wildlife in general. For me, I’ve noticed younger kids are far more interested then older kids. They love sharing stories about an eagle that flew over their school playground or a duck that visited their backyard. They especially enjoy bird photography. It brings their imagination out and inspires them. The pictures motivate them to get started birding.
I have been a birder for many years. Starting at age four, I went to a local bird festival. From that time forward, I’ve been going on walks through the forest and often seeing birds that I never really expected to see. Thrilled and inspired, I would go home and look up the birds in my favorite field guide. Eventually, I wanted to keep these memories with photography so I could share what I found with others. I started in my backyard, a good place to observe birds up close and a spot where not much harm could happen to my camera. I eventually took photographs of birds everywhere I went. By age twelve, I had a large collection of photographs and, with my dad’s help, I published my very own book for kids, “A Kid’s Guide to Birding.”
I especially like working with kids around the ages of four through twelve, helping them learn the same stuff as I did. You’re never really too young or old to bird. I always suggest birding in your backyard first. Backyard birding requires a few things to make your yard a “bird friendly” habitat. It’s important that the yard has good sources of food, water, and natural cover. Native plants with berries are particularly good for attracting local birds. I like to ask kids to find out how many bird species come to their own yard. This will help them get started and become more aware of their own environment and what’s happening in it.
Giving a bird presentation isn’t very hard, but practice helps. At first, I was kind of quiet and really hurried things along. After about three presentations, I wasn’t so quiet. By then I knew the kids would connect to the topic. Younger kids have lots of questions and stories. I find they are very interested in hummingbirds, in particular. Hummingbirds are so unique they always amaze kids. Explaining things about a cool bird really gets them thinking. I also show video clips from trips I have done, such as one trip I did out in the ocean to the pelagic zone. At one point in the video there are birds flying away and as they take off, their feet slapping against the water as if they are trying to run on top of it. The videos always amaze, letting kids see what bird activity actually looks like, because sometimes they just don’t believe your words.
Getting out into the wild is one of my favorite things. I sometimes get the chance to lead guided bird walks. It is not so easy because when people arrive it is hard for them to believe that I am the leader. They don’t expect to see a kid leading a walk. When I start, sometimes kids like running up and showing what they know. Keeping the group organized can be hard, but it does make me happy when participants share their information and show enthusiasm. It lets me know they are listening. But group walks are risky. Some days you see near to nothing. But sometimes you see that one rare bird you weren’t really expecting to see.
Teaching kids about birding is important because they are the future for birds. With all the habitat loss, pesticides, and illegal hunting, many bird populations are decreasing. It is good for kids to learn that birds are not just interesting, but an extremely important part of the ecosystem. The kids that develop a passion for birding can help protect birds in the future. Rachel Carson’s appreciation of birds helped lead her to discoveries about DDT. Those discoveries were ignored by some and opposed by others, but having support gave her the courage to continue. You never know what kid you encourage today may grow up to be the next Rachel Carson.
I think it helps when kids can learn from other kids. They feel like it is really possible to be a kid birder when they have an example. Being that example gives me motivation, too. Every kid has a chance to make a difference. But the first step is getting out and learning to appreciate nature, and birds are part of that. That’s why I put together a book for kids, so they can learn the steps of becoming a birder and discover the wildlife that is flying right into their yards and doing amazing things.
About the author: Lorenzo and his dad, Michael Rohani, have traveled thousands of miles together birding and photographing birds. Their book, A Kid’s Guide to Birding, is full of tips for kids about how to get started in birding, where to find birds, and ways to identify them. It also shows projects you can do to bring birds into your own back yard.
Lorenzo loves birds and is always learning more fun facts about them. He’ll tell about the fun he’s had looking at birds and share his beautiful photographs. Grownups say his talk is as entertaining and informative for them as it is for kids.
To read Lorenzo’s blog and learn more about him, visit his website.