Backyard Birding: Urban Birding Guide for Seattle-Area Kids and Families
A screech owl in a nesting box (though not the one from the author's childhood home).
1. Start by observing
I grew up in Seattle’s Lake Forest Park neighborhood. For most of my childhood, screech owls nested every summer in a box in my yard. My dad put the box out on our cedar tree before I was born. The owl parents came for years, and at dusk, we’d hear their gentle, quiet “hoo-hoo,” as night fell. Their vocalizing was the soundtrack of my childhood summers.
As a mom with my own kid, I want to bring my son Vireo (yes, he's named for the bird) into the sensory experience of birding. And we got started early! Since he was an infant, I have identified bird song to him, and pointed out what we are seeing whenever a bird visits our yard or flies overhead. He has become an excellent spotter as a result, able to see birds before I do, whether or not he knows what he is seeing.
Often the birding is circumstantial — it happens while we are doing yard work together or playing in the sandbox. Once we stop and look closely at our surroundings, we start to see and hear more, listening through the layers of white noise and distraction, noticing the life all around us.
I don’t always worry about identifying the bird — it is the activity of seeing and observing that is the fun part for kids. When watching birds, let kids know to keep a respectful distance. The more we let birds be themselves in our yard, the more comfortable they will feel and the more often they will visit. And once birds are comfortable, they will allow you to get closer as time goes by.
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