God Bless the Child

Before we talk about kids, I’d like to return to the theme of the last blog: the unsung, underappreciated female bird. Several readers wrote me and told me they wished I had included more birds and bird photos in the piece. They made a good point. So, here are a few more birds and bird photos. This is a female Common Merganser. To me, she’s every bit as striking as her male counterpart. I captured her recently as she and her mate cruised the cold waters of Yellow Breeches Creek in south central PA. They were such a pleasure to watch.

Female Common Merganser
Female Common Merganser

And here’s a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. She might lack the male’s red chin and throat, but she’s a real standout all the same. I captured her in a city park. Note the yellow wash on her belly and back. Here, she was looking for insects, not drilling for sap.

Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Birds Don’t Have Teeth

I’ve done some writing about kids, including in these blogs. I began in “Birds Don’t Have Teeth,” which was more about bird flight and the discovery of an Osprey nest in a live tree than it was about kids. The blog featured this photo, among others. These preschoolers sat still(!) as I talked to them about birds and showed them some of my birding “tools,” including a Tascam recorder with windscreen. To me, the photo speaks to kids’ inherent interest in nature.

Learning about birds
Learning about birds

After our discussion, I led them on a short field trip. As we walked through the woods looking for birds, I watched as one of the children comforted her visibly frightened friend. She did so by telling her that “birds don’t have teeth.” Kids have an inherent interest in their safety, as well.

More Thoughts on Birds and Bird Photography

In another blog, “More Thoughts on Birds and Bird Photography,” I mentioned the 1969 British film Kes. I wrote, “It’s a must-see film about a troubled boy who found purpose and whose life was changed when he discovered and began to train a Common Kestrel he affectionately named “Kes.” The film’s story is based on the real-life story of Richard Hines, who recently wrote a book about his experiences: No Way But Gentlenesse: A Memoir of How Kes, My Kestrel, Changed My Life. What an interesting thought—that birds can change lives.

That blog, by the way, featured a photo that is one of my personal favorites. It’s a photo of a Green Heron fledgling exploring its surroundings. Young birds explore their surroundings much the way children explore theirs. But children go about it with a visible sense of wonder. Just look at the boy below looking down at a river or the boy above looking up at a tree.

Juvenile Green Heron
Juvenile Green Heron
A curious child
A young explorer

Reaching Kids

Why do I write about kids, work with kids, speak publicly about kids, and so on? Why is it important to reach kids? I addressed a group of environmental educators at Virginia Tech a few years ago and provided at least one of the answers during my talk: “Recent research in childhood education has demonstrated that experiences in nature are important in shaping early environmental consciousness and ultimately the expression of pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors in adulthood.” That’s an excerpt from the 2014 USDA publication, “Exploring the Role of Ospreys in Education.” I went on to say that kids won’t reach adulthood with that consciousness unless they spend unstructured time outdoors now and make outdoor discoveries now. And they generally won’t do that unless they have adults in their lives who encourage that activity and share in those experiences.

A Boy and His Binocs

My wife and I recently visited Middle Creek WMA, a “Globally Significant Important Bird Area” to see the Snow Geese that spend the winter there. I brought along my photo gear, of course. We were in a long line of cars and people on the side of the road and not far from a field that was covered with geese. At times, some of the birds departed, while others took their place. It was a special time.

Snow Geese
Snow Geese

Everyone was focused on the geese. I was too, but I couldn’t resist training my lens on a boy who just a few feet from me popped up through the family car sunroof to get a better look. I was taken with his interest, as well as his pj’s and matching binocs, which hopefully gave him enough magnification and clarity to help him to really enjoy what he was seeing. I was also taken with the fact that his family had gone to the trouble to take him to that place.

A boy holding binoculars
A boy holding binoculars

After I took his picture, I thought, “This is where it all begins, doesn’t it? During a family outing or in the company of a caring adult, a child is captivated by something he sees, his imagination soars, and an interest that begins in childhood develops into a lifelong passion.” Another thought I had was this: “I hope this young man goes on to develop an interest in birds.” Why birds? Elsewhere in the talk I gave at Virginia Tech, I told the educators that birds are visible and accessible, they’re a link to the natural world, and bird watching could be considered a “gateway drug.” I went on to explain: “When children develop a fascination with birds, they become interested in other forms of wildlife and in the natural world at large. They then develop an interest in protecting and preserving those spaces where birds and other wildlife live.”

More Geese

Here’s a related photo complete with frame, courtesy of fellow photographer Rajan Parrikar. And here are more geese (of the domesticated kind). The child, who isn’t much bigger than the birds, is getting ready to feed them. Talk about birds being visible and accessible, as well as the important role of adults. Rajan took the photo on a busy city street in Iceland.

Boy feeding birds
Boy, birds, and bread

And This Just In

The young Green Heron and the “young explorer” were both looking at water. The heron was looking at water in a pond near its nest, and the boy was looking at water and animal life in a river. As I look at the two photos, I’m reminded of a great line from Noah Strycker’s, The Magic and Mystery of Birds: “In almost any realm of bird behaviour – reproduction, populations, movements, daily rhythms, communication, navigation, intelligence, and so on – there are deep and meaningful parallels with our own.”

Quip, Question, Quote

“Why do I tell you this little boy’s story of medusas, rays, and sea monsters, nearly sixty years after the fact? Because it illustrates, I think, how a naturalist is created. A child comes to the edge of deep water with a mind prepared for wonder…Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist.” The late E.O. Wilson in his autobiography, Naturalist.

10 thoughts on “God Bless the Child

  1. Excellent article, Dave! I really enjoy the way you think, and am happy to say that I have been doing my best to immerse my granddaughters in as much of the wild outdoors as possible! I have already bought them the type of bins in your photo, but would gladly supply them with clear, quality binoculars when they are a little older. I am happy to say that they are catching the bird bug. 😁 Keep up the good work!


  2. Lovely post, Dave! My kiddos (5 & 6), have had binocs in hand since about age 2, and at this point know more birds (and bird songs) than most adults I know (sadly). Some of their favorite books are ones that pair bird photos and facts with sounds. There are so many great kids’ birds books.

    My kids are luckily to be surrounded by adults, both in their day-to-day life, and at school, who love nature and birds. It is a privilege we are able to share this with them, and I commend you for helping to make sure that gift is shared with others. You’ve made me want to look into ways to do that myself. Thank you!



  3. I started learning about birds in our garden when I was young – we never really went into the countryside, but there were plenty of garden birds to watch and that love of nature has stayed with me.


  4. Dave,
    Seems like you may live in winding hills as I do. Novice birder looking to get better and would love to meet up some time. John


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