Have you noticed lots of people have been talking about nature again recently?
Well... I blame national treasure Sir David Attenborough for that!
(& by 'blame' I really mean 'give thanks to')
Have you seen his fantastic new series Wild Isles?
It's a captivating celebration of the natural wonders right on our doorstep.
I saw a pair of goldfinches on our bird feeder today. I cannot tell you how excited my 5-year-old granddaughter was…nearly as thrilled as me!
We have put up lots of bird feeders just outside the kitchen window and honestly, it’s like having our own personal David Attenborough programme! We have had so many different species come to the feeders and we use our Den Kit Co. bird identification cards and the excellent FSC Guide to the ‘top 50’ garden birds to identify what we are looking at. We have a growing list.
In the olden days being interested in birds, a bit like vegetable gardening and growing dahlias, was something that the retired did (my grandad specifically), but things have changed. There is now much more awareness of biodiversity, the decline of the bird population and what we can do to help. We are also realising that in the UK we have our own safari equivalent. Our native birds are just as wonderful as those on other continents.
Learning about birds
Of course, a child being able to identify birds is a great skill; developing memory, increasing vocabulary, and forming that useful general knowledge. But, like many outdoor nature activities, learning about birds nurtures those higher-level skills which form the foundation of all life learning.
To observe birds, you have to really tune into the sights, smells and sounds of nature. Birds are shy and brilliant at hiding. So, even though we know they are there, we have to listen carefully, look carefully - for sudden movements or flashes of colour - and be patient if we want to see them.
Learning about birds helps children tune in to nature and connecting with nature makes us feel better, because we are nature and nature is our home
How to enthuse children about birds:
Feed the Birds
What better place to start than by encouraging birds into your own outdoor space, either garden, balcony, or even onto an external window is a great start. Hanging bird feeders, which you can make with your child or buy, is an easy way to do this. Fill with high quality seeds and snacks your local birds love. Make it your child’s job to do this, giving them a sense of ownership. They can take responsibility for keeping the feeders clean and replenished. Encourage them to identify the birds that visit and keep a list of them.
You can make your own bird feeder by:
- Pouring melted fat (suet or lard) onto a mixture of ingredients such as seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese or cake
- Use about one-third fat to two-thirds mixture.
- Stir well in a bowl and then spoon into a container of your choice
- A recycled plastic tub, empty coconut shell or plant pot makes an ideal bird cake ‘feeder’
Alternatively, use The Make a Pizza for the Birds Kit, spreading mud or peanut butter onto the wooden discs and decorating with seeds and berries.
Place your bird feeder on a branch, or hang it up out of reach of cats.
Never put out loose peanuts, during spring or summer, as these pose a choking hazard if they are fed to chicks, place whole peanuts in a suitable mesh feeder.
For more great information on what to feed birds, click here.
Drinking and washing
Providing fresh water for the birds will probably be one of the most important and rewarding things you can do. Birds need water to drink and water to bathe in to maintain the effectiveness of their feathers. Bathing and drinking is a dangerous occupation for birds as it makes them vulnerable to predators.
‘What birds really want from a birdbath is a wide, safe and shallow puddle with a rock or two for perching on. That way, they won’t get out of their depth, there’s plenty of space to flap about, and every chance to do it in the company of others, which is always safer.’ RSPB
You can make a simple bird bath from a plant pot saucer or an up-turned dustbin lid.
- Place a few pebbles in the middle
- Position in a clear space so that predators are visible and where you can watch the action
- Mount on 4 bricks
- Fill with water
- Remember to clean the bath and refresh the water every week to avoid pathogens
(You could make a wooden ramp up to the birdbath so hedgehogs can drink too)
Looking for birds’ nests is a lovely pastime. There are so many varied nests to spot and match to birds. Bird nests are infinitely varied in location, structure, materials, lining and design. Some are nothing more than a scrape in the ground, some an actual hole in the earth (Shelduck), some a hole in a sandbank (Sand Martin), or a hole in a tree (Woodpecker). Some nests are massive platforms high up in a fir tree (Osprey) … the list goes on and on. Creeping up to them to get a better view whilst not getting too close and not disturbing them is great fun. You can help birds in the nesting season by leaving some soft nesting materials outside for them to line their nests with. Natural wool, hair from your hairbrush, even pet fur will all be welcomed. We use The Bird Nest Kit to hang our foraged materials in a tree and to identify any nests we see!
Grow bird friendly plants together
Teach your children about the importance of growing native plants to support the environment and your local birds and animals. Make planting a bird and pollinator friendly garden fun! Even if you only have a small space, you can grow a container garden filled with plants that attract and support the birds in your area.
Holly, Ivy, Guelder Rose, Rowan, Hawthorn, Teasels, Sunflowers, Cotoneaster, Honeysuckle, annuals that have seed heads and shrub roses are all plants that will provide great food for birds in the Autumn and Winter months.
Visit a Wildfowl and Wetland Trust to have a go in a hide and watch the amazing wildlife that resides there.
Go on a Bird Watching Adventure
This could be a walk down your street, a visit to a local park, or a nearby nature trust destination, pack up a picnic, some binoculars and a bird guide (there are some great bird ID apps available), and see what you can find. You never know, you may see one of the wonders of the world, a murmuration!
Teaching children about birds and nature is important. It helps develop compassion and empathy, relieves stress and builds emotional resilience, and teaches children to be responsible stewards of the natural world around them.
Introducing children to the wonder of birds this Spring will reap countless rewards - for yours and their delight now, and for their life-long interest and joy in the wonders of our natural world.