Birding involves being up and about before sunrise, fussing around with large binoculars and eye-pieces, straining one’s eyes to look out for little winged creatures that try their best to avoid humans and keeping up with fantastic names thrown about by experienced birders who seem to know it all!
Found it too intimidating? Thought you couldn’t get your child enthused about it?
Well…here’s some super advice coming from one of the most wonderful birding experts, who will help you understand some basics about Bird-Watching.
Delighted to have Nikhil Bhopale, noted wildlife enthusiast, birder and photographer sharing his tips and insights to get children started with birding, right here on India Travel Tales 4 Kids.
Interview with Nikhil Bhopale, Herpetologist and Ornithologist, ex-BNHS and Founder of Gaia Eco Tours
At what age should I start birding with children?
Birding can be started as soon as children start to walk!
When one thinks of birding, we think of walking great distances, focussing through binoculars, learning to follow field guides, having passion for wildlife and so on. These things come later.
Parents don’t need to get bogged down by all these aspects. You can begin by simply talking to your child about wildlife and birds when they are very young. Take them out to show them neighbourhood birds. Start with small steps.
What about focussing the eyes? Can young children focus and spot birds at a distance?
Having come out birding with me often, my two year old can focus and see birds. There is no doubt that children, if exposed early enough, can focus their eyes and spot birds.
How does one familiarize children with binoculars? Any tips?
I would not recommend children to be given binoculars.
Children should start by understanding the habitat of birds and spotting birds with their own eyes.
Binoculars must be introduced much later. Perhaps between the age of 8-10, a child can begin with smaller binoculars.
Why must binoculars not be introduced at a young age?
Today, we tend to focus more on modern amenities and forget our basic instincts. One must allow children to develop and sharpen their sense of sight, hearing and observation by allowing them to follow their basic natural instinct.
By introducing gadgets too early, it becomes too easy and the natural instinct is not nurtured. Children must be trained to rely on their natural senses for observation first.
What field guide would you recommend for somebody starting out with birding?
For children I would recommend a basic field guide which has the least number of species.
I would also recommend that children start off with simple charts and pamphlets that contain a smaller selection.
Local charts/ field guides restricted to your city /locality are also good to begin with.
How does a parent who does not have any experience with birding, introduce their child to birding?
I would recommend that they first begin by understanding the groups. Such as Waders, Raptors and so on.
People tend to jump directly to species identification and find it too vast and overwhelming. One needs to begin with the groups instead.
Understand bird behavior and habits, habitat and surroundings, parts of a bird’s body, functions of wings and so on. Sit in a quiet area and listen and observe birds. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know the names of the birds.
Draw the child in with the experience. Curiosity about specific species will follow and children will slowly learn more from their own interest.
Any books, films that you would recommend to get children interested in birding/wildlife?
All the David Attenborough Films by BBC are fantastic to get children curious about wildlife. Planet Earth, The Life of Birds and the entire series.
Attenborough’s films inspire viewers by the sheer vastness, diversity and in-depth knowledge. They are a must-watch.
What place would you recommend if one wished to start birding?
I would recommend that one start birding in wetlands. It is a great place to get an introduction to birds – for both adults and children.
Birds in wetlands are likely to be more stationary. Hence its various aspects can be seen and observed more easily. One can show and discuss with children at a more leisured pace.
So head to a lake, pond, marshland or river nearby. As these birds don’t move too much, they are also easier for kids to spot.
Other open areas are also good places to begin. Thick wooded jungles makes it more difficult for children to spot birds.
Any specific places in India you would recommend to take children for birding?
Bharatpur is great at any time of the year. It has wetlands where one can introduce kids to birds. Bhigwan is good. Uran near Mumbai. Mangrove areas are good. Basically any wetlands are a good place to start!
What time of the year should one start?
Anytime of the year is fine to introduce children to birds. Don’t overthink it! Just get started!
Finally, a fundamental question. Why should we introduce children to birding?
The best and largest university is outside your door. Indoor education has boundaries. The outdoors are infinite! Do you need a better reason to let your children experience this?
(Nikhil, a bio-diversity expert and consultant, is the Founder and Managing Trustee of Green Works Trust that is doing some awesome work in Environmental Conservation. He also runs Gaia Eco Tours that conducts wonderful wildlife tours in and outside India. He is the recipient of several awards and honours for his research and commendable field work. He can be contacted at 9819330222 or you can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org)