October 19, 2007
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
I recently received an email from a reader who mentioned, in passing, that his two sons, ages 6 and 8, are being brought up as birders and have their own binoculars and field guides.  This gives a wonderful environmental slant to the concept of "paying it forward."  It is mandatory that those of us who love nature pass that love along to future generations.

This reminded me I should answer a request I received around this time last year--Christmas gift suggestions for the young birder on your list.  First, though, I have a request of you.  Get a copy of Richard Louv's book, Last Child In The Woods, and read it before you begin shopping.  The book's not about what to get.  It's about why.

Saving my best suggestion for last, I'm going to start with the obvious and practical--binoculars and field guides.  The best recommended kid binoculars on the market today are the Leupold Yosemite 6 x 30s--compact, lightweight (17 ounces), waterproof, with a wide field of view and a large focusing wheel, just under $100.  Avoid cheap, plastic "toy" binoculars.  You want your young birder to actually be able to find the bird and see a high quality image.

Having found it and seen it, they'll want to put a name on their discovery.  For 6-10 year olds I'd suggest the Beginner's Field Guide To Birds Of Phoenix, available for a couple bucks from Maricopa or Desert Rivers Audubon Societies.  It has photographs and descriptive sketches in both English and Spanish of the 56 most likely birds to be seen in the Valley, arranged by habitat.

For the 10 and over birders I'd go with the same guide I'd give the beginning adult--Kenn Kaufman's Field Guide to Birds of North America.  This book covers all the continent's birds but easily fits into a back pocket or a backpack.  Photographic images are arranged in visually similar groups and species' identification is based on shape and habitat.  The Pictorial Table of Contents which opens the book detours the novice around the potholes of inexplicable taxonomy, weird common names and incomprehensible scientific names.  One of the best features is the short synopses which appear at the top of nearly every left-hand page under the family or group title.  Concise and relevant, they give insights into comparative field marks and behavioral habits.  All this for around $20 and it comes in both English and Spanish editions.

For a gift that gives all year, consider a Student membership ($25) in the American Birding Association (aba.org).  This gives young birders all the ABA benefits plus a subscription to A Birds--Eye View, a bimonthly newsletter written by and for young birders, which features identification tips, field skills, artwork, and news of events.

The ABA also has available (abasales.com) a Birder's Life List & Diary ($15), a great way for novitiates to chronicle their new interest.  Lists and diaries become handy reference guides, springboards for advancing birding skills and a greater appreciation of nature.  Remember, it's not the numbers.  It's the memories and the experiences.  Richard Louv would approve.

Oh, and the absolute best Christmas gift you can give to the young birder in your life?  It's cheap but it's priceless.  Pay it forward.  Go birding with them.