December 11, 2014
Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

I recently ran across a newspaper article enumerating the “five reasons why your kid should collect stamps.”  I know nothing about stamps, but I’m a collector of course—my photographs and sightings of birds—and in perusing the article it struck me that the five reasons could easily be applied to birding.  What hooked me into reading the article in depth were these words in Melissa Rayworth’s opening paragraph—“stamp collecting is not the flashiest of hobbies.  It isn’t trendy.”  This is exactly why adult birders may be hesitant to suggest birdwatching to their children or grandchildren in this era of computer games, short attention spans, and instant gratification.  Here are the five reasons Rayworth mentions and my thoughts about their carryover to young birders.

1)  Kids can develop patience and focus
Your young novice isn’t going to be interested in sorting through empidonax flycatchers, but the colors and designs on the wing in your local park are going to be moving slower than video images and, with a trusty guide book at hand, find, see, visually imprint, sort through the book, repeat with the next find, will easily take up an entire morning.  Birding is multiple stimuli but not over stimulation.

2)  Kids develop expertise
Knowledge and understanding about any facet of the world around them, the world outside themselves, breeds confidence, self-esteem, and empathy.  Bird families are defined by habitat, size, shape, plumage, and behavior.  Counting, classifying, and categorizing are good for mental development.

3)  Kids discover stunning artwork and intricate graphic design
For “stunning artwork” think Vermilion Flycatcher or Painted Bunting.  For “intricate graphic design” think Bridled Titmouse or White-crowned Sparrow.  Think too about what younger children love to do with crayons and blank paper.  You may not recognize their artistic rendition of their latest bird, but they’ll be happy to interpret it for you.

4)  Screen time is minimal and optional
I suppose indoor birdwatching is possible in today’s internet world but, really, “indoor” and “birdwatching” is certainly an oxymoron.  Getting young people outside and away from their computers and social media, the latter actually another oxymoron, is paramount to social development, and a connection to the natural world seems a requisite catalyst for the next generation seeking answers to planetary questions we don’t even know yet.

5)  A stamp collection can be personalized
This is certainly true for birding as well.  It’s their hobby, their rules.  There are lots of ways to play the birding game without being an ABA lister.

On a picnic outing in 1996 with our two-year-old grandson to look for the Eared Quetzal in Haunted Canyon northeast of Superior, he was the first to spot it, frantically gesturing upward from his stroller and mouthing “bird, bird!”  Though he never kept a bird list, JP often accompanied us on our outings and became an accomplished outdoorsman.  He is now a Life Sciences major at NAU with a strong interest in Marine Biology.  Our planet’s future depends on today’s youth making a connection with nature.  It’s our environment.  What else is more relevant.