by Bryony Angell
What is the moment that captures a kid’s interest in birds? When and how does that interest start? Seattle Audubon has long nurtured the curiosity that children have for nature, through its education programs for kids ages 3 through the teenage years, but what brings these children to birds in the first place?
We went straight to the source: Seattle Audubon sat down with three young members to learn how each of them arrived at their “bird-nerdery.” Avi Charlton, age 8, and sisters Emily and Sarah Alexander--ages 8 and 14, respectively--are all alumni of Seattle Audubon’s Nature Camp programs. Right away, it becomes obvious that the daily, local interaction with wild birds in the city is what fostered their love of their feathered neighbors, and that love for birds is supported by their families.
The neighbors are singing!
“Our back yard is where we do most of our birding,” says Sarah. “We live on the Thornton Creek watershed near Northgate Mall.” Sarah’s interest in birds began as a preschooler, watching birds from the family’s house. Her interest rubbed off on her younger sister and parents. “All of us were fascinated one spring when we put up this hummingbird puff ball with nesting material,” says their mother, Diane. “This is now what both girls like to do, so we help them do it.”
For Avi, the drama of a backyard nest failure is what got him into birds at age 4 ½. “My dad accidentally mowed over a dark eyed junco nest on our lawn,” he says. “One of the babies died, but two nest mates escaped. The mom (bird) was really upset, and scolded my dad. We watched (the dead nestling) decompose. It wasn’t sad.”
Since that moment, Avi’s zealous passion for wild birds includes collecting a library of bird guides, watching and drawing birds from his kitchen window, dressing as a birder for Halloween and posing with his sister holding a field guide and binoculars for the family’s annual holiday card. “Avi is birding
wherever he is,” says his mother, Gaby. “And birding has become part of our family’s life, too.”
Next stop, Seattle Audubon Nature Shop
Both families were familiar with the the Nature Shop, and with bird-enthusiastic kids in tow, made their initial visits. All are now regular visitors of the shop and Seattle Audubon members. And the Nature Shop is how they learned about Nature Camp.
“Nature Camp made me more interested in nature in general,” says Sarah. “ I started out more interested in birds, but learned about a lot of other things, too.” Emily liked the games she played in camp which mimicked life of animals: “Being the seeker (predator) was really exciting,” she says. “You had to see the predator at all times but be hidden. That’s the round I won!”
“I spotted an osprey carrying branches to its nest!” says Avi, of his time at camp, based at Magnuson Park. “And I really liked the teachers.”
“I really liked the teachers!” adds Gaby, laughing.
And the Nature Shop is a community hub. “They (staff and volunteers) know Avi at the shop and it’s nice to have it in the neighborhood,” says Gaby. “We go there for gifts, supplies, and site-specific bird guides to give to friends.”
And favorite bird?
And what are their favorite birds? “Bald eagle,” says Avi. He demonstrates the high pitched mating call for me, an impressively evocative vocalization, there in the family’s living room.
And while Sarah likes Barn owls, her sister prefers birds of another size. “I really like smaller birds,” says Emily. “Hummingbirds, they do the figure-eight and bounce up and down, like me!”
“They also consume a lot of sugar, like you,” adds her older sister, drily.
Introduce a child to Seattle Audubon’s education programs for kids
If you know a child interested in birds, there is nothing as validating to both that child and the future of birds in Seattle, than fostering that interest.
Seattle Audubon offers a wide range of educational programming for children, starting at age 2 with the once monthly story and activity time Fledglings and Friends at the Nature Shop. And now, youngsters can join Seattle Audubon at a membership level of their very own: The Rookery membership offers special events and perks to youth ages 3 to 18. Older kids can access Nature Camp, Young Birders, and even some of the adult education classes.
Outside of the in-house educational programs, Seattle Audubon also offers Finding Urban Nature (FUN) in many Seattle Public Schools. This volunteer-run, school-based program (which runs during the school year) leads third and fourth graders through a hands-on, 8-week course of investigating nature right in the city.
Follow any of the above links, email us at email@example.com, or call the Nature Shop at 206.523.4483.