Any birder with a child in their life is eager to pass along their love of birds and nature in general. Pete and I have been blessed with a granddaughter, and even though she’s only seven months old, I’m already on the lookout for ways to share my interests.
At this tender age, she isn’t quite ready for her own binos—she’d probably try to eat them. Plus, she lives halfway across the country, so I can’t take her outside with me nearly as much as I’d like. Still, you can bet that most of the gifts from grandma this Christmas will have something to do with nature.
For starters, I’m compiling a list of books that we’ll give our granddaughter as she grows. While there are plenty of story books about birds and birding (and I intend to read her every single one), for now I’m focusing on non-fiction.
A Book for Babies
Paper books are a bit fragile for drooling, tight-fisted toddlers, but the thick cardboard and/or plastic ones are just right. Many have animal pictures in them, but my favorite so far is Happy Baby Animals, by Jo Douglass and Neville Graham. Not only are the photos big and colorful, but each page spread teaches a concept, such as different places animals live, their colors and patterns, what makes them unique, what sounds they make, and what their babies look like.
A Book for Preschoolers
For kids who are a bit older—say three to six or so—About Birds: A Guide for Children, written by Cathryn Sill and illustrated by John Sill looks promising. It doesn’t include a lot of species, focusing instead on the special qualities that make birds special—ornithology for preschoolers, if you will.
A Book for Older Kids
As far as children’s “field guides,” it’s sometimes helpful to know what not to buy. Several books I checked out were quite out of date, including birds such as “Common Flicker,” “Rufous-sided Towhee,” and “Northern Oriole.” Those names have been changed for years!
Another source of frustration was the consistent focus on eastern species. When a book only contains a few “common” birds, children will expect to be able to see most, if not all, of them. A lot of western kids are going to be pretty disappointed. For example, Beginning Birdwatcher’s Book by Sy Barlowe contains 48 species, but at least a dozen—one fourth of the contents—are not normally found in the northwest, where my granddaughter lives.
In light of these problems, I think the best thing is to just go ahead and get a “real” field guide. Kids are often smarter than we think! The books in the state field guide series by Stan Tekiela (such as Birds of Colorado, shown here) might be best for younger readers—each page has a large photo, and you don’t need to know taxonomy to find a bird, you can simply flip through the book. However, as these small volumes contain only common species, it would be a good idea to have a complete guide available for those special sightings.
Another Bird-related Gift Idea
Finally, figuring that the best way to interest my granddaughter in birds is to provide plenty of birds for her to see, we were delighted when her parents hung a bird feeder outside the window. The birds that visit are close enough to see without binoculars, and the glass provides a barrier that mutes some of the shrieking that comes from an excited baby. A birdfeeder may not be a typical gift for a child, but think of the life-long enthusiasm that can result from such a simple start. In fact, watching a birdfeeder is how I got started as a birder!
I would love to hear your recommendations! What bird-related books have delighted the kids in your life?