Hooking kids on birding

  • Article by: JIM WILLIAMS , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: August 16, 2011 - 2:33 PM

When starting youngsters on birding, and a lifetime love of the outdoors, a pair of binoculars and loons help.

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A chance to get a glimpse of loons brought a smile to Cole Ciardelli's face.

Photo: Jim Williams, Special to the Star Tribune

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The boy in the photo is a happy kid. He's shin-deep in Mooney Lake in Plymouth, watching a pair of common loons.

First point: If you want to make bird watching even more fun, take a child with you.

The boy, Cole Ciardelli, is one of my grandsons. He likes birds, frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, mice -- anything that crawls, hops, runs or flies. The July day the photo was taken, it was birds.

I enjoy sharing birds with him. I'm also willing to look for any other animal that will help me permanently hook him to the outdoors.

Second point: I want to help make bird watching something with a future. Cole and his playmates and classmates are key to that.

It's their pleasure and appreciation of loons and other creatures that will help ensure the survival of our wild things and wild places.

One thing we can do for our grandchildren and ourselves is to take a kid birding. Pick a place where lots of birds are likely. Attention spans are limited. Action counts.

With children, and often with beginning birders of any age, big birds are the best starting points.

Cole wouldn't have been so happy if I was showing him a grasshopper sparrow. Loons are cool. We got lucky when we walked down to the shore and found that pair of birds on the water.

Mooney Lake, surrounded by homes, is a wild place. So is Lake Calhoun. Kids don't care as much about where as they care about what. A loon is a loon, regardless.

Binoculars are important. It's one thing to see a bird, quite another to look at it.

Make certain the child knows how to use the binoculars, what kind of image to expect, and how to focus so a good image is there.

Bird feeders are good, too. I gave Cole and his brother and sister a small feeder that attached to the patio door in their dining room with suction cups. The feeder, a $20 investment that included five pounds of sunflower chips, hung unused for a few days.

And then a chickadee flew in to eat. Wow! It was like winning the Super Bowl of bird feeding.

A story in this paper in mid-July discussed the possibility that warming weather and water might someday restrict loons to the far northeast corner of the state. The best we can hope for is slowing the changes, perhaps one day locking them in place.

There are all sorts of reasons to work for a stable and welcoming climate. The look on Cole's face is a good reason. How sad if in years to come he smiles like that when remembering loons instead of when standing in a lake, 50 feet from the birds themselves.

I hope that Cole's interest continues. I'll do my best to keep that smile in place. I can only hope that loons are never restricted to places hundreds of miles from home. We all have to do our best in that regard.

Start by taking a child with you on your next outdoor venture.

Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at woodduck38@gmail.com. Join his conversation about birds at www.startribune.com/wingnut.

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