Children are naturally curious about the world around them. As adults we often teach them about seasons based on the weather or when a certain plant or crop might grow best. But wildlife can also be a learning tool to teach kids about changes in the seasons.
Texas is ground zero for two migration super highways used by the birds, butterflies and bats. Yes, bats migrate too! Every spring as the winds start to oscillate from north to south the birds that spend winter in Texas begin to pack their bags, wait for the right southern wind, and take flight on their magnificent journey north. Some birds fly all the way from Central and South America to the Arctic to breed and raise their young.
The American Robins are one of the first migrating birds to kick off the migration. Just before they head north they gather into large flocks and start feeding veraciously on berries and insects to have enough fuel to make the journey. When they are in these large flocks it is easy for kids to identify them and to have the conversation about migration.
Other songbirds such as Cedar Waxwings gather in large flocks before they head north. Waterfowl such as ducks and geese also gather into groups as they decide to take to the wing and glide to the north or east. When I was a child my grandfather would hustle me outside to listen for the geese or Sandhill Cranes in the fall and spring. I still get a thrill hearing their distinctive calls and trying to see them soar by in their v-formation or twist on the thermals to get to a higher elevation.
Another sound I learned to associate with spring as a child growing up in Central Texas was the song of the Northern Mockingbird: our state bird. The males will perch in the tree tops to establish a territory and hope to attract a partner by signing away night and day.
This spring, think about how you can connect the children in your life with the sights and sounds of nature through observing birds. If you are really interested in birding, there are plenty of birding walks offered by local Audubon Societies or at State Parks or Nature Centers. The Great Texas Birding Classic is another fun way to get kids interested in birding. The Classic is like a giant bird scavenger hunt where teams try to identify as many bird species as they can in a day or weekend.
Birding is one of those activities that doesn’t take a lot of gear or require a long trip. It can happen at a school, park, church, or right in your own backyard. You can find all kinds of lessons and ideas at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you want to know what plants are best for your area to attract birds visit Audubon- Native Plants and just put in your zip code.
Find local parks and nature centers near you at www.naturerockstexas.org.