Bird Watcher's General Store

Get Someone Started Birding for Christmas
12/11/09

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Dear Bird Folks,

My ten-year-old granddaughter is interested in birds and I'd like to encourage her to continue with this hobby. I'm thinking about giving her a box of bird stuff for Christmas. What items do you suggest I include in the box?

- Paul, Bourne, MA

Good idea, Paul,

I love that you are encouraging your granddaughter's birding hobby. I'd like to say that my own kids are interested in birds, too, but the only birds they can identify are the NBC Peacock and the toucan on a box of Fruit Loops. However, I wouldn't refer to your gift as a box of "bird stuff." Bird stuff is what we wash off our car windows. I think a "birding kit" would be a better way of saying it, but she's your granddaughter so the phrasing is up to you.

The first item in a bird watching kit should be a bird feeder. Even the best birders begin their love of birds by appreciating backyard birds first. Feeders come in four basic styles. Your choices are: cheap and flimsy, artsy-fartsy, squirrel-proof, and plain but well-made. Forget the cheap and artsy-fartsy feeders. They won't last very long and the kid could be discouraged before she even gets started. Squirrel-proof feeders are great but they aren't cheap and I have a lot of items to suggest for this kit; there's no sense in blowing the entire budget on one item. I think a simple, well-made tube feeder is the way to go. Choose a feeder with metal perches and seed ports because these feeders will last forever. So what if the squirrels are able to eat out of it? Let your granddaughter learn about squirrels the hard way, just like we had to. It will put hair on her chest.

Of course the food for this new feeder should be sunflower seed. If you dare buy your granddaughter a bag of that mixed crap from the grocery store, I'll report you to the Department of Social Services. The next item to get is a good bird identification book. There are many "beginner" books out there, but I'm not a big fan of watered down bird books, even for kids. I think everyone, at any age, should have a complete birding field guide. I hear too many adults misnaming birds because the bird that they saw wasn't in their copy of "Little Billy's Guide to Pretty Birds." Get an all-inclusive book. Or, if it makes you feel better, buy the child a beginner's book and a comprehensive book for her parents. That way, there'll be at least one good book in the kid's house.

I don't know if you intend to buy your granddaughter binoculars for this kit, Paul, but if you do here are some guidelines. Many birders don't recommend small, compact binoculars, but I think small makes sense in this case. No ten-year-old girl wants to drag around heavy binoculars. Plus, small binoculars fit better in small hands. But don't even think about buying her binoculars made by Fisher-Price or Mattel. Binoculars aren't supposed to have pictures of Barbie or Hannah Montana on them. I'm not saying you have to get top of the line optics, but at least buy a brand name you've heard of. You should also look through them first to make sure they work. That means you shouldn't consider any binoculars that come in those frustrating plastic clamshell packs. Not only won 't you be able to try them first, but your ten-year-old granddaughter will be in college by the time she's be able to finally get one of those %*!@##!*@ packages open.

One thing younger people have that many adults don't have is good hearing. Because of that I would encourage you to consider a CD of bird songs. Identifying birds is a million times easier for those who can recognize songs and calls. And unlike my complete bird book rant earlier, a bird-song CD doesn't need to include every bird. A good collection of backyard bird songs would be fine for a young birder. Let the child master familiar and easy songs first. See, I can be flexible.

I don't know where your granddaughter lives, but if she is fortunate enough to live around here, you should definitely include a copy of Birding Cape Cod. Birding Cape Cod is an informative book that was put together by the knowledgeable folks at the Cape Cod Bird Club. It contains maps and info on the very best local birding spots. If she doesn't live on the Cape you should get the book for her anyway. That way you'll have good places to take her when she comes to visit and you won't end up being dragged to the mall.

The last thing you should purchase for your granddaughter is the most important item of all. You should buy her a brand new, fire red Corvette convertible. A convertible is the perfect vehicle to go birding in. You can see and hear the birds so much better in a car without a roof. And because your granddaughter is only ten years old you are going to need me to keep this car safe for her until she's old enough to drive. I would totally do that for you, Paul. That's the kind of guy I am.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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