Introduce Kids to Nature with Bird Watching in the Palisades

Photos courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited

By JULIE HANSON | Contributing Writer

Many parents want their kids to know more about wildlife and to feel closer to nature—but it’s not always easy. Busy schedules often can’t include long treks to national parks or even hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains.

But, parents can take advantage of the wildlife right in their own neighborhoods: wild birds.

“Birds are a great entry point to connecting with nature, no matter where you live,” said Stacey Vigallon, environmental education director, Los Angeles Audubon. Feeding and watching those birds can give kids an intimate view of the daily lives of the wildlife all around them.

One easy way to get started is to hang out a bird feeder in a location where you and your kids can see it easily. It could be outside the kitchen window or close to a patio where you sit in warm weather.

Invest in a guide with pictures, such as “Sibley Birds West.” Then start watching and identifying birds with your kids.

“We tend to place more emphasis on learning how to be a good observer of nature and less on memorizing the names,” Vigallon explained. “Learning how to look and then caring about what you see usually will foster the curiosity and motivation to do some further exploring in field guides.”

Remember, kids pick up on your enthusiasm. So, if you start watching or feeding birds, it’s more likely that they will, too. The important thing is to do it together.

If you can add a water feature to your yard, such as a birdbath, a fountain or a little pond, that will bring in even more birds, not to mention amuse your kids. Also, if you add native plants to your garden or patio, you can bring even more birds and butterflies for your kids to see.

You don’t have to stick to your backyard: Take your bird guide and walk around the block with your kids, writing down the birds that you see. Let kids use your phone (or their phones) to take pictures or record songs. When kids succeed in getting a photo of a wild bird, they feel a real sense of accomplishment.

If you want to expand your bird ID abilities, download the Merlin app from Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab. It’s free and can help you identify hundreds of birds.

You and your kids can even become citizen scientists with apps, such as eBird. This app helps you not only identify birds, but also submit your finds to Cornell’s national database. And, you can use that database to find out what other people in your area are seeing. eBird stores and manages your sightings, photos and audio recordings of birds you encounter.

Another great way to document nature observations, get help with identification and connect digitally with other nature-lovers is by joining iNaturalist.

If you do have time to take a hike, start easy. Kids have lots of energy, but they don’t have your stamina. A short hike is best, letting the kids set the pace. Stop occasionally to listen for bird calls or look for birds in the area, and don’t forget to take the Merlin app to identify them. 

The Los Angeles Audubon Society offers bird walks appropriate for young bird watchers age 6 years and older. Experienced leaders will help you explore the varied habitat in and around the Los Angeles area.

Kids and adults will enjoy using the binoculars that are provided on many of the walks. If you prefer to take a non-guided bird walk, try the loop trail at Will Rogers State Park, a birding hotspot and favorite for seeing the Western bluebird, California scrub jay and California quail.

Spending time observing birds and nature together is a great activity to do as a family.  Here are some additional resources for parents looking to introduce their kids to nature observation: The Children & Nature Network (childrenandnature.org), the LA County Natural History Museum’s Nature Lab and Nature Gardens (nhm.org/nature/visit/nature-lab) and Los Angeles Audubon Society (laaudubon.org/bird-walks).

Julie Hanson is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 12433 Wilshire Blvd. For more information, call 424-272-9000.