That first robin is a sure sign spring has arrived.
And there’s no better time to get outside with your kids and introduce them to other feathered friends around the neighborhood. At longtime birdwatcher Vicky Sroczynski’s home in Darien, spring brings the first wave of about 150 species of birds, including warblers, grosbeaks and orioles, to the family’s feeders.
Birds have been a regular fixture with her children, Lauren and Joshua, 13 and 11, since they were just babies in a jogging stroller. Even now, the family takes strolls to the nearby forest preserve and trips to see the sandhill cranes at the Jasper-Pulaski State Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana.
"I think I follow my kids’ lead. If they say, ‘Oh, I wonder what that is,’ we go home to look it up," Sroczynski says.
Her best tips for getting kids interested in birds:
• Don’t force it. "I think you can just walk down your block and keep it simple and say, ‘Oh, look at the robin building a nest. Can we sit and watch?’ It seems to me that more often and less intense is probably good for younger kids."
• Get a birdfeeder and a birdbath. If you don’t have a yard, get a window feeder.
• Buy a pair of lightweight binoculars, but avoid the cheap plastic ones.
• Buy a field guide that includes all of the regional bird species.
• Make it a game. Challenge your kids to find three bird nests or 10 different kinds of birds on your walk. Kids can draw, write or sketch the bird; then look it up later at home. "It’s hard to stand there with the book and the bird flies away."
• For kids under 6, focus on the larger birds, such as the ducks and geese at the local pond. Visit the heron rookery at Lake Renwick in Plainfield or Baker’s Lake in Barrington or take a day trip to Starved Rock to see the eagles flying over the Mississippi River.
No matter how you do it, introducing kids to birds can make a lifelong difference in how they view nature.
"It’s a fantastic activity for young people to take up and enjoy throughout their lives," says Ron Skleney, naturalist at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn. "It’s a terrific way for parents to get the kids active outside and appreciating a little bit of the natural world around them."
A day out
The Willowbrook Wildlife Center, 525 S. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn, hosts its second annual International Migratory Bird Day Celebration, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, May 16. Among the activities will be bird-banding demonstrations, a kids’ bird walk (for kids 8 and up and their parents) and a birding for beginners walk. Reserve a spot for the walks, as well as loaner binoculars, beginning May 1, by calling (630) 942-6200.