Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Encouraging an Interest in Birds
March 20, 2021
By Steve Grinley
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But in the case of my three children following an interest in birds – that never happened. Oh, I tried. I often took them on bird walks, which they remember, but they still can’t tell a chickadee from a nuthatch. Maybe I was just a bad teacher. Had I only known this clever methodology shared by fellow birder Strickland Wheelock:
“Thursday morning, I met my daughter from Connecticut and her fourteen year old daughter at 7:30 am at the parking lot at Sachuest Point in Rhode Island. It was a surprise excursion for her daughter as the two of them were spending four days in the Newport area exploring the city and the mansions, and having quality one on one time on her daughter’s spring break.
“The unexpected piece for the granddaughter was me meeting them at Sachuest Point to take them birding! To make this morning more stimulating to the granddaughter (maybe interest her in becoming a birder), I offered her various financial incentives (a.k.a. some fun spending money) to gain her full attention – which worked: [I offered] $10 if we find 10 species of ducks, plus $1.00 for each additional duck species; $5.00 bonus if we found an overall 45 species during the morning; and another $5.00 bonus if we found a Redhead [which Strickland really wanted to see!]
“I gave her a checklist to make an X by the species we saw, which she paid close attention to all morning. As we walked Sachuest and enjoyed all the Bufflehead, Common Goldeneyes, Black and Surf and White-winged Scoters, Common Eiders, stunning Harlequin Ducks, Common Loons, Great Cormorants, Horned Grebes, Brant plus the expected gulls. The goal was to make the birding fun & challenging (and profitable) and she got really good at identifying some of the common species.
“After Sachuest, we birded some of the local ponds for new species where we racked up many Ruddy Ducks, all three merganser species, both Greater & Lesser Scaup, five American Wigeon, Mallards, Black Ducks, and Coots, plus Sanderlings along the beaches.
“One highlight for the grand daughter [and for Strickland] was finding 4 Redheads in Eaton Pond along with many other duck species. Other highlights this morning was enjoying a male Bluebird teed up singing, two Great Blue Herons in a tree, and a Red-tailed Hawk that dropped out of a tree and nailed a mouse right in front of us.
“In the end, between all the expected passerines like Carolina Wrens, Song Sparrows, etc, we just hit 45 species for the morning, 17 species of ducks which included her bonus duck. I told the granddaughter that the next goal/challenge is 100 species! I tried to explain to them that birding at this time of year in 60+ degree weather, little wind on a sunny day, was not normal but as a starting experience, it was a good way to enjoy all the species – no pain factor. What a fun morning !!
“Hope is that my daughter and granddaughter here in the East both find birding as fun and challenging as does my other daughter & her son from San Diego do. They call me with reports of Burrowing Owls, White-tailed Kites, etc!”
Wished I had known about Strickland’s methods years ago. My son in Cleveland does send me pictures of bald eagles, my daughter in Seattle tells me about her hummingbirds, but my daughter in London…well, not so much. Had I applied Strickland’s method of financial incentives back then, who knows – they may have all become ornithologists!