One of my goals is to raise children who love nature, so I am always on the hunt for simple activities that will help my children appreciate the outdoors. The Great Backyard Bird Count fit the bill. It is a national event in which birders simply count the number and species of every bird they see in their backyard for 15 minutes. Supposedly, this amateur research assists ornithologists at the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If scientists are relying on Luke, Leah, and me, they must be pretty desperate for help.
First, we went into our backyard area. Since we live in a townhouse, we don’t actually have a backyard, but we do have an artificially beautiful common area. Artificially beautiful in that our townhouse association pays a lot of money to have landscapers spray it heavily with pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, and God only knows what several times a year. I have never seen a weed back there at all. I haven’t seen many birds either, but I thought that could be due to the fact that I have never actually looked for a bird back there. Yet, we walked into the backyard, full of hope and excitement, eager to aid scientists in any way we could. The kids had their handwritten checklists and were looking skyward as soon as we got back there. Fifteen minutes later, we had seen ZERO birds. ZERO. We had nothing but an empty checklist and sore necks. The kids were so disappointed. Now I thought about launching into a lecture about the perils of pesticides, the changing climate, the number of developers encroaching on birds’ habitats, the fact that cell towers kill thousands of migratory birds a day, but I didn’t want to depress my kids. Instead, I took the opposite approach. I took them to a place where I knew we would hit the bird jackpot. A nearby park has a major problem with Canada geese, so we hopped in the car and headed there. The kids were a bit skeptical about the idea because the park is not in our backyard, but I assured them that the friendly scientists would be proud of our flexibility and quick thinking.
The park did not disappoint. We heard the honking as soon as we got out of the car. The kids started to run toward the pond as I reminded them to watch where they stepped. There is goose poop everywhere. These geese are a major environmental hazard, and I was never so happy to see them. We counted and recounted and recounted again. It is nearly impossible to count a large number of birds that look exactly the same. They kept swimming away and then back toward us. Some got out of the water and others got in. We think there were 70 of them, but that is the count of a kindergartener, a preschooler, and a scatterbrained mom.
Counting all those geese took about 5 minutes, so we looked around the park for about 10 more minutes. We saw three robins, four ducks, and two sparrows (or were they finches?). We also saw six birds flying overhead, but we couldn’t identify them with our primitive birdwatching skills.
While I am not sure we helped the scientific community very much, I am proud to say my kids continued to look for birds once our official bird search was over. Luke was able to identify a robin by the playground, and Leah pointed out lots of birds on our car ride home. After we logged into the Great Backyard Bird Count website and entered the birds we spotted, we printed out a certificate of participation to hang on the refrigerator. We are going to make some pine cone bird feeders to invite more birds into our backyard this week. It was Leah’s idea, and I couldn’t be prouder.
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