It was the early 90s, and a simpler time.
Before Internet and cellphones and Facebook. No one knew words like Global Warming, Bitcoin and Kardashian. I was a skinny kid who was into birds (I am still into birds), and the only bird nerd in my school. I got teased a lot. Quitting my birding obsession was not an option, so I hid it. Yet I found that birding presented the ideal hobby for a sharp but shy kid who didn’t excel at sports, but still liked to spend time outside. Today, about thirty years later, I’m not shy about being a birder anymore. In fact, for better or worse, I’ve decided to make a living as a professional birder. I guess having Peacock as a surname sealed the deal.
The greatest gift.
I believe that encouraging an interest in nature is the single greatest gift a parent can give to a child. It is intellectually empowering. It gets them active and outside. It provides a healthy, productive form of escapism. It teaches them to respect and value the planet, and appreciate things smaller than themselves. It turns their attention from materialism to naturalism. It does not mean they have to make a career out of it (fulfilling but not very lucrative): some of the best birders I know are finance guys, lawyers, architects, doctors…even engineers.
Birding will bring you closer as a family.
My parents relented, and I got to choose where we spent each holiday (in search of birds). Years later, they admitted that they would never have seen half of the amazing places we ended up in, if not for my birding plans. Before I turned eighteen, my dad drove me literally all over the country to look for birds. We spent countless hours exploring, talking and laughing. Birds provide the perfect level of stimulation. Enough diversity to keep kids interested and learning, but not so much as to be overwhelming. Birds connect to people in a way no other group of organisms does.
Birding teaches kids so much more.
It encompasses all aspects of natural history – ecology, botany, geography and so on – but also encourages personal growth. In birding, you make the rules and you compete only with yourself. Perhaps offering independent kids an alternative to the structure of organised team sports and the rules and schedules of daily life.
Birding is not just about birds.
Let’s be honest: birds are small, fast and inexplicably distrustful. And looking through binoculars is a challenge to younger children. But no matter – a birding trip will inevitably lead to all sorts of other outdoor escapades. A dip in a rock pool. Wading through a swamp. Finding bugs, geckos, frogs and other ‘hands-on’ animals. Finding not-so-hands-on creatures like scorpions and snakes. Stalking, scrambling, crawling, climbing, slipping, jumping, falling. Using flashlights to look for mysterious glowing eyes at night. Peering through the little windows of bird hides. Finding a nest with eggs. Marvelling at the beautiful feathers of a dead bird. Following a small road through the bush to see where it goes. In a word: fun.
Birding is a great social equalizer.
Birds don’t care if you are male or female, rich or poor, black or white. And in general, neither do birders. Birding will help your child build mutually respectful relationships with people of all ages and backgrounds, not just peers.
Free as a bird.
The bottom line is that “normal” people just don’t have the sorts of crazy experiences that are the norm for birders. Birding fosters a sense of living outside the mundane day-to-day, and a sense of liberty in kids. I believe this fundamental background will be reflected in adulthood too. Perhaps by choice of an exciting career, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a general attitude of fun and freedom in life.