Would you introduce a child to the avian world? There are more than 10000 species of birds globally with close to 1100 species in Kenya. That is a huge number. It is easier to explain to a child an elephant, rhino and even the various antelopes Africa’s landscapes hold but not as easy to introduce them to the specificity in the avian world. A bird is not just a bird. We don’t have only one eagle, they all have names. Birds are amazing ecological indicators. We can even know the extent to which climate change, pollution and habitat loss have increased or even reduced when we observe the population of birds. When a habitat is slowly being destroyed, among the first animal species to exit will be birds. It will not be the elephant or the rhino. Where do you expect birds to build their homes when the trees around them disappear? Why then, do we hesitate to teach children about birds?
Children are very curious and love to learn new and interesting things. Very smart in fact, that they will even tell you the behaviour of a certain animal they have seen including a bird. You will even be surprised by the attention to detail they have towards the identification of species. We may think when we show a child or a group of children a common bulbul, for example, the following day they will have forgotten. This may happen, we are all human, but even pro birders were once amateurs. Even before I could differentiate between the Baglafecht weaver and the Speke’s weaver, it took plenty of explanations from pros and my own enthusiasm to know the difference. Effort both ways will determine whether a child will be able to know a particular bird.
When we show children common birds by name, not a group, not saying that’s a weaver, that’s an ibis, that’s a duck but rather, here we have a Village Weaver, a Hadada Ibis and a Yellow – Billed Duck, not being concerned whether they will remember or not, we raise a generation that will appreciate birds more. When they get to see a bird on top of an elephant, for example, they will better understand why they need to protect the elephant because the Little Egret depends on its survival.
When we guide a children’s group through a game drive, instead of just stating the importance of the rhinos and elephants, we should also stop for the common birds, especially those the children are familiar with. This is because, birds do have local names, even though the names is just one in general for a group. For example, the Red – Billed Firefinch is known as Kanyoni Ka nja in Gikuyu. Most children in Central Kenya know the name of the bird in their local language. It will be even interesting when they know that there are many other species that are in the Firefinch family. When we understand not only the mammals but the also the local birds we are able to ensure children protect the entire environment. They will cherish trees not only because they provide us with oxygen but also the fact that they are homes to birds and even insects which birds feed on. Considering we are more likely to see birds every day than elephants, rhinos and other large mammals, children will understand that even green spaces in urban areas such as wetlands and gardens, need to be cherished and protected.
To make it easier for children to understand birds, we can have bird guides specialized for children as the normal bird book can be intimidating for them. We can also teach children through avian photography and documentaries since birds are not always still like some mammals and a good still image of a bird will add an interest for them to understand the avian world. For anyone who has the opportunity to teach children about wildlife, we should make an effort to know the birds by their name too and not by a group of names.
Side Note: 2018 is the Year of the Bird. Take action this August and introduce children to birds.
“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”
Featured image credit: Tony Wild