Birding & Motherhood
Each fall, as the air begins to cool and the scorching Florida summer starts to fade, my family goes on what I like to call a “bunting watch.” My twin boys, now seven, join my husband and me on our daily lookout for the first Painted Bunting of the season to arrive at one of our feeders. Oh, the anticipation! For the past six years we have welcomed these exquisitely plumed migrants from the north, enjoying their daily visits to our Coconut Grove garden all winter. We have spent countless hours observing them feast at our feeders as the sunshine illuminates their brilliant purple heads, blazing red bellies, and green backs. Before I am out of bed some mornings, I can hear the pitter-patter of my sons’ feet as they run to the window to look for our visitors.
Being a birder has made me a better mother. A good birder needs patience and a willingness to tune in to the world around them; to feel the subtle changes in the weather that signal migration; to pay attention to the bird songs and daily and seasonal patterns of our feathered friends like the Painted Bunting. These skills also help me be a better mother to my children, who require vast amounts of patience. Someone who will tune in to them. In a world where children (and adults) are increasingly disconnected from nature and each other in favor of plugging into a digital smorgasbord, I choose to prioritize my children’s exposure to the natural world through birding, fishing, hiking, kayaking and other pursuits, over non-essential screen-time activities. I do this by sharing my own passion for birds and wildlife in the hope that my interest will spark an interest in them.
Being a mother has made me a better birder. When you see something through a child’s eyes, you see it anew. Children’s senses are far keener than those of adults. When my children observe a bird, and ask questions, I am always learning something new. I also bird differently. Before I had children, I enjoyed listing all the new species I saw. My husband and I would travel often, sometimes going on guided birding trips in South or Central America, where we would count more than 200 new species in a few days. After I had children, my birding was mostly reduced to my backyard. This forced me to become much more attuned to the birds I see every day - the Blue Jays, the Northern Cardinals, the Painted Buntings in winter. Now I am much better at observing their behaviors and have become more attuned to their calls and songs, the way my children are.
Mostly, being a mother and a birder means I have a strong sense of urgency to protect birds and join conservation efforts, and to raise children who respect and cherish nature, so that their generation and generations to come may enjoy the birds that exist today and Earth’s natural beauty as we know it.
I realize that the task before me is great. The battle against screen time is fierce. Studies show that children today spend as much as seven hours a day in front of screens. Spend time with anyone in my sons’ generation and the topic will turn to video games, mobile phones, television, and conversations with Alexa or Siri. Children are spending more time in a virtual word and less time in the natural world. I love that my children can identify a “lady” American Redstart at the park and recognize the call of a Red-bellied woodpecker or the squeaky chirps of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. But I worry about their future as part of a generation so disconnected from the Earth.
What can we do? What can I do?
For starters, we can get kids outdoors for time to quiet the mind and wander in wonder. Time spent in a park or patch of grass in wonder, at the beach, or on the water, is time well spent. Don’t have much time or a yard? A potted plant to care for and watch grow (remember your little bean in the cup?)-- a butterfly host plant or bird feeder on a balcony will do. An encounter with a bird, a fish-- any wildlife, or even an amazing tree can spark a love, a passion to last a lifetime.
My family is now preparing for bunting watch. Fall is around the corner. Can’t wait.