Yesterday, while Dad and I were soaking up the mild sunshine, five or six sparrow-sized birds flew into a nearby pine tree, and busied themselves eating pine cone seeds. With the help of binoculars and a Peterson Field Guide, we identified the yellow-breasted visitors as pine warblers.
I accepted Dad’s challenge to take up birding as a hobby when Mom and Dad gave me a subscription to “Birder’s Digest” one year at Christmas. Over the last fifteen years or so, it has been my delight to introduce the wonders of birds to both Andrew and Hannah, and to encourage numerous preschoolers and their parents to adopt birding as a family activity. Many of my birding stories include children, and the following two stories happen to include my favorite scavengers—vultures.
When Hannah was four years old, she and a preschool classmate, Travis, came running pell-mell towards me on the playground. She frowned at Travis and said with exasperation, “Tell him, Mom, tell him! She gestured to a bird sailing high above and said, “That is a vulture!” Travis stated confidently, “Is not! It’s a BIRD!” Feeling as if I possessed the wisdom of King Solomon, I agreed with Travis that it was a bird, and nodded reassuringly to Hannah that it was indeed a vulture.
Another day, as I led my class to the playground, we scanned the sky for vultures. I described to the children how God created these birds to help keep the earth clean by eating the carcasses of animals, such as dead dear, dead cows, dead dogs. As we walked along, Aiden thoughtfully asked, “How about a dead fireman? Do they eat dead firemen? Where was King Solomon’s wisdom now, I wondered? “Yes,” I said reluctantly. “I suppose that a vulture could eat a dead fireman.” I hastened to explain that it was very unlikely that a dead fireman would be left outside long enough for vultures to make a meal of him. Aiden’s mother reported that for some time afterwards, he informed family members and strangers alike that vultures ate dead firemen. Aiden, now nine years old, displays a turkey vulture egg replica in his room with a with note that says, “No bad guys allowed to touch this.”
Dad had included pine warblers on his life list years ago, and I happily added them to mine yesterday. He wasn’t up to doing much of anything but resting today, but we’re hoping that we can go on several bird walks before he returns to Hugo.
Check out how to participate in the 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count that takes place February 13-16. Maybe you’ll start a family tradition.