When it comes to nature, start ‘em young

I was picking blackberries down on my Jackson Parish hunting club earlier this year when I heard a familiar bird call that caught my attention. I was transported back to the time when I was a barefoot tow-headed boy and I remember watching my mom tilt her head when she heard the call of this particular species of bird, one she hadn’t heard before.

Wiping her hands on her apron, she dug out her old dog-eared bird book, stepped outside with my brother Tom and me at her heels. The search was on as she scanned the thickets around the house until she caught a glimpse of the mystery bird. She spotted a blue jay-sized bird, bright yellow underside, brown upper parts sitting on a bare branch and making odd creaking chirps, wheezes and grunts. Mom flipped through the pages of her book until she found the bird that had captured her attention. Thanks to her taking the time to identify this shy visitor to our yard and sharing it with us, I have never had a problem identifying the calls and markings of the bird she correctly identified, a yellow breasted chat.

Because of what my mom felt important enough to pass along to her offspring, I have enjoyed a lifelong interest in song birds. Feeders scattered around the yard and several bird books on my library shelves attest to that fact. Thus, my ears perked up a bit some time ago when I was invited to speak to a group of grade school youngsters about wildlife with an emphasis on birds.

Kristen Telford was the third grade teacher at Ruston Elementary School and she invited me to meet with her class of 20 students at Lincoln Parish Park to share what I knew about birds and other wildlife that make their homes in our area.

I’ve been asked to speak numerous times to adult groups about wildlife and the outdoors but never to a group so young and I admit a bit of apprehension. I was soon to learn, however, that although the questions I get from adults may be a bit more mature, the response from a bunch of nine year olds is something else again.

The hour passed quickly as I entertained questions and listened to comments about birds from this wide-eyed group of youngsters. The main challenge was attempting to sort out questions and comments from third graders all wanting to be heard simultaneously. The teacher did a commendable job of maintaining decorum and insisting that the eager students raise their hands but not speak until called on. For the most part, they did as they were told….for the most part.

I came away from this experience of sharing about birds and nature with youngsters with the conviction that we don’t do this nearly enough. If I had to guess, I doubt that more than half a dozen of this group has ever been fishing and my guess is that none have had a parent or other relative take them hunting or bird watching.

Studies show that youngsters spend an average of 42 hours a week in front of some electronic device, which leaves very little free time to explore the outdoors, go fishing or engage in hunting, bird watching or nature study. They don’t have time for these activities and sadly, most will never be taught the importance of learning what the amazing outdoors has to teach.

If you have access to a youngster, yours or someone else’s, I hope you’ll find it in your heart to take him/her under your wing and patiently teach them the things you know about nature. Had it not been for my mom’s patience, I’d have never recognized the call of that yellow breasted chat in a thicket where the blackberries grew.

Glynn Harris Outdoor column is sponsored by D.C. Pawn in Minden

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