A few weeks ago my dad (Head teacher at a primary school in Guildford) asked me to do a presentation about birds to children in his year one classes. I was a little unsure at first quite what it would require – how long would I be talking for, what would they already know about birds and how interested would they be? Luckily for me they had just finished a topic on birds and that was why I was being roped in; for their end of topic celebration which would also include them dressing up as birds and having a ‘bird ball’. This meant that they were very excited and already knew a fair bit about the birds! With an unusually early start to get there on time I arrived with my dad before school had started. When the children finally appeared it was nice to see some recognisable species with some blue tits, peacocks and a lot of robins, although there was even a very proud bird of paradise!
The teachers had also dressed up so I was slightly under-dressed but I began the presentation with them all listening attentively. I showed them some of my bird photos and explained which birds they were and what was special about them, from the fishing habits of the osprey to the urban nature of the house sparrow. They were thoroughly interested and a particular murmur of amazement followed the news that peregrines were even faster that cheetahs and white-tailed eagles had a wingspan further than I could stretch my arms! Especially exciting for many of them was seeing that so many birds could be seen in the parks and gardens around their homes – some even told their awe-struck classmates that golden eagles routinely visited their lawns and they were impressed that even peregrines lived not too far from the school! I think the talk will have been worthwhile even if just one of them is inspired to look outside and start watching birds.
Despite the seeming lack of solid identification skills I think some of them may become naturalists and birders yet because their attention remained on the birds for the entire 30 minute duration of the presentation which is no mean feat for a six-year-old. Many were keen to ask some very intelligent questions including: ‘can a merlin catch birds bigger than itself?’, ‘how high can birds go’, and ‘what do doves eat’, as well as a few less relevant contributions (‘my hamster’s called merlin!’, for example). It was brilliant to see how enthused the children were by nature and how ready they were to go out, find it and help it. Lots of them wanted to make DIY birdfeeders and at playtime some pretended to be peregrines flying across the tarmac while others pecked at imaginary worms on the walls! Not only do I hope that the children enjoyed my talk but it was also fantastic to see an appreciation of nature in an entire year of schoolchildren; it reminded me of something Sir David Attenborough said to President Obama – when asked when his fascination with nature had begun, Sir Attenborough replied: ‘When did you lose yours?” Hopefully the future of our wildlife is in the hands of people who have not lost their child-like love of nature!
Patrick Lewin (Twitter) – @P_Lewin26