My eight-year-old son is a rising birder, and he often surprises me with various pieces of bird art he has created. I am curating quite a collection of drawings, sculptures, and paintings! Such was the case recently when he presented me with this canvas of two snowy owls, which blew me away with its attention to detail.
The most remarkable thing about this, though, was that—unbeknownst to him—I had earlier that day been reading about a snowy owl that recently had been spotted a mere ten miles from our home, and I was debating if and when to try to see it. While it might sound like a no-brainer to go see such a bird that is so close, I hesitated because I have seen snowies before, and it was still unclear at the time how comfortable the bird was with the increasing number of visitors showing up at this very accessible site. I did not want to add to the bird’s stress, if indeed it was stressed.
But upon being presented with this piece of art, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance for my kiddos to see this bird. So, without their knowing anything about the visiting snowy, the next day after school, we drove straight to the park where it had taken up residence. They thought we were just there to play on the playground (a treat in itself given the pandemic and limited recreation options we currently have!), but they quickly figured out by the number of people gathered that something was going on.
“Remember the snowy owls you drew for me yesterday, buddy?” I asked my son. “There’s a real live snowy owl RIGHT THERE.”
Eyes wide, they grabbed our binoculars and got their sights on the snowy, who was obliging the crowd by resting in full view on a pile of rocks at the base of a dam. We talked about how important it was to not get too close to the bird so as not to stress it out, and what signs it might exhibit to show that it is bothered by our presence (fidgeting, staring at us, head-bobbing, changing position).
We talked about how this park—with its wide, open field—probably attracted the bird because of how the terrain resembles the flat, open arctic tundra where it came from. And how those rocks and the field were likely full of mice and rats and voles and other critters to keep its belly full. And of course, on the other side of the dam was a lake with fish and ducks it would also be happy to eat (and some birders had witnessed it eating!).
This bird could be here for quite awhile if people are respectful and give it the space it needs. (And indeed, it has been continuing for over two months now.)
What a thrill to be able to show your children in real life the things they have studied in books or looked up on the internet, feeding their curious little minds!
Of course, being as young as they are, the playground soon won over their attention, and I was more than happy to oblige, my momma birder heart overflowing once again.
About the Author
Jessica Melfi is Assistant Editor for Bird Watcher's Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She is the mother of four young birders and lives in Columbus, Ohio.