Nature and Education

Posted Oct 19, 2002
Last Updated Oct 26, 2011

Some time ago I was sitting out near my home observing a sparrowhawk in a tree. After a little while a young boy walked up to me and stood there quietly for a moment. When I looked over to him and smiled, he said, "What are you looking at?”

"A sparrowhawk,” I said.

His eyes widened as he asked, "Really?”

"Yeah, look up there at the top of the tree.”

He looked around for a minute, but he didn’t see the bird until I pointed it out. When he spotted the falcon he said, "That’s a real hawk?”

"Well,” I said, "kind of. It’s actually a kestrel, a small falcon. But it is a bird of prey.”

I let the boy use my binoculars. It took him a little while to use the lenses, but when he finally got a good close look, he said, "Wow, that’s so neat.”

After a bit the bird flew off for a more peaceful perch. The boy seemed excited to go home and tell his mom about the event.

Kids who grow up in the city often get very little chance to learn about wildlife. Sometimes they go to the zoo or a park, but because such excursions are usually sporadic, children rarely get a chance to learn the skills of observation dealing with nature.

Sparrowhawks are actually a very common bird in central Ohio. You often spot them sitting on telephone wires along roads. They are covered in a motley of colors, from gray to rusty orange, yellow and black. Yet a lot of kids just don’t know what a sparrowhawk is.

Other neat animals live right under our noses, even in fairly populated areas. I’ve found muskrats, foxes and fairy shrimp within a mile of my home, only a few blocks from Westgate Park. Most people know what foxes are, but fairy shrimp and muskrats? Muskrats resemble little beavers, and fairy shrimp are crustaceans that live in the vernal pools.

A lot of kids miss out on these things because they don’t have anyone to tell them what they are. Even simple common animals are left undefined with many kids. I have known many people unable to distinguish a morning dove from a pigeon, and I’ve even heard people call doves sparrows. Really, there’s a big difference between these birds, but for many people, a bird is just a bird.

I guess I was lucky to have a father who came from a farm in North Dakota. He impressed on me the grandness of our world, the beauty of nature. It is not hard to learn where to look for animals, provided there is someone to teach you about them.

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