You'll be lucky to hear the first cuckoo of spring

With declining bird populations, even if children do yearn to be twitchers, there's precious little to twitch at

Share

It may be sad but it isn't surprising to learn from yet another educational survey that the only birds most children recognise these days are robins and woodpeckers. Does it follow that Christmas cards and cartoons are more instructive than nature studies' teachers advising pupils about the treachery of cuckoos or the danger of getting too close to swans whose outstretched wings can break a man's arm.

It may be sad but it isn't surprising to learn from yet another educational survey that the only birds most children recognise these days are robins and woodpeckers. Does it follow that Christmas cards and cartoons are more instructive than nature studies' teachers advising pupils about the treachery of cuckoos or the danger of getting too close to swans whose outstretched wings can break a man's arm.

I'm talking out of my hat as usual. They don't teach nature studies at school anymore. Primary schools now have science studies which are more geared to getting kids to draw spaceships landing on the moon than drawing nice distinctions between the willow warbler, the chiff chaff and the grebe. One of my favourite books as a child was called Birds of Our Gardens, which as well as identifying the different species was packed with handy advice about making a tasty bird cake with lard and breadcrumbs and bits of bacon rind.

When he is having one of his rare expansive moments, my husband reminisces about growing up in Argyll. Because they were so isolated there was nothing much else to do but look at birds. The best times were at night when he would sneak off to a ruined castle in the loch where he would spend many happy hours strangling pigeons in the dungeons by torchlight.

The children were hugely impressed by this story of derring-do and begged to be taken to see the famous dungeons, scene of their father's heroic exploits. The castle has since been bought by a Surrey solicitor and tastefully refurbished. They sometimes have an open day which is how we managed to get in and make our way down the circular stone stairs to the once pigeon-infested dungeons. Alas, not a bird in sight, just streamlined work surfaces stacked with fishing tackle and computer accessories.

Educational shortcomings notwithstanding, the real reason that children don't know about birds is that apart from playing football or going on heavily supervised bike rides dressed in protective clothing, they don't spend a lot of time out of doors.

The other reason that the odds are so stacked against modern children knowing anything about birds is that even if they do yearn to be twitchers, there's precious little to twitch at with the bird population decreasing at such an alarming rate.

As a cat owner I take my share of responsibility for this depressing decline. I love everything about cats except for the fact that they kill birds. I don't care about rabbits or moles or voles or all the other creatures the cat drags backwards through the cat flap. It's the moorhen chicks she snaffled days after they were hatched last year or the wren's nest she snuck up on and demolished when their mother was out shopping. Here's an idea. Since cats are such independent animals, maybe there should be a ban on people owning them. Instead every street or village or block of flats should have a community cat - that way we could all do our bit to save the birds.

At least we don't actively hunt them like the wretched Italians and French who wait, loaded guns raised, for the migratory flocks of swallows and swifts returning to their nesting grounds from winter in Africa and blast them to bits. A food writer friend once told me about an extraordinary banquet he'd been to in France. The first course was a rare delicacy called Singing Larks. It looked very pretty, apparently, the tiny larks' heads protruding from a golden pastry crust, their beaks open as if they were in full song. The correct way to eat them, the host explained, was to rip off their heads before tucking in. Ugh.

I hope I'm doing my bit to encourage children to learn more about birds.Instead of giving small children Where's Spot picture books I send them a CD I came across in the British Library called Songs of Garden Birds. It's brilliant but whatever you do don't lose the accompanying crib sheet. Unless you're a latter day St Francis of Assisi you'll find it hard to distinguish the simple repetitive two-note tee-cher call of the great tit from the thinner, faster, sweeter sibilant song of the coal tit, though chances are you will easily recognise the pitchwoo chicerbiddy of the less common marsh tit. There are 52 garden birds on the CD. From black-headed gulls to owls to, yes, robins and woodpeckers.

Once the children have memorised them, they can progress like students moving from piano sonatas to full blown concertos to the next title in the series, Dawn Choruses. I think that's what they call educational play.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power