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

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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to adapt and survive

Nigel Edwards
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?