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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern