Bird Watcher's General Store

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Birding for Kids on Cape Cod

Dear Bird Folks,

My son (who is almost nine) loves your store and is interested in birds. Do you know if there are any birding programs on the Cape for kids?

Thanks. – Colleen


You have a smart kid, Colleen,

While I can’t say for sure how he does in school, if he “loves” my store he must be a budding genius. I’d give him a job if it weren’t for the fact that he’s “almost nine.” For some reason the State of Massachusetts won’t allow me to hire nine year olds…anymore. Have your son come see me next year, after he turns ten. Once his age reaches double digits there isn’t anything the State can do about it. At least, I hope not.

For good or bad, Cape Cod is noted for being a retirement community, and because of this the Cape might be lacking some activities for the younger crowd. However, the opposite is true for a young bird watcher, or for any kid interested in nature. I don’t know where you live, but within five miles of my house there are no less than three of the country’s premier nature reserves. Plus, there’s a bird watching store that has been voted the best birding store in Orleans for thirty-three years in a row. That’s a record that may never be broken…until next year (I hope). For the last six decades the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster has been catering to families who enjoy all aspects of nature. The Museum has an extensive number of trails to explore, plus a wonderful array of indoor exhibits to investigate when the weather is nasty. The Museum also has my all-time favorite bird feeding station. Their “feeder room” overlooks several birdfeeders and none of the feeders have baffles or restrictions of any kind. Birds and creatures big and small, cute or not so cute are all welcome and no one judges them…or bangs on the window to scare them away.

If you really want to see birds close up and personal, you should take in one of the Museum’s bird banding demonstrations. From May to October, Sue Finnegan captures and bands whatever birds happen to find their way into her mist nets. Sometimes the birds are unusual (White-eyed Vireos) and other times they are common (Gray Catbirds), but they are always seen from just a few inches away. What kid wouldn’t love having that experience? Halfway up Rt. 6 on the Outer Cape you’ll find Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Consisting of nearly 1,000 acres, this refuge has a variety of habitats, including a freshwater pond that is always filled with turtles (and sometimes otters), plus a massive salt marsh that attracts an assortment of herons and shorebirds. The property also has an open field that serves as a magnet for bluebirds, kingbirds and swallows, and maybe Purple Martins. I am predicting that this summer Wellfleet will have the first martin colony that has been on the Outer Cape since forever. (Of course, I also predicted McTofu would be the next big thing in fast food restaurants and that hasn’t happened…yet.)

During school vacations, particularly in the summer, both the Museum in Brewster and the Sanctuary in Wellfleet offer numerous classes and programs about birds (and other nature stuff), and most programs are geared towards younger students. Both facilities also have nice gift shops, but don’t bother going into either one. I know of a much better place to buy bird supplies (LOL). It’s important to point out that there is an admission fee (for non-members) at both locations and there is also a charge for the programs…and there should be. These natural gems are totally funded by donations and need our support. But don’t worry; I have some options for those folks who aren’t in the one percenters.

The Cape Cod National Seashore regularly has bird walks (and other programs) for beginners, and these walks are free (thank you, taxpayers). Many local folks forget about the Seashore or think its events are just for out-of-towners, but we would all learn more about the area we call home if we checked out some of their programs. Next, we have the lowly Cape Cod Bird Club. I say “lowly” because the Club doesn’t have a nature center or own any land, yet they have been promoting birds and bird watching since back when Nixon was president. The Club has monthly meetings (with speakers and snacks) and weekly bird walks that are just perfect for newbies. And both the meetings and the walks are open to everyone. The Club’s annual dues is only twenty bucks, but even if you don’t pay the dues you can still attend the meetings or go on the walks because nobody checks…or cares. It’s all about promoting birding.

People on the Upper Cape are lucky to have Sandwich’s Green Briar Nature Center, which is a great place to learn about birds (and eat jelly). In Falmouth, you can visit the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. I’d like to write more about that place, but the name is so long I’ve run out of room.

I’m glad your son is getting into birds, Colleen. Cape Cod is the perfect place for a new birder. Just make sure he gets his birding in now, while he is still young. Soon he’ll be working and won’t have time to get outside very much…like next year, when he turns ten and starts his new job here in Orleans.