It’s National Pet Month (1st April to 7th of May) but before you go out and buy a pet for the kids, consider what’s already in your garden.
If your children are badgering for a pet to extend your family and the options are limited why not harness the wonder of the wild pets outside in your garden.
With spring in the air the garden is alive with all manner of beautiful wild birds, which can be admired and appreciated from the comfort of your home.
Adopt the wild birds in your garden and introduce them to the kids as wild pets. If they love animals, it’s a great way to gauge their interest and help them to learn. Wild pets don’t need kennels or expensive holiday care and they won’t break the bank with vet bills either. All they need is food and water and if you want them to nest nearby, a bird box or two.
Learning with nature
- Set up a bird feeder in full view of a window from your home. Decide where’s the best place; maybe the lounge or the dining room, but somewhere that the children can see the birds. Invest in some high quality bird food. Don’t be tempted by cheap mixes. Choose a bird food that is rich in quality ingredients that will give the birds what they need at this challenging time of year. Fast high nutrition food is what they need.
- It’s nesting season and the birds are not just sitting on their eggs, they are also searching for food for their chicks and need to sustain themselves through this period too. A well-placed feeder, stacked out with food, will become a vital source of food for them and help ensure the survival of their chicks.
- Introduce the kids to a few of your garden’s visitors. Help them to identify different birds and get to know the individuals that return to your garden on a regular basis. Buy them a bird book or download an app and learn about birds together.
- Help them to understand that every creature is precious and that they all need somewhere to nest, drink and eat to survive.
- Wild birds can become wild pets and it gives you the opportunity to teach them about nature. It’s also the perfect way to explain about eggs, chicks and babies.
- Create a routine where the kids can help to care for their wild pets. Give them some responsibility for topping up the feeders, or telling you when they are getting low. Help them to provide fresh water daily for the birds, just like they would for another pet.
- Many children’s pets become the responsibility of the adults when the novelty wears off and the children get bored. Allow them to show you that they can care for something else, by looking after the garden birds, then you can decide if they are ready for a pet of their own.
- Wild pets aren’t just for children. There are many adults who would love a creature to care for but aren’t able to because of where they live. A window feeder at the old people’s home, or in a flat can also bring the joy of wild birds to the housebound. Make sure there’s someone that can help top the feeders up with bird food on a regular basis for them.
- Remember that having the birds in the garden will help reduce garden pests. For every bug there is a creature that feeds upon it. Teach the children about the food chain and show them what happens when the long tail tits arrive to devour your garden pests.
- See which birds eat what. Some birds eat mostly insects, while others are seedeaters. You can read more about this in a good bird guide but you can also learn a lot by studying the shape of the bird’s beaks.
- Watch with the children and notice how some birds cling to the feeders eating the seed and nuts, while others scrabble around on the floor, cleaning up seed that has fallen. Different birds have different needs just like other pets.
- Some birds, like robins can, with great patience, be trained to eat from your hand. Mealworms are the perfect food to tempt them with and even if you can’t get that close, these cheeky birds will follow you around the garden.
Enjoy your time in the garden and outside with the children, whatever their age. Nature bathing is good for your health and for your soul.