Jack Loverich didn’t want to watch wild turkeys at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael. He wanted to join them.
Clad in a khaki explorer vest with binoculars in hand, the 5-year-old lurched off a trail during a Saturday morning birding tour to get a close look. Jaclyn Teofilo, a naturalist and tour guide, swiftly ushered him back. She’s led enough family tours to know the drill when a child’s curiosity goes awry.
“Their first instinct is to want to run out, off of the trail and into the protected area,” she said. “We try to teach them that this place is special, and how to keep it that way.”
Respect for nature is the theme at Birding for Families, a monthly walking tour tailored for Sacramento’s youngest birders. Part scavenger hunt and part science class, the program focuses on birding basics, with some creative twists.
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Many children, like Jack, can be easily distracted. Getting them to look at the small, fluttering bird in a faraway tree can be a challenge when snack time is looming, or when they’re fixated on bugs, moss and roaming bucks.
“We try to throw in there a few interesting facts for adults and a few things for kids,” Teofilo said. “And you sometimes have to bring them back in to really get their attention. You have to go with the flow and be prepared for anything that you’re going to see outside.”
Each child receives a checklist with pictures of birds so they can identify what the guide points out. They also get to borrow binoculars and learn how to use them.
The most important thing, Teofilo said, is teaching children to find birds using senses other than their eyes. Listening for the flapping of a dove’s wings, the shrieking of a hawk, the tiny kissing noises of a hummingbird is often the best clue as to where a bird is perched.
This month, visitors have the chance to spot winter-specific birds, such as northern flickers and cedar waxwings that migrate from Alaska and Canada, respectively.
Not every child walks away a birding expert, but Lucy Loverich, 6, Jack’s sister, was able to remember the name for the red-shouldered hawk she saw Saturday morning.
“This is really good for them,” said their father, Jeremiah Loverich. He and his wife, Regina, have brought their children to the nature center before, but this was their first time formally birding. He wagered he’d be hearing about it for the rest of the day.
“There’s a free form here, but there’s also a structure. It’s helping them know when to follow the rules and when to investigate on their own.”
Laura Jaco, 29, said she brings her children Artemis Jaco, 2, and Evan Headley, 7, to Ancil Hoffman Park, which houses the nature center, every Saturday to get them away from digital entertainment for a while.
“It’s really important for the kids to be familiar with nature and where we live, and it’s really grounding,” Jaco said. “They love to learn about the animals and watch them. It’s nice to come out here and not have to hear a bunch of electrical noise everywhere.”
What: Birding for Families
Where: Effie Yeaw Nature Center, 2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael (inside Ancil Hoffman County Park)
Cost: Program is free (there is a $5 entrance fee per vehicle into the park).
When: Next Birding for Families program is 10:30 a.m. Feb. 20. No reservations are required, though staff suggests arriving early during the busy season, as tours cannot exceed 20 people.