Cyprus presents a bird guide for young explorers
BirdLife Cyprus’s latest publication ‘What’s that bird?’ is a bird guide for young explorers. Elena Markitani explains why it’s especially important in Cyprus to introduce children to the wonders of the natural world while they are young.
Every great naturalist or ornithologist was a child once. But what first opened that child’s eyes to the wonders of nature? Was it a loving parent or an inspiring teacher? Did they experience some perfect ‘lightbulb’ moment – ‘WOW! Look at that bird, the fast one diving through the sky…it’s amazing!’
This was our thinking at BirdLife Cyprus when we first embarked on the daunting task of publishing a bird guide for children. All the usual design frustrations and printing dilemmas were just the tip of the iceberg – the real challenge was being able to re-imagine things that we know so well from a child’s point of view. But how else could we hope to reach our target audience?
The resulting book – ‘What’s that bird? A bird guide for young explorers’ – is just one of the many actions BirdLife Cyprus has been taking to inspire younger generations about the natural world around them. And it’s one that I am particularly proud of – within its beautifully illustrated pages, sixty-three amazing birds of Cyprus (and their habitats) are waiting to be discovered, explored and treasured!
We launched the guidebook in very appropriate surroundings – on a sunny morning at Athalassa Park (just on the outskirts of capital Nicosia) with families joining us for birdwatching and a ringing demonstration. Memories of writers’ block and looming deadlines evaporated into thin air the moment we saw all the children’s faces light up with excitement and curiosity as they picked up the book.
It was magical watching the kids eagerly flip through the pages and seeing their imaginations take flight with their new feathered friends. To see them raise their little hands to correctly shout out ‘Blackcap’ when asked ‘what bird am I holding?’ and then shout out ‘YES!’ in unison when asked ‘shall we release it back into to nature?’ We’ve also gotten fantastic feedback from parents and teachers who are happy to find themselves in the company of some very enthusiastic young “ornithologists”! One parent told us that her five-year-old son, who can’t yet read, has spent hours showing her all the pictures one-by-one. Another parent has found themselves having to learn about Coots just to keep up with their child’s questions.
Moments like this give us real hope here at BirdLife Cyprus – and more often than not, we find that we need it. This beautiful island we call home is also home to 95 regularly occurring breeding species, including important populations of Masked Shrike, Chukar and Black Francolin. But there is trouble in paradise: illegal killing and trapping of birds is wildly out of control. Every year, around two million birds are illegally killed here. This illegal, non-selective and cruel practice has become so ingrained into our culture that shaking it off seems almost impossible. The fantastic response we’ve had to this very special bird guide reminds us to focus on the ‘almost’. After all, today’s young explorers will build tomorrow’s new traditions!
‘What’s that bird? A bird guide for young explorers’ was possible thanks to the support of Oak Foundation. The bird illustrations were done by wildlife artist Paschalis Dougalis whom we thank for his wonderful work.
Elena Markitani - Development Officer, BirdLife Cyprus