by Adam Betuel, Director of Conservation
Bird. Owl. Duck. Tree. Bush. Grass. Bug. Rock. These words represent about 15 to 20 percent of the vocabulary of my 20-month-old daughter, Cora. For anyone who knows me, this is hardly a surprise. My life, mind, and home are all littered with things feathered and nature related. Cora is going to have to work hard to avoid things outdoorsy should she decide not to go that route. Even her middle name, Teal, is from a bird. Poor child.
All jokes aside, I value nature and family and how we as a unit engage with nature. While we (mainly I) try to not overwhelm Cora with her father’s obsession, we want nothing more than for her to have an understanding and appreciation of our planet and its ecosystems. With this in mind, we strive to get outside, to explore, to bring nature into our home and lives, and to grow as a family while enjoying the natural world.
Living in an apartment complex, we currently do not have an Atlanta Audubon Sanctuary in which to enjoy nature. Nonetheless, that does not stop us from providing resources for birds, enjoying the plant life present, and being in awe of the organisms that visit our space. Swinging from our shepherd’s hook that I (probably illegally) have clamped to our second-story balcony, hummingbird feeders and suet blocks attract our feathered friends. This summer a favorite family activity was enjoying the twilight hours outside as our Ruby-throats came to feast before heading to bed. A perched hummingbird would bring a look of pure amazement and joy to Cora’s face, only to be topped by a raucous squirrel spinning from our other feeders.
Another family tradition while walking our dog around our complex is to point out the plant life to Cora. She is an amazingly quick study, and it melts my heart when she accurately points to a tree or a patch of grass. Recently we have literally been taking the time to smell the roses (and any other landscaped flower). Cora looks at us with such pride each time she inhales will all her might. Rubbing rough bark, smooth rocks, and crunchy magnolia leaves are things we always make time to do. Ants, butterflies, and all other things creepy-crawly bring movement to our study of things still. Cora’s interests are broad and seem to match those of a true ecologist. I will wait for a later date to tell her why all the privet, nandina, and English ivy across our complex are actually not as great as they seem.
Bird-themed books and a Charley Harper mobile are a few ways we bring nature inside with our family. Though we try to limit Cora’s screen time, she has been known to scream out “Bird!” at least a handful of times during each episode of Jason Ward’s “Birds of North America." Though far from native, Cora’s best friends include our indoor cats, dog, and a turtle. We have always been animal people, but now that we see how Cora enjoys, values, and learns from our pets, we appreciate their presence in our family even more. Our home is a place full of nature in a multitude of forms, and we love it that way. We only hope that this level of immersion will permeate our little one and meld with outdoor experiences.
With our daughter still being so young, most of our interactions and lessons revolving around plants and wildlife occur near our home. However, the Betuels are also lovers of adventure and time in the field. Even my non-birding spouse loves to take in new landscapes and will even become enthralled by a new bird on occasion. This past February, the three of us set off for road trip across the Yucatan. The tacos and beaches were nothing to scoff at, but the real stars of the show were the unique plant life, jumbo lizards, and the colorful birds. A highlight for all of us was a boat trip up the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve that yielded at least 1,000 American Flamingos. “Mingo” became a new favorite word of Cora’s and now her room is dotted with pink bird art and a long-legged stuffed animal.
Just a few weeks after Cora entered this world, we took a family birding outing at Clyde Shepard, and we have not looked back. We bird together, explore as a family, and, thanks to Cora, make sure to slow down and open our eyes to the wonders around us. We do not have a sanctuary yet, but we make the time to find ecological value wherever we can and to get out to those wild and bird-friendly places. Enjoying nature as a family is something my wife and I have been thoughtful and intentional about for the betterment of our daughter. However, while she has enjoyed every second of it, our focus has undoubtedly improved us more than her. With phones down, hands held, and eyes open, we as parents and partners are growing and continuing to connect. The past year and half has been the best time of my life and brought me more purpose than I could have imagined. And, while I may have a little less time to chase rare birds my connection to nature has never been stronger.