Communicating ecological challenges to children through books – bird migration

Samantha Lloyd, South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium

Children have an instinctive curiosity for the natural world. It is important that we nurture this curiosity and inquisitiveness, as it will encourage them to be aware of the ecological challenges facing the world, and maybe even be more proactive in addressing them. Children’s books can help achieve this by providing a gateway to exploring biology and ecology from around the world and in a wide variety of ecosystems that children may not otherwise be able to experience first-hand. Here I review a recent children’s book on bird migrations and the threats they face.

Title: Windcatcher: Migration of the Short-tailed Shearwater
Illustrator/Author/Design: Diane Jackson Hill and Craig Smith
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Themes: Bird migration, bird habitat, bird food, bird behaviour and bird biology.

Windcatcher is an appealing children’s book that discusses bird migrations and the threats they face. Credit: CSIRO publishing.

This is another fantastic addition to CSIRO Publishing’s ever-growing collection of ecological and science themed books. Windcatcher: Migration of the Short-tailed Shearwater, is the remarkable story of a bird that makes a massive 30,000 km return journey from southern Australia to the Arctic Circle. The story follows the adventures of Hope, a fledgling Short-tailed shearwater and its perilous journey from the safety and warmth of its burrow on Griffith Island (near Port Fairy, Victoria), all the way to the Arctic Circle (and back).

This story highlights the challenges and risks that parent birds face to successfully rear their chicks, and how miraculous it is that a bird can make such a huge journey. We learn about the many threats the birds face on their journey, including getting tangled in fishing nets, exhaustion and, most disturbingly, the ingestion of plastic. Whilst there are theories, we still don’t fully understand how Short-tailed Shearwaters, and many other migratory birds, manage such a long journey, or how they manage to leave and arrive on approximately the same day each year.

Importantly, this story also tells us of the valuable work scientists and volunteers are doing on Griffith Island to tag and monitor hundreds of these birds, to help us learn more about this incredible species and safeguard its future.

CSIRO Publishing recommends this book for ages 6 – 9 years, but, honestly, I could see this book being well received by younger children as well (ages 4 – 6). This book could also be an excellent resource and inspiration for further investigation in upper primary school grades. There are two pages of reference information at the back and some excellent “Teacher Notes”, supporting the use of this book through a variety of grades.

See the original review of this book here.

Read more from the December 2019 ESA Bulletin.