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Expert Says Coastal Mississippi is One of the BEST Places for a Birdwatching Hobby

Expert Says Coastal Mississippi is One of the BEST Places for a Birdwatching Hobby

Many parents struggle to find extracurricular activities for their kids. There are often high costs or strict schedules connected to organized sports or other after school activities. For some kids, getting serious about a new hobby is a more relaxed – and affordable – way to spend extra time during afternoons and weekends.

One such hobby is birdwatching. It might sound at first to be a little old-fashioned, but it’s always appealed to people worldwide, and continues to do so today. It’s actually a great way for parents, kids and grandparents to do something together that’s calming, educational and even at times – when a rare bird is spotted – kind of exciting. 

According to a birdwatching expert, this hobby is especially exciting for kids living along the Gulf Coast.

Why are birds a great hobby for youngsters?

“Birdwatching is one of the few pastimes which is equally exciting for both novices and professionals,” explained Marc Parnell, author of the recently released bird identification book, “Birds of Mississippi.”  Parnell said it is a perfect thing for kids to explore.

“For kids, finding new birds to add to their ‘life list’ can feel like a dynamic outdoor treasure hunt,” he said. “Different birds are more easily viewable at different times of the year, and in different habitats, offering a variety of potential local excursions to find all of the wonderful avian residents of Mississippi.”

Although younger kids can always enjoy an outdoor birdwatching outing, Parnell said a child really needs to be able to read first to truly benefit from – and get excited about – this peaceful, nature-inspired hobby.

“Parents can buy sets of colorful flashcards to teach their children about some of the various species native to Mississippi,” he said, adding that his book would also be a good resource for helping Coast families know what to look for and what types of birds are in the local area.

Parnell said he first got excited about birding when he was around four years old.

“I was enamored with their unique capacity for flight and their differing migratory schedules,” he reminisced. “Setting up a family bird feeder was probably the most instrumental step in feeding this curiosity and turning it into a full-blown passion.”

What birds should you expect to see on the MS Coast right now?

“Coastal Mississippi is one of the best places in the U.S. to find a wide variety of birds, owing to a combination of unique factors,” Parnell explained. “In the fall, millions of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds amass along the lower Gulf Coast as they prepare for the difficult crossing of the Gulf of Mexico…as many as one-quarter of all migrants fail to complete this journey.”

He said setting up a backyard hummingbird feeder “can yield mesmerizing results.”

“The four-foot-long Brown Pelican, meanwhile, is found year-round along the oceanic coast, spectacularly diving into the water head-first as it hunts small- to medium-sized fish,” Parnell said, of a favorite of the Mississippi Sound, its beaches, and its barrier islands. 

“A less common bird would be the Roseate Spoonbill,” he said, of a more rare sighting to really get excited about. “This large, pink, oblong-billed wading bird is sometimes mistaken for a flamingo, and prefers wetlands in relatively close proximity to the oceanic coastline. While Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets are wonderful finds for any new birder, the Roseate Spoonbill is a particular treat for residents of Coastal Mississippi.”

Parnell suggested that one of the best birding spots in southern Mississippi is The Gulf Islands National Seashore near Biloxi.

“However,” he added, “any local park, pond or field offers plenty of opportunities as well. Explore your local area first, and then branch out as you begin to seek out more uncommon birds!”

Tools of the Trade

Birdwatching is a free activity, but will be more enjoyable for you and your child if you have some very basic equipment.

“Binoculars are my number-one suggestion for new birders, along with a strong local field guide – such as “Birds of Mississippi”– which is designed with birders of all ages in mind,” Parnell suggested. “When selecting binoculars, I recommend a pair with 7-8x magnification, which seems to be the sweet spot when starting out. Birds tend to resist even our gentlest approaches, and binoculars reduce frustration by bringing their world closer to ours.”

He said a great starter pair of binoculars should cost less than $70. 

For those who want to add a creative element to birdwatching and begin photographing the more rare and beautiful birds, investing in good camera equipment instead of using a smartphone is a good idea if the budget allows.

“A high-zoom lens can do a world of good when photographing,” Parnell said. “I typically use a lower-cost bridge camera when documenting my work, particularly given the inclement weather and busy travel schedule that I often face.”

Hopefully, Parnell’s advice and new book will encourage your family to at least try a birding adventure one weekend when you’re looking for something new. At very least, it will allow you to get outside during the beautiful autumn weather.

About The Author

Kara Bachman

Kara Bachman is a Managing Editor for Parents & Kids. She's also a book editor, former newspaper reporter, and is author of the humor essay collection, "Kissing the Crisis," which deals with the zanier aspects of parenting, relationships and turning 40. She's read her work on NPR radio and over 1,500 items have appeared in dozens of literary and commercial publications, including The Writer, The Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Nola.com, Dogster, Mississippi Magazine, American Fitness and many more. She's a New Orleans native, but lived for over a dozen years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including during 2005 when her house was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. She's a mom to two teenagers.

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