Night prowls a fun way to involve kids in conservation
As I See It
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Media contact: Rodney Barreto
During spring and summer months, as temperatures warm up,
nocturnal creatures that are usually quite secretive become more
active and easier to locate. This is the perfect time of year to go
out with children for a night prowl.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and
the Wildlife Foundation of Florida are working to reverse the
growing trend of our youth spending too much time inside.
One way you can interest your children in nature is to take them
on a night walk. We often overlook the wildlife that come out at
night, and this is a great way to get your children excited about
Insects are particularly active on warm nights. Try looking for
fireflies, moths and crickets. An easy way to look at them closely
without causing injury is to capture the insect in a clear jar and
cover the top with cheesecloth held down by a large rubber band
around the rim. (Remember to release the insects once you are
done). Cicadas are a favorite with kids, as they are strange
looking, make very loud sounds and are fun to handle.
Owls, such as barred, great horned and eastern screech, are
often quite vocal at night. Learning the calls with your children
and listening for them is a lot of fun, especially if you learn to
call back. Chuck-will's-widows also call actively on moonlit
nights. They sing loudly, mimicking their name. During the spring,
you may also hear our state bird, the northern mockingbird, singing
his heart out to attract a mate. These birds learn more than 100
songs over the course of their lifetime.
Bats are also a favorite with children. Watch for bats feeding
on insects near streetlights, along woodland edges or over water.
They are active from sunset to sunrise, although you are more
likely to see them just at dusk when there is still a little
Flying squirrels are also nocturnal. Though they don't really
fly, they can glide up to 150 feet and are adept at sneaking seeds
at bird feeders. They are more difficult to see than bats, as they
require forests with tall trees from which to glide.
Skunks and armadillos are usually more active during the night
and are fun to watch as they forage for food. Armadillos can't see
very well, so you can sneak up fairly close if you are quiet.
Frogs and toads fascinate kids, and there are more than 25
native species in Florida. These amphibians sing on spring and
summer nights, especially if there has been a recent rain. Learning
their calls can be challenging, but fun. If there is a source of
water nearby, you're likely to find some. If you catch any, don't
forget to wash your hands well after letting them go.
Remember to be respectful of the animals you observe. Always
handle insects and amphibians gently and return them where you
found them. Also, white or bright lights at night can disturb
wildlife, so try to minimize the amount of light you use. The best
method is to use a red filter for your flashlight. Red lights don't
bother wildlife as much, so you are likely to see more animals
scurrying around. In addition, if you want to attract more
nocturnal animals to your backyard, consider installing owl boxes,
bat houses or a shelter for tree frogs.
Learn about the animals yourself, so that when you do run across
one, you'll have some fun facts to pass along to your kids when
they ask questions. Or, look up any animals you find with your
children when you get back inside; go to MyFWC.com/Wildlife.
Cornell University Lab of Ornithology has a good bird guide, and
the University of Florida's Florida Wildlife Extension lists frogs
and toads. Also, your child might enjoy combing through BugGuide.net for
moths and other insects, using the clickable guide.
Make your nature adventures a regular feature, and your children
or grandchildren will begin looking forward to getting outdoors.
This is quality family time. Remember to make it fun and a hands-on
experience. Soon your children will be telling you
about the critters, and you will have helped create a future
conservationist. For other ideas how you can preserve Florida's
natural heritage and get children outside, go to MyFWC.com/Youth.