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A Bird's Eye View

Posted by Elisa Taub
A Bird's Eye View

Fly Away Home + Birding in Your Local Habitat

Fly Away Home tells the story of Amy, a motherless girl, who teaches a nest of motherless geese how to fly. After Amy's mother dies, she moves to Canada to be raised by her eccentric father, an airplane designer. When Amy discovers orphaned goslings, her father teaches her to pilot a plane so that she can train them to fly. Together, they lead the geese on a 500 mile migration, crossing over Canada and into the United States, where the press heralds her accomplishment. To watch Amy pilot the plane solo, with the wild geese honking behind her in formation, is magical.

Following in Amy's footsteps, we took a walk in our local wetlands to find out how birds were faring in our own metropolis. Part of the appeal of birding is that it's decidedly low-tech; all you need is a pair of binoculars, a local birding guide and a bit of on-line research to discover where migrating birds stop in your neighborhood. Time slows down when kids watch wildlife. For fifteen minutes, they spied on an elegant Black-crowned Night Heron working the marsh grass for food and a Snowy Egret standing at solitary attention across the pond, her clean white lines distinct against the green marsh. When we saw a flock of white pelicans circle the wetland, a collective sigh went up from the crowd around the pond, and our own junior birders joined the appreciative chorus.


Want tips on how to watch Fly Away Home with your kids?
This is one of the best family films around, both in terms of its beautiful film making as well as its strong messages about how kids care about the environment and can recover from tragedy. Younger kids may want to skip the opening scene that depicts the car crash in which Amy loses her mother and forward to Amy's recovery in the hospital a scene later. Later, Amy struggles to get along with her father's new girlfriend (Dana Delaney) and throws a punch at a sheriff who tries to take her goslings.

Here's a cool fact for kids:
Anna Paquin, who plays Amy, won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1993 for her work in The Piano. She was nine years old.

Want to foster conversation after the film?
This film's incredible director, Carroll Ballard, uses rich imagery that are complete enough to tell the story without dialogue. Ask your kids to describe a few of their favorite images that could, on their own, tell this story without words.

Want our insider tips on birding with kids?
Birding is an acquired taste; some kids will be interested in the identification process and scouring the field guide, while others just love to fiddle with the binoculars. The website is a good place for step-by-step identification. Local book stores often stock field guides and laminated cards with pictures of local birds; however, to order a laminated field guide, call (805) 499-9338 or click on It's great if each child can use a pair of binoculars for this adventure. Ask around to see if friends have some you can borrow.

Kids Off The Couch heartily recommends these incredible Carroll Ballard films for family viewing:

Black Stallion (Carroll Ballard, G, 117 minutes) Some call this the most wonderful children's film ever made about a boy and a stallion who survive a shipwreck on a deserted island;

Duma (Carroll Ballard, PG, 100 minutes) Our kids' favorite about a young boy who raises a cheetah cub to maturity in Africa;

Never Cry Wolf (Carroll Ballard, PG, 105 minutes) A biologist studies wolves in the Arctic.

Want some helping finding birding spots? Here are some links around the USA:
- Anywhere: Check out the National Audubon site; click on states and chapters to find good sites in your area. has comprehensive birding spots listed by state. Or, use the Google Search Term 'wetlands' or 'migratory paths' and your city name.

- Boston: The Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary (500 Walk Hill St., Mattapan); or Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (73 Weir Hill Road, Sudbury).

- Chicago: Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (4400N Montrose Avenue at Lake Michigan) attracts large numbers of migratory birds. Head to the "Magic Hedge."

- Houston: The Armand Bayou Nature Center, 25 miles south of downtown Houston, is the largest urban wildlife refuge in the United States.

- Los Angeles: The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Preserve (Woodley Ave. in Van Nuys) is a perfect place for family birding.

- New York: The Henry Luce Nature Observatory, housed inBelvedere Castle, has a checklist and paper mache models of birds found in the park.

- San Francisco: Egrets and herons nest at the Audubon Canyon Ranch along the Bolinas Lagoon from March until June.

- Washington, DC: Rock Creek Park is the largest natural area in DC, and a great place for first-timers. Best bird-watching is in the western ridge of the park. South of DC (18 miles) is the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. was founded by two moms who are passionate about film and media literacy. They decided to combat the creep of screen time in their kids' lives by getting on the couch and watching great films together with their families. To sign up for your FREE weekly email, CLICK HERE.