Taking Kids for a Night Prowl will teach them about nocturnal creatures.
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 conservation.
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 ambient light.
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.