Way back in January, my wife and I welcomed our second child into our family. Savvy readers of 10,000 Birds and mostly defunct (but not yet dead!) The Drinking Bird may have seen a drop-off in content starting right about then. Babies have a way of sucking up your time and energy in a way that a week-long heavy birding excursion can’t quite compete with. But while my time for writing has seeped away, I’ve been adamant that my time for birding not fall equally by the wayside. It is for me, as it is for so many of us, a means of relaxing, re-centering ourselves, and re-evaluating priorities (1. birds 2. family 3. everything else, per usual).
What this means is that I have become something of an expert on taking babies birding with you, as I was an avid practitioner for the first kid and a somewhat less avid practitioner for the second. When your only opportunity to get out and see some stuff means you have an obligation to give your other half some breathing room, then you do what needs to be done. I have tried all the baby carriers, at all the times of day, in all the weather. And I am hear to give a brief overview of what I’ve learned for those of you who may perhaps be staring down that barrel yourself, wondering how you’re going to practice your all-consuming obsession with a little one tied to your body in some fashion. Friends, it can be done.
There are a number of options when it comes to hands-free baby carrying. Various sling, backpack, and contraption companies are falling all over themselves to offer their new and improved model for your application, each offering to be better, more comfortable, more useful, than the one before. My favorite was and continues to be the old classic, the Babybjörn. The Swedes are no slouches when it comes to design, and for an infant, it cannot be beat. When carrying the baby on your front, placement of binoculars is awkward, but not a huge impediment, as you can slide them alongside the (probably sleeping) child. Add a fanny pack for diapers, wipes, and various and sundry accessories and you’re all set. Does you baby take a bottle? My second doesn’t, but the first one did, so hanging a small cooler off the side is easy.
Flipping them around once they get a little head control is easy too, but for me the ultimate goal is to put that baby to sleep while you’re birding. The gentle sway of the birder’s pace is like baby Ambien, but unless that baby can lay it’s head against something, it’s sleep will be fitful. And you run the risk of dealing with a distracted baby. No one wants that.
Once the baby gets a bit of head control, it’s time to move them to a backpack. There are a lot of options here and you can spend a lot of money on these, but I went with a cheap Chico and never had any problems. I even ended up breaking off the fold-out legs that make the thing freestanding. Leaning it against a tree or the car was no less a problem and the things were annoying anyway. Lighter is better, as hauling a baby on your back for a couple miles is murder on the back.
The golden age for birding was around 6-24 months, which gives you a lot of time. Until then, birding will usually put your kid to sleep, allowing you to do whatever you had planned on doing anyway so long as you’re not too long in the field. Once the child can eat snack foods, you can even buy a little more time. After 2 years old, however, I found that my son was anxious to get out and walk on his own. That meant no longer being able to work at my own pace, but to be suddenly beholden to his. But man, enjoy that window, because, at least with me, I was able to continue birding mostly on my own terms.
I’d be curious to hear if any other parents of young children have discovered tips and tricks to help them continue birding with young children.