There are many reasons people take up birdwatching, but they all centre around one thing – birds are fascinating and beautiful to watch. Their presence enriches our lives, and when we break it down as to how, there are common themes that every birdwatcher can recognise.
1. Financial outlay
Birdwatching is as free or as expensive as you want it to be. There are some hobbies and activities out there that you just wouldn’t be able to do without purchasing some heftily expensive gear, like a hang-glider, jet-skis, scuba diving gear, mountaineering and so on.
You can go birdwatching with absolutely nothing at all, or you can kit yourself out with everything there is to buy; it’s your choice. Some find that basics like binoculars are a necessity, but that’s due to their level of interest.
If all you want to do is just watch them from the comfort of your own home, just a feeder in your yard is enough. Even ID and field guides are available for free online these days.
2. You can't get away from them
OK, maybe you could if you really tried, like holing yourself up in the Arctic for a few months. But in reality, birds can be found in practically every corner of the world, every niche, from lush tropical rainforests and steep foreboding cliff faces to town parks and inner-city alleys.
Their presence enriches our lives.
There may not be the numbers or the range of species, but you’d be surprised what you can find just by looking around where you already are.
Not only are birds everywhere, they are everywhere all the time, although granted numbers can change seasonally with spring and fall migrations and the summer months when food is in abundance. But they’re still there: you’ll just see different ones or maybe have to work a bit harder.
It has often been remarked in recent years that great swathes of the world’s populations are becoming more sedentary, spending more time working indoors or at home watching TV, gaming, social networking; and ignoring the Great Outdoors – which has never gone away.
Watching yard birds on your feeders can of course be done from your own home too, but even then, you still need to physically go and restock the feeder at some point, or bring it in to clean, go to the shops for more food and so on.
Unless hampered by ill health or another set of circumstances that prevents you from being active, on the whole it is rare to stay in one place when birdwatching. I have probably walked an additional two or so miles each time just trying to find where I last put down the binoculars.
When you’re not on your feet, however, birdwatching also helps you calm down, reset your brain and relax those often overly-tired muscles that have been firing away in the background with every other aspect of your day.
Tranquillity can be hard to come by in this fast-paced world, and taking the time out to watch birds, even for half an hour a day, has been proven to lower heart rates, stress levels and tension, and boost self-care, good sleep, and maintain a healthy outlook on life.
Birdwatching gives you one of those rare opportunities to connect with people.
Some of us are trying to improve our approach to mindfulness, which we’re happy to say is one of the many consequences of birdwatching, as few things in life involve little more than sitting still, being quiet, and letting your mind focus on just that one thing, that bird, just there in front of you.
5. Birds of a feather
Birdwatching gives you one of those rare opportunities to connect with people, as well as nature. Your opening gambit is already preloaded – you can talk about birds with practically any other bird lover, no matter your social or political background, age, gender, or ethnicity.
It doesn’t matter how little or how much you know, most people who love birds are just happy to talk about them with someone else. Meeting other people has never been easier, be it out on a walk, at a dedicated bird reserve, online, in community groups or on tailored tours, once that first shared step has been taken, friends for life can happen right there and then.
6. Mind and body workout
Learning anything new at any point in life is extremely healthy for your brain. Cognitive and physiological studies over decades of research have shown that an active mind stays alert longer, and may hold the key to staving off degenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s.
Even if it’s just learning to remember which feather colours or song mean which bird, or what food or habitat they like, any presentation and eventual retention of new facts and information to your mind is a good thing.
You can also help sharpen your eyesight, your hearing, and hone your reflexes. Ever tried to follow a bird that’s flown away after you just spotted it? You’ll get better at it.
Like all animals, birds are inextricably linked to their environment, and if the environment is doing well so are the birds. Developing an interest in birdwatching often leads to learning more about nature, other wildlife, and the mechanisms in the world that keep that nature alive and well.
Birds can be found in practically every corner of the world.
A dedication to understanding and helping conservation is often in the hearts of many a birdwatcher; it’s a very rare thing to find a bird-lover who doesn’t care about the natural environment.
The more you watch birds the more you come to know about what they need to survive, therefore the more you realise the challenges they face.
The extent to how you can help can be from simply putting out feeders during times of low food resources, transforming your own personal property to be a safe space for birds with plenty of natural food and cover, to joining conservation, monitoring or pressure groups, even making it your career and potentially helping influence or even write policy.
Help is out there
If you are new to birdwatching and don’t know where to start of you want to learn more, there are plentiful free online resources with mountains of tips and ideas to help you enhance your birdwatching experience, from ID guides to food suggestions to how to make your own bird house or create a bird-friendly environment at your own home.
In the UK, one of the most well-known go-to sites is the long-established RSPB, as well as Bird Watching UK, Bird Spot and numerous others, and over the pond in North America there is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and a firm favourite for backyard birdwatchers is the aptly named Watching Backyard Birds. Birdlife International has many country-specific resources too.
Getting to know birds better is a great pastime and has the added benefits of being good for you, them, and the world.