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Health Benefits Of Bird Watching

The Christmas season can be joyous, yet stressful; thus I was curious about the possible health benefits of bird watching.

So this morning I began researching the data on bird watching.

In Health Benefits Of Bird Watching, this is a photo I took of birds outside my apartment.

Studies show that even a stroll through a city park decreases stress, sharpens concentration and improves long-term mental health outcomes.

Birding: The identification and observation of wild birds in their natural habitat as a recreation; bird-watching.

Spending time outside with a pair of binoculars is good for your mind and body. The upcoming Audubon Christmas Bird Count might be the perfect excuse to start.

Beginning December 14, bird-watchers will gather and catalog bird species in their areas.

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence – that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.”

― Lynn Thomson

It’s for novices and serious birders who will walk through parks, forests, and fields looking for birds and listening for birdsong.

When I Caught The Birding Bug:

I caught the “birding bug” in fifth grade. My teachers name was Miss Lipsky. She took those of us willing to get up early on a Saturday morning birding.

We needed to be quiet so as not to scare the birds from the tree branches. That was a little hard for fifth graders, but we did our best.

I’ve loved looking for and watching birds every since.

Did you know that birding is the number one sport in America?

When you think of anything as a sport you think of lots of action. There are of course people who are able to walk long stretches searching for birds, binoculars in hand.

But what about those of us who have a disability and can’t follow along? I kept thinking about this, so I set out to find out if there is an alternative for the disabled.

And there is. And I’m not just talking about watching from your chair at the window.

A group effort was born to encourage those with disabilities to join in. Let me tell you a little about how this got started.

Virginia Rose:

Virginia Rose, who broke her back in a riding accident in 1973.
Virginia Rose with her horse Charley in 1973, the same year she broke her back in a riding accident.

“I fell off and broke my back, and I’ve been in a wheelchair ever since.”

Virginia went to college and became an English teacher. “It was never expected that I would not continue living fully,” she told CNN.

Not until her forties did she realize something had been missing in her life.

Her younger sister loved bird watching and suggested that once Virginia retired, she might take up the hobby as well. So Virginia headed outside her Austin, Texas home with binoculars.

And it changed her life. She said she’d never experienced that kind of happiness before then. It was good getting exercise and it also gave her piece of mind. It gave her a reason to go outside.

She used her manual wheelchair to explore parks.

Virginia said she found her best self in nature. From her wheelchair she looked up and into the treetops. She began identifying birds and their songs from guidebooks and online apps.

In Health Benefits Of Bird Watching, this is the adult Virginia Rose out in nature bird watching.
Photo via CNN of Virginia

The Disabled & Their Obstacles:

(From a CNN interview): Rose began thinking about mobility-challenged people who weren’t getting outside and into nature. About 30 million adults in the US — that’s one in seven — have mobility challenges serious enough to impact major life activities.

“I wanted them to have the same joy and the same empowerment that I had,” she said.

But negotiating the outdoors can be challenging. Rose has 48 years of experience in a manual wheelchair and even she’s had obstacles birding.

“Sand is impossible. Gravel is impossible. We’re talking about slopes and grades that a walking person may have no understanding of at all.”

Virginia began birding 20 years ago. And today she leads the nonprofit, Birdability.

The nonprofit shares accessible trails and works to ensure that the outdoors are welcoming and inclusive. And most important of all, accessible to those with disabilities.

Through Birdability, the disabled can go out and enjoy bird watching.

The Great Backyard Bird Count:

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

It was set up online to collect data on wild birds and to display results in real time.

GBBC was the first online citizen-science project (also referred to as community science).

Birds Canada joined the project in 2009.

GBBC went global when data was entered into eBird. It is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project.

There is a new book on birding that’s just been published that I found this morning on Amazon.com.

Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard was published in October.

Health Benefits For Children:

Did you know that residential green space in childhood is associated with a lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood? (PNAS).

There is a nation-wide study showing that children who grew up with the lowest levels of green space had up to 55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder independent from effects of other known risk factors.

Birding outside does battle on both fronts, decreasing obesity, reducing stress, and improving mood. It’s good to know that, while taking your child birding, you are fighting heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression.

But birding forays do more than fight negative possibilities.

Many American children don’t get enough vitamin D, a substance responsible for the absorption of calcium and other nutrients. Birding outside, in the sunlight, helps young bodies absorb calcium.

And focusing on whether a bird has an eye-ring or a wing bar will improve distance vision, lowering the chance of nearsightedness.

Birding Podcast:

There is also a birding podcast you might want to listen to. It is called Bird Note.

It is a podcast about the joy of birds and the ways that humans can help them through simple, everyday actions.

Like many birders, host Tenijah Hamilton discovered her love of birds during the pandemic.

In Health Benefits Of Bird Watching, this photo is from the birding podcast Bird Note.

Now she asks listeners to join her in appreciating the beauty and mystery of the birds around us. She speaks with bird enthusiasts from many backgrounds, identities, and communities.

Listeners can learn with her in “Bring Birds Back.”

“I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. A magical thing. And sweet to remember. We are nearer to Spring than we were in September. I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.”

― Oliver Herford

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16 Comments

  1. Bird-watching in my backyard during the pandemic lock-down truly saved my sanity. What a great service Birdability offers! I have participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It’s fun! Do you know of the blog Travel With Birds? David writes wonderful posts, and his wife takes great photos, and I always learn something new.

  2. Love this post Brenda. I do love birds, watch them and photographed them too. Each season my balcony is my “photo studio”. I feed them and arrange different branches and posts for them to stop before they go to the feeders. There are two trees just in front the balcony and they go back to one of the trees to eat peanuts or other food. I’m leaving in a small condo, so it’s ok to feed the birds. I also go to the countryside or marshes and took photographies often from my car. Birds aren’t afraid by cars. If you go out of the car, they flew away !

  3. I love watching birds and wildlife in my yard too. I’m not so good at identifying them, but I do love to watch. We have different blue jays, flickers and other woodpeckers, plus finches and chickadees. We also have squirrels and cottontails too, plus hawks and I woke up one morning to see a pair of mating foxes in my backyard. I’ve spotted lone foxes occasionally sleeping in my yard. I love gardening for the wildlife too. At one of the nearby park lakes we’ve had a bald eagle and also in summer white pelicans. During a windstorm an American Goldfinch fell out of it’s nest and it was not old enough to fly. So I found a wild bird rescue across town and took it there. I love birds and nature.

  4. At my old house, we fed the birds and squirrels for many years. I especially loved the woodpeckers. So beautiful.
    Here at the condo, no feeders are allowed on the balconies but I still enjoy watching the red-winged blackbirds down in the marshes and see lots of bird life.
    You may know about Cornell University’s live web cams. They have followed a red-tailed hawk couple for years- you see them return in the early spring, prepare their nest – always the same location – and then hatch the eggs, usually 3. Then the fledglings take off. They also have cameras all over the US, including osprey,owls,and more. Cornell is famous for its study of birds. Check it out, of course right now it’s off season but they usually show feeders at a nearby pond all winter.

  5. I love bird watching (informal) in my backyard. During the day I like to move my laptop to my dining table which looks out through the patio doors to my backyard – I get a free nature show daily. There are street and lots of backyard trees in my residential neighborhood that have plenty of nests of all sorts in them. I don’t have any backyard tree(s) but I have groups of very tall and bushy and green year-round arborvitaes in my backyard and along one side of my driveway, along with two very tall pine trees on one side of my driveway and ornamental cherry tree in the front yard. The critters around here make good use of them. I feed the squirrels and the birds. They all hang around the yard daily waiting for me to throw nuts out on the concrete patio and refill the feeders that the squirrels use. I have a whole tribe of blue jays who visit daily, chickadees that winter over, a large flock of sparrows that come daily for shelled peanuts, a couple generations of cardinals, and a red-headed male flicker who visits the squirrel feeders daily – he showed up in early spring and has evidently made a home somewhere nearby. Normally I think flickers tend to live in more rural areas with lots of trees, but this flicker seems quite at home here in the city. They don’t visit daily, but I also get crows on occasion. There will usually be a very large male and two or three smaller crows. They come for hand-outs of peanuts in the shell. It is amazing how many peanuts in the shell they can scoop up and store in their gullets. I haven’t seen any robins in the area though, although some of them do sometimes winter over in the area. The Farmers’ Almanac therefore might be true that it’s going to be a harder than average winter around here this season. In autumn I get lots of birds stopping by for a few days as they fly south. They love the bird baths, which I keep filled with fresh water all year round (except in blizzards), and there is plenty of sheltered areas for them to rest in. The juncos have arrived, they showed up in September and will be here through perhaps the end of April and sometimes even into May, depending on the weather. All these birds provide never-ending entertainment, and they have me well-trained. The jays especially will get very noisy if the feeders are empty and there are no nuts on the concrete patio for them to scoop up! And one of the “A-male” squirrels will rattle the screen on the patio door if they’re out there looking for food – it’s my notice to throw more food out for them. They eat me out of house and home, but I love my critters!

    1. Wow 😊 sounds wonderful!!
      Birdwatching is something I’d be interested in under different circumstances.
      Would be too timid venturing out.
      My muscles are in terrible shape.
      Afraid to fall #1 nightmare.
      To my knowledge there are very few Bluejays in our community.
      Would love to see a few.
      The cardinals are just so lovely. Both male & female.
      They sing beautifully.
      Reading and seeing the photos are enlightening!!
      😏 If only I was brave to venture.

    2. That’s hilarious about the squirrels being smart enough to rattle the screen on the patio door! I’d pay money to see that!

  6. In the winter months my husband and I make a plan for the garden the following year.
    We have decided on several new shrubs to plant that have berries for the birds, a new feeding station with a roof! I was planning on buying the bird book, ‘Slow Birding’ you suggested Brenda and I will listen to the podcast you suggested.
    At the moment we have a cottontail rabbit overwintering in the garden. We catch glimpses of him (I say him because he is quiet big) at dusk. He is very skittish and frightened if he catches us looking thru the window. Today we had freezing rain so then I start to worry about him!

  7. Beautiful idea! Love how your 5th grade teacher took you bird watching. I have been hooked on SW FL Eagle cam. The Pritchett family have been so kind for many years to share the antics of Harriet and Ozzie. Harriet has had a new partner M 15 since Ozzie’s passing. It is amazing to watch the pair raise their young. I know there are cameras on all kinds of animals. I don’t even remember how I got hooked on 2 dog videos on Facebook. My aunt was talking about seasonal depression and walking in nature, birdwatching and music in the house help her. When I have music on I feel more upbeat. Our daughter is interested in all things natural and I have learned many healthy things from her. When she lived on Whidbey Island, WA., the kids ran free like we used to. They could eat berries from the forest because there were no spraying of pesticides. They have a new thing called grounding where you sit on the grass in the sunshine and it is healthy for you! Why didn’t we think of that?

  8. Awesome post! I began birding in the mid-90s & try to include binoculars in most of my outdoor activities. At that time I subscribed to birding magazines & learned a lot.

    I follow several birding pages & some excellent bird photographers on Facebook.

    It’s a great hobby even for more casual birders, which I am now. It’s fun to look out for seasonal species like juncos in the fall & warblers in the spring.

    So much to learn!

    1. I got started on this birding post because I wondered if there was some organization that helped those like me who can’t navigate sand and gravel, etc. Now I’m going to check around here.

  9. Wow that’s a very interesting article. I’m constantly looking for ways to keep stress and anxiety at bay. When my dog, Cooper, and I take our daily walks we enjoy walking through a nearby park. I must say I do enjoy listening to and watching for birds.
    Thank you for sharing, Brenda.

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