Everyone knows that the bird’s the word! While birding doesn’t seem like the most thrilling activity, it has so many benefits, and once you spot a rare Kirtland’s Warbler or a Green Jay you might just get hooked. Whether birdwatching solo, with friends, or with family, birding is an activity for all ages and abilities, and although some more serious birders have fancy binoculars or cameras, all you really need are your eyes and ears.
Practically free, birding will help you learn patience, help you de-stress, and can help you become more in tune with your surroundings. Grab a bird identification book (or download an app), get outside, and have fun. You’ll see much more than normal when you stop to listen and look for birds.
Improved wellbeing, reduction of impulsivity, and enhanced cognitive health are just a few benefits of being in nature. Adding an activity like bird-watching to the mix can also improve mindfulness. Tuning in to the sights around you, cultivating patience by waiting and observing, and concentrating on the bird calls and songs will help you become more mindful.
Starting out, you may just set up a few bird feeders in your backyard, look up in the trees to watch the birds in their natural habitat, or take small excursions into state parks. How you decide to birdwatch is up to you. Traveling is often associated with birding and there are so many rare and beautiful species of birds to spot in places like Costa Rica, Ecuador, or Panama, and the beaches aren’t bad either.
When birdwatching on a nature trail (or anywhere in nature), always respect the rules of the backcountry which include, “Pack it in, pack it out,” and “Leave no trace." Even biodegradable fruit and food should be disposed of properly. Imagine if everyone threw their banana peels or apple cores on the trail. Ew.
Who Goes Birding, and What Should We Bring?
Okay, when we picture a birder, the visual tends to be of an old man clad in khaki, wearing a hat, binoculars, and a fanny pack. In reality, birding is becoming much more popular with millennials. In December of 2020, a socially distanced event in North Shore, Florida called, Birding for Millennials and Others brought young people together to engage with nature and to share their passion for birds. Urban birding is also making birding more accessible and exciting to those living in a concrete jungle.
Binoculars, a camera, a bird identification book, a birder’s journal, snacks, and water are a few things you could take birding. But, they aren’t all necessary. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, comfy shoes, a hat, bug spray, and sunscreen to protect from the UV rays, mosquitos, and other bugs.
Where Should I Go Birding?
Go where the birds are and look skyward. That’s really all there is to it. Whether you live in a city, have access to forests, or live in a tropical area, there will be birds to see. David Lindo, also known as the Urban Birder, wants people to connect with nature and challenges everyone to take 10 minutes a day to tune into nature and block out the sounds of their city or neighborhood. “I would like to highlight the diversity of birdlife and other wildlife in our urban centres and beyond,” the Urban Birder website states. The website also offers Urban Birder Day Trips and Urban Birding Courses in the UK. The Day Course involves bird identification, food to provide to birds in your area, a tutorial on binoculars and basic wildlife photography tips, how to identify good urban habitats, and more.
However, there are plenty of birding tours in the US and the Audubon Bird Guide App is a free field guide to help you identify over 800 North American birds. The award-winning app helps with bird identification, has audio clips of songs and calls, and helps you share your photos with other birders.
Women may feel unsafe going out on nature trails (or anywhere) alone, which is completely valid. Wearing safety devices, going with a friend, and staying where there are more people are all things we can do to stay safe, even though it’s completely unfair. According to Audubon, 42% of birders identify as women, and yet men tend to have a bigger voice in ornithology (like in almost every field), can be disparaging to women birders, and are one of the reasons women feel uncomfortable going out alone. Obviously, it (should) go without saying that we’re not talking about all men.
On the British Trust for Ornithology blog, Charlotte O’Neill stated, “When accessing nature alone, I often feel like I have to be on alert. Being observant of the world around me is not reduced to an observation of nature, it is an observation of people. Constant risk assessment takes place.” Before going out, it’s always a good idea to make sure someone knows and when you plan to return. Female birders around the world, like The Phoebes, are starting to launch clubs and businesses to keep women safe and connected while birding.
According to the Audubon Society, there are over 800 bird species in North America and a new study claims that there are around 18,000 species of birds worldwide. Colorful tropical birds, aquatic birds, adorable wrens and warblers, and birds of prey are just a few kinds of birds that comprise the array of our diverse, beautiful avian friends. Some of the most common birds in North America include Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and Blue Jays. These are likely birds that you can identify without trying too much, especially when you spot the male of the species. Males typically sport more colorful and distinctive plumage.
Birding shouldn’t feel overwhelming or intimidating. Pick out a type of bird that you find intriguing and learn what you can about that one. Or, just look at all the types in your neighborhood, sketch pictures, and write down all the characteristics of that bird. Alternatively, you can just sit still and watch how the birds interact with each other, with nature, and how they contribute to the environment. There’s really no right way to birdwatch; just make sure to be courteous to nature and other people on the trail.
Look to the trees in your backyard, local park, or outside on your lunch break and get to know the calls, colors, and songs of your common birds. Enjoy!