Wild birds are the best ambassadors from nature and the natural world. Even our ancestors had a reverence for wild birds and Birdwatching, according to a PLOS|ONE study released just yesterday, November 13th. According to the study In ancient Egypt, sacred ibises (water cranes) were collected from their natural habitats to be ritually sacrificed.
In ancient sites across Egypt, these mummified birds are stacked floor to ceiling along kilometers of catacombs, totaling many millions of birds. Birds of all species are always the first to ursher in the new day along with roosters, singing loudly and happily, and flittering about from tree branch to tree branch.
According to Wikipedia, there are roughly 10,000 species of birds spread across countless habitats on all seven continents and all the oceans. With their voices and beautiful songs, plumage patterns, colors, and antics, is there any wonder why wild bird watching has become so popular?
Birds invite us to learn about them and the ecosystems they inhabit. The tremendous diversity of birds contributes to their importance within ecosystems. According to Indiana University Center For Earth and Environmental Science research, ecosystem services refer to the benefits that humans derive from the natural world, and birds are key players in providing many of these benefits, such as food sources, pest control, pollination and seed dispersal, and nutrient cycling through migration.
For example, some species of plants are capable of colonizing new habitats thanks to birds that transport their seeds in their plumage or digestive tract. Until recently it was known that birds could do this over short distances, but a new study shows that they are also capable of dispersing them over more than 300 kilometers, a 2016 Plataforma SINC study found.
Birds make excellent pest exterminators without the use of harmful pesticides by providing valuable ecosystem services, defending crops, such as grapes and coffee, from insects, according to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reviewed by the NIH.
Birds can move nutrients from one place to another, which is particularly relevant in places where plant growth is limited by nutrient availability per a study by Vanderbilt University reviewed by NIH. A study on the islands in the Gulf of California showed that when birds roosted on them, the guano deposits they left behind provided nutrients to plants on the island.
As a result, islands with seabirds had plants that grew taller and faster and were much more productive than those on islands without birds. Be it imitating the sounds of the birds or chasing them to get a good photo, or just sitting and admiring their beauty, infuses the happiness hormones, such as dopamine in the body, which is the “feel-good” hormone.
And this in turn is good for your brain’s health, because it’s critical for processes such as motor control, learning and memory. as well.
And once you get hooked on watching these amazing creatures, guess what they do for you? They get you out into nature bursting with fresh air which is great for mind, body and soul. Not only is it beneficial in improving your concentration and memory, but research has shown that as little as 20 minutes outside can significantly improve your health and well being according to an April 2019 Frontiers study.
It is said 45 million American watch birds regularly. According to a US Fish and wildlife Survey, Audubon’s research found that 9 million of them are between the ages of 18 and 35. So there’s obviously something to it, if the youth of America are doing it! And, besides there’s “extreme bird watching” now too, according to the Smithsonian Institute!
Extreme bird watching involves participants going any length to spot a species and the more the merrier, becoming a competitive sport. In fact, 2 individuals, John Weigel and Olaf Danielson, been tossing a coveted bird watching title back and forth all year. They’re vying for the honor of being the person who spotted the most bird species in North America.
Weigel, who has spotted 763 wild birds, has traveled all around the U.S. and Canada in his quest, and, as Bird Watching Daily reported, has logged 2 never-before-seen species in the process. Danielson, who boost 759 species thus far is hot on Weigel’s heels. You may be aware of some of the incredible feats birds are well-known for like an eagle not only having the ability to see prey from a long-distance, but also dropping a 100 feet in a free-fall to catch that same prey.
Or a tiny hummingbird flying 1000’s of miles in migration, not to mention geese migrating in large flocks annually from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and back! Speaking of migration, apparently the moon, as it influences the oceans and tides, also effects and determines when birds begin their migration.
A new Lund University study published in October this year (2019) learned that the presence or absence of moonlight has a considerable bearing on when migratory birds take flight in the autumn, finding that the birds begin their autumn migration south about ten days after the full moon.
Pretty interesting, don’t you think, but even more interesting is some birds like Caledonian crows, actually use tools? Yes, that’s right, using tools in a human-like fashion. One University of St. Andrews Scotland study found that these crows fashion hook-like sticks into sharp poking instruments and use them to forage for wood-boring larvae in dead wood or tree trunks, which was actually confirmed on video. What do you think of that? Or, how about this one, which is even more amazing!
“Planning for the future by western scrub-jays”, is the title of a NIH review of a study of a 2007 Nature study out of UK, which found that western scrub-jays make provision for a future need, both by preferentially caching food in a place in which they have learned that they will be hungry the following morning and by differentially storing a particular food in a place in which that type of food will not be available the next morning. Quoting the study:
The results described here suggest that the jays can spontaneously plan for tomorrow without reference to their current motivational state, thereby challenging the idea that this is a uniquely human ability.
Still not convinced of what you’re missing by not watching birds. Here’s one more incredible ability of birds. It’s called the “theory of mind”, and ravens seem to have that ability that was thought only humans and other primates possessed, which supposedly made humans “special”, according to 2016 University of Houston research. The research suggests that ravens, and birds, singled out by many cultures as a symbol of intelligence and wisdom, share at least some of the human ability to think abstractly about other minds, adapting their behavior by attributing their own perceptions to others.
Here is one more “human-like” behavior of birds. According to a October this year study (2019) by the University of Chicago published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, investing in love and affection, typically a human emotion, pays off for bird species that mate for life.
Many bird researchers can tell a story like the experience I once had in the UK. I caught a female goldfinch, placed her in a bird bag and carried it back to the banding station. All the way back to the station, her mate followed, calling,
said University of Chicago biologist Trevor Price, PhD, senior author of the new study. Price continued,
He waited impatiently in a nearby tree as I banded the female, and when I released her the pair flew off together in close company, twittering. This kind of thing happens in many other species, too, so forming a strong pair bond and emotional attachments between a male and female is evidently not only a feature of humans.
If you start Birdwatching, you’ll start to pay closer attention to nature, not only to birds, but all of its creatures. Birds don’t live in isolation. Every species interacts with numerous other animals and plants, as well as elements of the non-living world such as geologic formations and weather systems. You can begin to understand the interconnections among all of these things in nature by paying some attention to birds, and your role of being a part, albeit a small but significant part, of something much larger, nature and the universe itself, and how important it is to your health and well being.
A National Institutes Of Health (NIH) study discussed the known health benefits of being in contact with nature, and said this,
Nature contact may offer a range of human health benefits. Although much evidence is already available, much remains unknown. A robust research effort, guided by a focus on key unanswered questions, has the potential to yield high-impact, consequential public health insights.
According to a 2016 Frontiers In Public Health reviewed by the NIH, during the last century, research has been increasingly drawn toward understanding the human–nature relationship, and has revealed the many ways humans are linked with the natural environment. Some examples of these include humans’ preference for scenes dominated by natural elements, the sustainability of natural resources, and the health benefits associated with engaging with nature.
Birding Generally Improves Your Health and Well Being
Human attraction for birds is one of the reasons we are drawn to nature and much research has shown that being in nature itself is beneficial to human health. A National Institutes Of Health study (NIH), reviewed Japanese research, which objectively demonstrated the physiological effects of nature therapy, including those found in forests, urban green space, plants, and wooden material. The NIH study concluded the following:
The therapeutic effects of natural stimulation suggest a simple, accessible, and cost-effective method to improve the quality of life and health of modern people.
According to Dr. Nooshin Razini, a pediatrician and Director of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, CA, one of the first in the nation to refer patients to the outdoors for health, using nature is a very effective approach to healing, according to a 2018 PLOS|ONE study, finding that an overall decrease in parental stress both overall and as a function of numbers of park visits per week. The program, called Stay Healthy In Nature Everyday (SHINE), has served hundreds of child patients and their families.
Dr. Razini, in discussing the results of the program, said this:
Within 15 minutes, the ability to solve puzzles and cognitive benefits are seen. Even attention seems to get better. At around that time, blood pressure improves and so does pulse.
Dr. Razini stressed the importance of spending a lifetime of regular exposure to nature in order to maintain your health. The Benioff’s Children’s Hospital program was reviewed by the NIH and concurred with programs findings.
Enhances Cognitive Function
By becoming a birdwatcher, you are stimulating your brain in healthy ways. You must hone your senses and learn to observe little movements and details. You’ll come to remember the names and habitats of many species, and even recognize their telltale singing. All of this activity keeps your brain neurons firing and helps form new neural connections in your brain.
Birding is perfect for those of us who are lifelong learners. Casually watching birds is associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, according to a study from the University of Exeter in England. The University of Exeter study which involved 270 people from both urban and rural settings and different lifestyles, found being able to see birds from windows, or outdoors on a daily basis around their neighborhoods, was associated with reduced rates of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Having more bird species in the environment and watching birds have been shown to be good for people’s psychological well-being according to a 2007 University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK, reviewed by the NIH.
Your emotional well-being can benefit from bird watching as well. Birding can be a very fun social activity, as well, and your bird watching social circle gets larger and your health and well being improves, too. Multiple studies have shown that social connections and friends are key to a long healthy life, as this Proceedings Of the National Academy Of Sciences (PNAC) study confirmed.
But even if you do it alone, you can gain happiness from the gradual accumulation of knowledge and their habits of each species. Research has shown that cumulative activities like birding can bring us a lot of satisfaction and pleasure, in addition to some truly amazing health and well being benefits with exposure of microbial biodiversity, especially in reducing certain allergic and respiratory diseases, found a 2015 Ecosystem Services study reviewed by Elsevier. The study called for a new coalition of ecologists and health and social scientists and planners to conduct research and develop policies that promote human interaction with nature and biodiversity. Improvements in these areas should enhance human health and ecosystem, community, as well as human resilience.
Accepting the principle that being in nature, and even simply watching nature, promotes healing and lessens stress, researchers explored the potential benefit of nature to improve mood and arrived at the theory of “attention-restoration”. Having the ability to be attentive is vitally important to mental health.
Humans can be distracted both by internal forces, like wandering thoughts, and external cues, like the inviting ping of a text message. When an individual’s brain is constantly distracted, it’s almost impossible to force themselves to pay attention, particularly if the task they’re trying to focus on is boring or difficult.
“Attention” is the “gateway” to the rest of human cognition according to 2016 research from Tohoku University, revealed multiple functions of visual attention, the process of selecting important information from retinal images in being successful in completing complex tasks.
For example, when a person looks for a friend in a crowd, visual attention makes not only the friend, but also the people standing around the friend more visible. Another study claims that attention tends to focus on the friend’s face, ignoring everyone else.
One strategy that’s gained significant ground in recent years, related to bird watching, is the technique of “mindfulness”, a form of meditation that cultivates the brain’s ability to direct its “attention” to specific cues. Dr. Tina Phillips, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, agrees.
Overwhelmingly, studies show that people feed birds because it makes them feel more relaxed by being mindful, and , that it’s something they’re interested in and ultimately something that makes them feel good and feeling good is healthy!
As this Ohio State University research discusses, an example of mindfulness is when eating, is slowing down long enough to actually enjoy the taste and feel of the food in your mouth, while you’re are eating it, which can actually lower your blood sugar levels, and even reducing the amount of the stress hormone cortisol that is released when under stress.
A typical recommended form of achieving being mindful, or re-centering oneself, and relaxing, calls for someone to purposely take slow deep breaths (slow-breathing), counting them, with your eyes closed, per a 2017 Breathe study reviewed by the NIH. Although a successful endeavor and worthwhile for being mindful, doing slow breathing can be very difficult for some people, and that’s where watching birds comes in.
Interacting with birds in their natural habitat seems to be one of those specific clues to achieve mindfulness. In order to watch a specific bird and their movements and actions, requires you concentrate and have the ability to watch every single minute move, one bird at a time, and that’s what brings you into a state of mindfulness and relaxation.
The organization MINDFUL Birding encourages birders to have gratifying experiences while maintaining the ability of birds to behave naturally, by establishing ethical birding guidelines, encouraging practicing mindfulness among all bird watchers, and the support and conservation of all wild bird species, which is vitally important.
Birds are indicators of environmental health, signaling that natural systems across the U.S. and Canada are now being so severely impacted by human activities that they no longer support the same robust wildlife populations. According to a Cornell University study published this year in September in the Journal Science, reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds dying, signaling a widespread ecological crisis. This should be a wake-up call to all!
A Form Of Meditation
David Creswell, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, says that even though bird watching is not actually meditation, watching birds like this does count as mindfulness, and is great for mental health.
A lot of times we think about mindfulness or mindfulness meditation as really going deep and knowing yourself,
but really it’s about fostering awareness and open receptivity to your present, at the moment, experience.
It’s a specific goal and that attentiveness to every bird sound or movement that mindfulness, and that’s what makes wild bird watching so incredible.
“Birdsong” is a term that refers to the sound of a male bird makes in the presence of a female. Males often have two distinct features embedded in their song, one that influences female choice and one that signals dominance and territorial control to other males. Listening to birdsong contributes to preconceived attention restoration and stress recovery in humans.
Research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, natural environments and particularly visual stimuli, or birdsong in nature, are usually perceived as restorative following stress and attention fatigue in humans. The research concluded future studies, should address the potential and effectiveness of a variety of bird sounds to aid attention restoration and stress recovery,
to better understand how and why sounds such as birdsong might provide restorative benefits.
University of Exeter research fellow Dr Daniel Cox, who led the study, said:
Mental health is hugely complex, and nature isn’t a silver bullet, but there’s increasing evidence that it can be an important tool, particularly for people in cities, to offset extra stressors. This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being.
Dr Cox continued,
Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.
To sum it up, the Exeter study found that individuals experienced reduced prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, and stress, and ultimately, restoration of perceived attention and stress recovery.
Now, I’ve got a question for you? Do you think happier people actively seek nature more or does a lack of exposure to nature lead to higher rates of depression, or unhappiness, or, is there some other factor you think is more important? What are your thoughts? Let us give you a hint! According to this a ScienceDirect study, being out in nature relieves stress, which will definitely make you happier, and happier people are more inclined to spend time in nature. So, actually it works both ways.
Birdwatching Is An Incredible Experience
Noticing the birds around you naturally puts you in a more meditative-like state, says Marla Morrisey, founder of the Mindful Birding project, which encourages ethical guidelines for birding festivals. Try to focus your attention on how they behave.
Watch how the birds are watching you. You don’t need to know what the species is to know if the bird notices you or not.
Bird watching can be exciting, or humorous, or even awe-inspiring, which can really lift your spirits, as 39 million Americans experience every single day in their own backyards, according to The U.S. Census Bureau. If you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting in a boat fishing and watching a bald eagle drop 200 feet straight down “like-a-ton-of-bricks” falling with claws extended, snatching an unsuspecting fish for dinner off the surface of the water on the shallow end of a lake, or watching a small bird like a chickadee trying to crack open a sunflower seed by hitting it repeatedly against a branch until it’s cracked.
Or how about watching a robin race alone the grass like a marathon runner, as it spots an earthworm winding through the grass, or watching both the male and female birds, regardless of the species, making acrobatic moves, which can be amazingly funny, when catching insects, or taking turns bringing food to their young hatchings in a nest. And how about dancing? Yes, birds do dance, as shown in this funny Green Mumbles video (1).
Slow down long enough and you’ll see all the wonders of nature, particularly birds, some which are pretty funny and entertaining. It will help to restore your optimism and self-esteem leaving you feeling exhilarated and happy, with a renewed sense of purpose, which is very good for your health. So how is it that happier people are less likely to suffer from recurring health problems?
Beneficial With Mental Disorders
The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that if we want to keep our brains healthy we need to keep learning new things. Studies have shown that these kinds of mental exercises can help form new neural paths that can help fight back against diseases like Alzheimer’s, and other forms like dementia and Parkinson’s.
For those living with dementia, activities that involve visual aids can often help recall memories, particularly if this is something they frequently did when they were younger. Additionally, repetition can often be reassuring to someone with cognitive impairment. The process of looking for birds, and identifying the species over a period can be calming for those living with dementia, as this National Audubon Society Program sponsored.
Not Ever A Dull Moment Bird Watching
Variety is the spice of life. This is an old saying, but it’s true. Lack of variety in our lives can lead to boredom and a general sense of fatigue, and even frustration. Adding variety can make us more energized and positive, giving us more to look forward to, and actually laugh out loud. And of course, in terms of variety, birds offer a dizzying array of colors, calls and songs, and behaviors.
A 2013 study published in the Journal in Environmental Psychology (NIH) found listening to bird song has been shown to contribute toward perceived attention restoration and stress recovery. You can’t predict all the birds you’ll see while going out birding, or in your backyard. On any given day, the best expected birds will be nowhere to be seen while totally unexpected ones may pop up at any moment. Here is a short Lew Scharpf video on expected or common bird visitors to your backyard. (2)
So birding offers both a reassuring sense of the predictable and an exciting sense of the unpredictable, keeping us on our toes and alive to the possibilities. You could walk out on your back deck one morning and see one of your trees covered with literally hundreds of beautiful, vividly colored songbirds, and in an instance, they’re all gone!
Talk about awe-inspiring….I experienced that exact thing one morning several years ago. These song birds were obviously migrating and on the move and I never saw them again. The only regret I have is not getting a photo, but I was so captivated with the beauty of it all, I was truly in the moment!
Build It and They Will Come!
Heated Bird Bath. Make it easy on your bird friends and install a heated bird bath…yes, that’s right heated, because in Winter they’ll still have fresh water that’s not frozen solid ice. Drippers, bubblers, and misters are a good choice too. A mister going in the Spring and Summer months will attract a multitude of species, much more than you would have ever realized lived in your locale.
Good Quality Food. Buy good quality bird seed such as black-oil sunflower, peanuts, nyjer, safflower, and suet. My advice is to experiment with different foods to see what your local birds prefer at your feeding station. What you put the bird seed in to dispense it is up to you, but I would locate at least 2 feeders suspended in different trees, because believe me, after the word gets out to all the birds in your vicinity, it will get crowded. You can build a simple 12″ by 18″ feeder out of 3/4″ thick marine plywood for the base and 1″ by 4″s for the sides, screwing the sides into the edges of the base with galvanized screws, forming a shallow box.
Paint a couple coats of good exterior latex on the box before you suspend it on a tree branch. Of, course, you’ll want a couple of hummingbird feeders for those amazing little creatures….here now and gone in a split-second!
Flowering Plants, Veggie Garden, Vines, and Ground Covers. Having lots of native plants, flowers, both blooming annuals such as sunflowers and purple cornflowers, and native perennials, such as red trumpet vine (for hummingbirds)in raised beds or islands in your yard will also provide a consistent source of food, including insects which have made their homes on plants, all year long for birds to eat, especially when your feeders are temporally empty. Audubon International has neat Fact Sheet “A guide To Bird Feeding”.
It’s a good idea to leave several sunflower plants in your flower area with the dried seed pods still intact for the birds to feed on after Winter hits. If you have a nutrient-rich vegetable garden, that’s even better because you’ll make the birds feel right at home, with all the other nature visitors frequenting your backyard, such as butterflies, honey bees, variety of insects, and bumble bees, your garden will attract.
If you would like to have bluebirds as temporary residents, you will have to place cedar birdhouses (3)located in a safe place mounted on a post with a metal predator shield positioned around the post below the house, and you will attract several pairs of bluebirds, and they’ll most likely return each year for several years to come.
If you don’t have a veggie garden, consider planting one for not only you and your family’s health and well being, but for your feathery friends. Planting nutrient-dense vegetable foods, fruit trees, blueberries bushes, and blackberry vines on a trellis are a good choice for your feathered friends too.
Not only do they provide fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds, for you and your family, but, also a readily available food source of harmful insects for the birds to eat, and as a safe haven and excellent shelter and a place they can build their nests.
Where Will You Get the Energy?
Yes, where will the energy come from to take up Birdwatching and design and build your backyard garden and bird sanctuary? Here is our suggestion on a diet consisting of a variety of nutrient-dense foods which will bring you overall health for a lifetime, providing you all the sustainable energy you will need.
Here is our list of the most nutrient-rich foods we buy and eat, for your review: fresh organic fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, edible flower seeds, and monounsaturated omega 3 oils (extra virgin olive oil) (A), at least until you get your own backyard garden going to grow your own; and complex carbs and whole-grains, natural fermented foods, organic herbs and spices, antioxidant drinks and dark chocolate (A); and fresh wild-caught fish and seafood (A); and lean organic grass-fed finished red meat, organic free-range poultry, grass-fed dairy and eggs. (A)
So, are you ready to get into wild Birdwatching? What are your thoughts? If you have questions, leave them in the comment section. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote on birds.
“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.”
― J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird
(A) Use these links for more in depth information or documented studies on benefits of nutrient-dense foods and to buy these incredible foods.
(1) Green Mumbles Video
(2) Lew Scharph Video
(3) USNRL Video