Birds are the best ambassadors from nature and the natural world. Birds 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. There are roughly 10,000 species 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. 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. And this in turn is good for your brain’s health, 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 is beneficial in improving your concentration and memory, but research has shown that as little as 10 minutes outside can significantly improve your health and well being. 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!
If you start bird watching, 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.
Birding Improves Your Health and Well Being
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. 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.
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 well being benefits. 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.
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.
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. 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, calls for someone to purposely take slow deep breaths, counting them, with your eyes closed. Doing this 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. In order to watch a specific bird and their movements and actions, requires you concentrate and have the ability to watch every single little move, one bird at a time, and that’s what brings you into a state of mindfulness.
The University Of Exeter researchers found no correlation between the species of birds seen, but instead the number of birds inter reacted with, indicating that seeing common birds such as robins, crows, and blackbirds on a regular basis is a key factor in fostering mindfulness. Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low, suggesting that for most people, it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.
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.”
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 is there some other factor you think is more important? What are your thoughts?
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. 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 in the grass, or watching both the male and female birds making acrobatic moves, which can be amazingly funny, when catching insects, 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. Slow down long enough and you’ll see all the wonders of nature, 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.
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 Momemt 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 behaviors. 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.
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.
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 a cedar birdhouse located in a safe place against the trunk of a tree, and you will attract a pair of bluebirds, and they’ll most likely return each year.
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 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 for you and your family, but act as a safe haven, and an excellent shelter and a place they can build their nests.
So, are you ready to get into wild bird watching? 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