The Joy of Birding

Image of happy woman birding

Want to improve your health? No crash diets, no pills, no medical appointments necessary! Bird watching or merely listening to birds can lead to a myriad of health benefits – including long-lasting stress relief. Now who couldn’t use that these days?

There have been a series of studies that show seeing or hearing birds improves your wellbeing. One study in Scientific Reports found this positive effect on your mood can last for up to eight hours! The study was controlled for other factors such as trees, plants and water leading to the conclusion that birds were the main contributing factor to improving people’s mental outlook and state of mind. Listen to a Mockingbird sing for over 7 minutes – nonstop! Yeah it’s kinda of a dare. Relax and listen.

“The special thing about birdsongs is that even if people live in very urban environments and do not have a lot of contact with nature, they link the songs of birds to vital and intact natural environments,” said Emil Stobbe, an environmental neuroscience graduate student at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and author of one of the studies.

Another study done in 2017 and published in BioScience found that urban areas with an abundance of birds were associated with lower levels of anxiety and stress. Perhaps most amazing of all was a 2020 study published in Ecological Economics that demonstrated a connection between the number of bird species around homes and the happiness of the residents. More species please!

Being Mindful

Bird watching is an act of mindfulness that can lower your blood pressure! A study done in 2017, in England, proved that the more birds people saw in their daily lives the less stress and anxiety they would feel. Listening to birds sing also relieves stress. Bird watching (and listening) helps us shift our attention and awareness, which in turn, helps us live in the present moment.

Birds are everywhere, so you can watch birds wherever you are, you don’t need a special garden or make a long trip. You can visit a local park or woods or just look out your window. You will become more aware of birds when you shift your focus to actively looking for them. Look for details in plumage, size, flight pattern and what songs they sing. Just listening to birds will help reduce worry and stress. It’s almost magical. Listen carefully to the bird’s call. Maybe you can imitate the call. Maybe you’ll see differences between a male and a female of the same species.

Physical Activity

Walking and hiking are two activities that are proven to improve your health. It’s a question doctors always ask. Do you exercise? Once you start bird watching the answer will be yes I do! Tramping through the woods or strolling along the shore looking for birds will bring you immediate benefits. Even a simple stroll around you neighborhood. Sometimes you may want to go out of your way to look for harder to find species. More exercise! Just taking a walk leads to a boost in endorphins, a “happiness hormone” which boosts mood and reduces stress.

Healing With Nature

Heading out into nature brings two big benefits. First, a reduction in stress and a greater sense of well-being. The second benefit is a little less obvious. Bird watching with others leads to stronger bonds with others, this in turn leads to a deeper perspective of compassion, which leads to further improvement in social bonding. Spending time out in nature gives us feelings of joy, awe, serenity, inspiration and gratitude. Take a break from your screens, silence your phone, and go birding outside!

Make Feathered Friends and Birder Friends Too

Some people prefer solitude while birding but as you continue to go out looking at birds you will run into like-minded people. I often stop to talk with other birders, especially if they are on to something I might have missed. Keeping track of species and places to bird and the people you meet all improve your memory and cognition.

Moments of Discovery and Awe

One of the things I enjoy about birding is the possibility of seeing a new species and the moment when a bird suddenly comes into view. These feelings decrease stress levels and make us kinder and happier. Psychologist Jonah Paquette explains the value of awe writing:

“Awe blurs the line between the self and the world around us, diminishes the ego, and links us to the greater forces that surround us in the world and the larger universe.”

Bird Watching Can Be Both Challenging and Stimulating

Once you are out in nature looking at birds you’ll find it makes you more alert. Hearing a bird and then trying to locate it is often a challenge. This increases your mental acuity. More often than not, patience is a bird watching requirement. Sitting still and waiting comes with great rewards like the calmness and serenity of being still, yet alert and focused. I was packing out camping some time ago, sitting in my vehicle when an Indigo Bunting landed on a branch right in front of me. First time I’d ever seen one. Looking for new species is another type of challenge, as is tracking a bird from branch to branch waiting for the right moment to zoom in with your binoculars.

You can look for birds alone or with friends and family. You can look for birds wherever you are, in the city, in the suburbs, in the country. They’re almost everywhere! There are birds I’ve only seen once but it will always be a wonderful memory. So, let’s get out there and take a look and listen!

Ross A. FeldnerRCC Board Member

Publications and Web Consultant, Ross FeldnerRoss Feldner is the lead, with Bob Musil, of the RCC Bird Watch and Wonder Program. Ross is a life-long birder and photographer who is the editor of the Friends of Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge newsletter. Ross also serves as a guide at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, a frequent birding spot for Rachel Carson who first learned about the health effects of DDT at the laboratory there. He is also the owner/art director of New Age Graphics, a full-service graphic design firm in Wheaton, MD.