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In the Moment: Birdwatching for Mental Well-Being

By Chris Bensley

“Try to be more in the moment”, my wife Christy would say to me when we were exploring a new travel destination and something was on my mind. When I heeded this advice, it allowed me to let go of weighty thoughts and take in the experience. As I’ve taken up birdwatching in recent years, I use these moments to experience tranquility. It’s become the perfect escape to counterbalance our fast-paced world filled with screens and schedules.


Birdwatching fosters mindfulness, a state of being fully present in the moment. By training your eyes and ears to detect birds' subtle movements and melodies, you become deeply attuned to the surroundings. This acute awareness of the present helps to quiet the mind, reduce stress, and cultivate a sense of calm.


Birdwatching’s unexpected delights

A friend of mine says one his favorite parts of setting out to find birds is the unexpected. Every day is different and challenges one's senses to observe carefully. The beauty and diversity of birds, their vibrant colors, graceful flight patterns, and enchanting songs awaken an appreciation for the world around us. This sense of awe has been linked to increased feelings of happiness, gratitude, and life satisfaction.

A new research study of more than 1,292 participants about their everyday encounters with birdlife concluded "mental wellbeing was significantly better when seeing or hearing birds compared to when not seeing or hearing birds". More therapists now incorporate birdwatching into their treatment plans, utilizing nature as a powerful healing modality.


How feeding birds feeds your mind

Install birding boxes and birdfeeders can be transformative. It’s such a simple way to improve mental well-being by observing bird habits. Last summer I delighted in watching a bird family in their tiny house - how the dad retrieved bugs, carefully passing them to the mom for the little beaks inside.

It’s no wonder that during the pandemic the popularity of birdfeeders exploded and bird seed flew off the shelves. Besides the human benefit, feeding birds also helps science. Cornell Lab’s “Project FeederWatch” encourages citizens to provide valuable data to understand the distribution and abundance of birds in North America.


The physical benefits of being active outdoors

Birdwatching encourages physical activity as it often involves walking through trails, forests, or parks in search of birds. Exercise, particularly in natural settings, has been proven to elevate mood and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.


An extreme example of this benefit was put forth by Peter Kaestner, the famous birder who recently reached the 10,000 count milestone. In an interview with Outside Magazine, he recounted his quest to find the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest, an obscure bird that had disappeared for 70 years. To reach the remote section of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, Kaestner had to lose 50 pounds to prepare for the journey which required hiking more than 12,000 vertical feet in three days.


The effect of community on mental health

Beyond its immediate effects on mood and stress levels, birdwatching offers a sense of connection and belonging. Whether alone or in the company of fellow enthusiasts, birders share a common passion for the natural world. This shared interest fosters community and camaraderie, providing valuable social support that contributes to overall mental resilience. Peter Kaestner notes that although he mostly birds alone, he appreciates the social aspect of birding: explaining, teaching, and sharing his passion with others.


Birdwatching is not just a hobby; it's a form of self-care and a gateway to greater well-being. By immersing ourselves in the beauty of the natural world and tuning into the rhythms of birdlife, we can find solace, inspiration, and renewal for the mind, body, and spirit.


So, the next time you feel the weight of the world bearing down on you, consider stepping outside, tuning into the chorus of birdsong, and letting nature's healing embrace wash over you.


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