I was feeling a little blue, so I got up from my desk to take a mental health break and do some birdwatching. Much to my delight, I saw a beautiful male Red-bellied Woodpecker glistening in the sunshine. His brilliant fiery cap and a splotch of red on his tummy immediately lifted my spirits.
When I was running low on serotonin, seeing this woodpecker provided the calming effect I needed.
The natural adrenaline rush of seeing and hearing birds for me is far greater than any drink or drug. And best of all, it’s free!
In late 2022 I read a story from King’s College in London that found seeing or hearing birds improves mental well-being that can last up to eight hours. This improvement is also evident in people diagnosed with depression, indicating birdwatching’s optimal role in helping those with mental health conditions.
Imagine picking up a pair of binoculars to lift your mood? Plus, birdwatching is cheaper than seeing a therapist. But, all kidding aside, the research demonstrates the importance of protecting and providing environments to encourage birds for biodiversity and your mental health.
Proof that those daily doses of nature are so precious and time-lasting.
Health Benefits of Birdwatching
Do you ever think about the benefits birdwatching provides beyond being nature’s visual aesthetic treats?
Some people love grabbing their binoculars and heading out to see the latest rarity; others enjoy birdwatching in their local bird patch. Others thrive on the challenge of seeing how many varieties of birds they can attract to their backyard bird feeders.
Most importantly, birdwatching gets you moving, inspires you to go outdoors, and piques your interest in the endless beautiful bird species you might find.
We all have different reasons for seeing birds, but the good news is that birdwatching brings you enjoyment and essential health benefits.
You probably overlook many of them, so let’s look at the health benefits of birdwatching.
Greater Appreciation for Nature
By spending an incredible amount of time outdoors, soaking up vitamin D from the sun, and breathing fresh air, birdwatching inspires us to enjoy a harmonious union with nature.
Our love of birds inspires a passion for the love of all nature and wildlife, and we act as stewards of the natural world, ensuring we pass this love on to future generations to enjoy.
Better Cardiovascular Health
Think about the distances you walk or hike just to see a bird.
Once birdwatching at the Baxter Preserve in North Salem, NY, while trying to photograph a Great Blue Heron, we walked the entire length of the lake from one end to the other. Each time we spotted the bird and hiked close by, the heron gave us a look, flapped its wings, and flew off to the other side of the lake. This game lasted four rounds before we gave up. The heron won. And my Apple watch was off the charts with daily steps.
Many birds are nestled deep in nature and are inaccessible to most humans, while others live high up on cliffs and mountainsides, and you need to hike and climb just for a chance to see them.
Birdwatching means pushing yourselves to the limits and setting your sights on birds far off the beaten path. So you get lots of exercise. Check your Apple watch next time you go out on a quest because your number of steps might surprise you.
The best part about exercising is that your serotonin and dopamine levels rise, making you feel good, and levels of cortisol that make you feel stressed are lowered.
So even if you hike five miles for the chance of seeing a rarity and you don’t see it, the bird was the catalyst to get outside in the fresh air, clear your mind, and exercise without thinking about it as “exercise.”
Positive Self Esteem
One of the greatest attributes of birdwatching is that you never know what you might see next. Each day is a new discovery, and seeing something new and unexpected restores your optimism and self-esteem. And drives you to enjoy a renewed sense of purpose.
Living in the Moment
Everyday life is fast and frantic, and you’re tethered to digital devices that prevent you from shutting off. Unfortunately, these tendencies can cause stress, which increases the risk of many illnesses.
Watching birds, interacting with them, listening to their songs, and spending time outdoors helps relieve stress and promote well-being.
Everyone must unplug, turn off their digital devices, and live in the moment. Whether you watch birds with your binoculars or scopes or take photos, birdwatching is calming and gives you peace and tranquility.
Those things that cause you to stress will still be there, so give yourself a mental break, stop thinking about them, and instead, try focusing on the moment.
Increased Mental Alertness
A bird can be here one second and then fly off in the blink of an eye, so you must be mentally alert to decipher clues about birds that might be close by anticipating their movements.
It could be detecting a simple rustle of leaves or hearing a faint bird call and trying to identify what it is. Still, your decisions can be the difference between taking a photo capturing a once-in-a-lifetime moment or missing it entirely and wondering what could have been.
Sharper Powers of Observation
The first thing I learned when I got into birds was that this hobby is not for those who want instant gratification. Instead, becoming a good birdwatcher means familiarizing yourself with different types of birds, learning where they’re found, and understanding their tendencies out in the wild.
You spend hours hiking or driving to a location and then waiting to catch a glimpse of the bird in question. Birdwatching is truly a test of patience. Birdwatching is more challenging than golf because it’s a hobby based entirely on unpredictability.
After tracking a bird, lining up the perfect shot, and watching it fly off in a millisecond before pressing the shutter, you’re left with a beautiful photo of a branch to share on your Instagram feed. But you can speak from your memory of the fabulous photo that almost was. More importantly, finding and observing birds helps strengthen your attention span and sharpens your patience threshold and powers of observation.
No matter where we birdwatch, we often carry binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras with heavy lenses, and a monopod or tripod, which means lots of lifting and trekking to our destination with all this heavy stuff, so after a few trips, we’re quickly building up our arm strength.
Roll up your sleeve and take a look at your arms. Chances are they’re a bit more toned than someone who isn’t into birdwatching. Weaker arms lead to shaky viewing, and everyone wants that crystal-clear, Audubon-quality photo.
Achieving a State of Zen
Ask any birdwatcher, and they will tell you that birdwatching is a meditative activity. You spend extended amounts of time in the quiet of the great outdoors without the natural indulgence of distractions.
It feels great to be unplugged from the digital world and in touch with your senses. Birdwatching is an excellent opportunity to reflect on your life or just zone out and think calming thoughts.
Of course, if you go back to my point about birdwatching being a test of patience, this is an oxymoron. But if you forget the missed sightings and photographs and reflect on the joys you feel birdwatching, you can achieve a state of Zen.
Enjoying something you love is an incredible feeling and a win-win. You win because birdwatching positively affects your health. The birds win because your actions and attentive care help advocate for nature and wildlife to help protect their natural riches for future generations.
So grab a pair of binoculars, head to your favorite place to see birds, and be transported to this fantastic world, leaving your troubles behind.
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