If you’re an outdoor adventurer or nature lover, finding new ways to connect with nature can add a new dimension to your experiences. Birdwatching is an increasingly popular pastime among young people around the world. In this post, I’ll give you eight reasons why you should start birdwatching, from health benefits to better travel.
Let’s dig in with this Birdwatching Basics post!
1. You can do it anywhere
You can find birds in just about every corner of the world, including Antarctica. These living dinosaurs have successfully adapted to just about every habitat imaginable. You can find them in all kinds of natural places, including:
- Underwater – Emperor penguins, for example, can dive as deep as 1,500 feet (~450m)!
- Atop mountains
- In grasslands, prairies, and other open areas
- Around cities and suburban areas
- In wetlands, marshes, rivers, and lakes
- Tropical, deciduous, and boreal forests
If you pay attention, you’ll quickly realize that there are almost always birds around. We just get so used to them that we forget and accidentally tune them out! Once you start paying attention to birds, you’ll find them everywhere you look.
2. Birdwatching has loads of health benefits
Connecting with nature is amazing for your mental and bodily health. Birdwatching is an easy way to get yourself outside more often and for longer periods of time. This leads to a huge boost in the benefits of outdoor time. Including things like:
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced stress levels
- Increased mood, positive thinking and creativity
- Better memory and concentration
- Boosted immunity to diseases
Birdwatching can add fantastic variety and a goal-oriented direction to any casual stroll outdoors. It can also help stimulate soft fascination, a mental state that combats burnout and boosts creative thinking.
3. It’s a great way to make new friends
Since you can go birdwatching just about anywhere, it’s a great activity for meeting new people. Over the course of my career, I’ve moved dozens of times and visited countries on several continents. No matter where I ended up, I always found new friend groups through birding.
Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram often host birdwatching groups that have regular meetings. Alternatively, they may also share special events that members attend.
Some groups, like Birding and Beers in Colorado will combine birdwatching with other delightful social activities like trying local brews. Others share social justice or other community values, like the fantastic Feminist Bird Club, with chapters opening up throughout North America and Europe.
Local Audubon societies and nature centers are another great resource for finding birdwatching buddies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service even offers a guide for finding your birding community.
Of course, you can always go about it the old-fashioned way. I’ve met some incredibly cool and knowledgeable naturalists just by going out birding myself and starting conversations with people. Keeping an eye out for a pair of binoculars is a sure bet.
Ask any nature-loving social butterfly, and they will quickly tell you that this is one of the biggest reasons why you should start birdwatching.
4. Birdwatching uses our strongest senses
Birdwatching is one of the easiest ways to get more from your time in nature. Birds are easier to observe than many other organisms because:
- their size makes them readily visible to the human eye (unlike many invertebrates or parts of plants and fungi)
- we can perceive nearly all of the colors and pigments that they produce and communicate with
- our ears can pick up the sounds they make, like subsonic and supersonic sounds generated by some mammals
- they don’t typically communicate via scents and chemicals the same way that mammals do, so we don’t have to rely on our rather modest noses
This “sensory alignment” means that, even without binoculars, you can observe birds and their behaviors with little trouble. Because of this great overlap between what birds and humans perceive, we are ideally suited to enjoy them in the outdoors.
5. It’s a great gateway to natural history
All of this convenient overlap with between birds’ and peoples’ senses makes taking up birding easy. Once you get started, there are plenty of easy, beginner-level birding skills to practice.
Studying and learning your local birds will also introduce you to important naturalist skills like:
- describing outdoor places
- how to use binoculars
- understanding how elevation and season affect plants and animals
- using scientific names
- Using signs to find wildlife
As you build these and other skills, it will become much easier to approach more intimidating branches of natural history like entomology or botany. In other words, birdwatching can reduce the learning curve for enjoying lots of other aspects of nature.
6. Birdwatching enhances any outdoor experience
Being outside is generally a lovely experience. But the more you know about nature, the more deeply you can connect with it. Learning local plant and animal species helps to add new dimensions for how you understand and enjoy the natural world.
As I mentioned in my TEDx talk, it presents you with new ways of seeing that permanently enhance time spent outside.
A little story about birdwatching and being outside
When I graduated from college, I had just started birdwatching and was amazed at how it made me more aware of my surroundings. I found exciting surprises in familiar places that I had visited dozens of times. Paying attention to birds helped me see and understand those places in a new light.
During our graduation ceremony in May of that year, while we were shaking hands with professors prior to the speeches, my ornithology teacher took me aside. “Chimney swifts like to hawk insects above those two buildings behind the stage this time of day,” he told me. “If you get bored, keep an eye out!”
Sure enough, just as the announcements and speeches started to get boring, I heard and saw a group of swifts streaking along through the blue summer sky. They moved incredibly fast, dodging around at sharp angles and occasionally moving in formation. Their unforgettable agility made a memorable day even more amazing. Now, I look forward to the chimney swifts arriving every spring.
7. Birdwatching makes travel more fun
If you’re a globetrotter, this is another reason why you should absolutely start birdwatching. Traveling for nature is a great way to enjoy the wonders of planet Earth, especially when it can be done sustainably. When you travel to natural areas in someplace new, you’re exposed to a whole new natural world!
Generally speaking, different biomes and continents have their own particular communities of wildlife adapted to that place. Every time you show up someplace new and different, you’ll be greeted by new, exciting, and unfamiliar bird species that you haven’t encountered before.
Every time I visit a new National Park, especially out in the American West, I get to not only enjoy a beautiful new landscape, but tons of new birds. This adds additional excitement and entertainment to any trip. Going abroad can be even more dramatic, as you’re likely to see species you’ve never even heard of!
8. There is a lot of support and guidance for beginners
Finally, an underappreciated reason why you should start birdwatching. Aside from its many benefits, it’s also very easy to get started! There are many communities, online and local, dedicated to birdwatching in most countries. These groups work hard to make birdwatching accessible to all.
You can find great guides on beginner birdwatching tips all over the internet (especially on Gulo in Nature!). Other great sources include:
- Outdoor apps, including ones specifically for birds
- Cornell University’s All About Birds
- The Audubon Society’s Guide to North American Birds
- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
With all this great support available, you’ll never be without a helping hand on your birding journey.
Thanks for reading why you should start birdwatching!
Are you looking to start looking for birds in your outdoor adventures? Or do you have other reasons why people should start birdwatching? Let us know in the comments, or drop me a message using the contact form. Thanks for reading, now go check out some feathered friends!