Bird­ing ben­e­fits

Ruth Miller of The Big­gest Twitch re­veals how birdwatching is not just good for your health and well-be­ing – it can foster in­ter­na­tional friend­ships, too

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Ruth Miller on how bird­ing is good for your health and well-be­ing – and friend­ships!

There’s been a fair amount of re­search in re­cent months and years to show that birdwatching is good for you. Most of us who al­ready watch birds have prob­a­bly in­stinc­tively al­ways known this, but now it has been of­fi­cially recog­nised. Back in 2007, the RSPB com­mis­sioned a study into the sub­ject by Dr Wil­liam Bird (yes, that is his real name!), strate­gic health ad­vi­sor to Nat­u­ral Eng­land. Called ‘Nat­u­ral Think­ing’, Dr Bird’s re­port showed that en­gag­ing with the nat­u­ral world has pos­i­tive health ben­e­fits: it is good for our mental health and gen­eral well-be­ing. Go­ing out and look­ing at na­ture takes us out of our rou­tine, it gives us some­thing more in­ter­est­ing to fo­cus on and it re-ig­nites the bond be­tween us hu­mans and other liv­ing be­ings. Even just look­ing at a nat­u­ral land­scape can help us to de-stress and recharge our flag­ging bat­ter­ies. Our eyes can see the colour green in the spec­trum most eas­ily, so the less work our eyes have to do, the more we re­lax. In 2017 a study by the Univer­sity of Ex­eter re­in­forced the con­nec­tion be­tween watching birds and good health. It found that look­ing out of your win­dow at birds and green­ery can make you feel more re­laxed at home and at work, in a town or in the coun­try. In fact, the more birds you see in the af­ter­noon, the less stress you will feel, the per­fect ex­cuse to gaze out of the of­fice win­dow, if ever there was one!

Birdwatching’s health ben­e­fits

Well, for starters it gets you out­side and mov­ing. Walk­ing is good ex­er­cise, it can boost those happy hor­mones, and while the aver­age birdwatching walk isn’t hard aer­o­bic ex­er­cise, any­one who has run for a spe­cial bird will tell you it def­i­nitely in­creases your heart rate. If you’re out­side on a sunny day, you’re ab­sorb­ing Vi­ta­min D which is good for healthy bones, and even lift­ing your binoculars on a reg­u­lar ba­sis ex­er­cises your up­per arm mus­cles. That’s my ex­cuse for not go­ing to the gym any­way. Birdwatching is good ther­apy, too. Like play­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment for plea­sure, it’s an ac­tiv­ity that needs some con­cen­tra­tion, and it’s ab­sorb­ing enough to make you for­get your wor­ries. If I’m busy scan­ning the bushes for the war­bler that just dis­ap­peared into the veg­e­ta­tion, I can’t worry about any emails I need to write or the pre­sen­ta­tion I have to pre­pare. Watching birds holds all my at­ten­tion and I for­get ev­ery­thing else. But it goes fur­ther than that. Watching birds, es­pe­cially when you share birds with other peo­ple, helps your ‘so­cial health’ too by in­creas­ing your sense of com­mu­nity and con­nec­tion. It’s true, the plea­sure you feel from watching a bird is far greater if you share the moment with others. It’s good to go ‘wow!’ in­side your head if you spot a King­fisher perched on a branch, but it’s even bet­ter if you can point it out to some­one else and both go ‘wow!’ to­gether. I’ve found that wher­ever I am birdwatching, a plea­sure shared is a

plea­sure dou­bled. I’ve been walk­ing on my lo­cal patch, the Great Orme’s Head in North Wales and watching the Ful­mars (be­low left) sit­ting on the cliff ledges. These won­der­ful birds chuckle and bicker in their pairs and the vol­ume of noise in­creases dra­mat­i­cally if an­other Ful­mar swoops too close to them. But most sum­mer vis­i­tors walk­ing on the Orme have no idea of what’s go­ing on above them, un­aware they have a rel­a­tive of the al­ba­tross just feet away from them. But, if I show them the birds through the tele­scope so they can see all the de­tails of their dark eyes, tubenose bill and gen­tle ex­pres­sions, I can trans­form their walk (and mine) for the bet­ter, sim­ply by shar­ing that beauty.

Break­ing lan­guage bar­ri­ers

The same plea­sure prin­ci­ple ap­plies in other coun­tries, too. Birds don’t have bor­ders and shar­ing birdwatching ex­pe­ri­ences can break down any lan­guage bar­ri­ers. In a re­mote part of Ethiopia, we pored over our field guide to check the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Scaly Bab­bler, and were approached by the vil­lage chief, cu­ri­ous to see what we were do­ing. Un­able to com­mu­ni­cate through words, we showed him our field guide. He im­me­di­ately recog­nised the birds in the il­lus­tra­tions and smil­ing broadly, he showed us where to look. Our plea­sure in see­ing the bird was dou­bled by his amazed reaction to watching ‘his’ bird through our tele­scope; never be­fore had he ever seen it in so much de­tail. A punc­tured tyre in north-east In­dia saw us killing time in a small town well off the beaten bird­ing track, but as we waited for the re­pair, we no­ticed an Ori­en­tal Honey Buz­zard re­peat­edly swoop­ing down to snatch hon­ey­comb from some over­hang­ing cliffs and eat the lar­vae within. Setting up our scope for a closer look, we brought the town to a com­plete halt. We were im­me­di­ately sur­rounded by a crowd all want­ing to see what we were look­ing at; idle passers-by, cu­ri­ous shop­keep­ers, even ladies in mid-hairdo at the next-door hair­dress­ing sa­lon came to look through the scope. They were amazed by the close-up view of birds they’d never no­ticed be­fore and over­whelmed by the idea that we’d travel so far to look at their birds. It was a moment we’ll never for­get, and hope­fully we may have sown a birdwatching seed in their town that day, too. So, it’s of­fi­cial. If you’re ever asked why you’re gaz­ing out of the of­fice win­dow, or look­ing up at a cliff, or star­ing deep into a bush, the an­swer is you’re look­ing af­ter your health. And if you can share what you’re watching with some­body else, then you’re do­ing your health twice as much good!

The Big­gest Twitch on­line: bird­watch­

We were im­me­di­ately sur­rounded by a crowd all want­ing to see what we were look­ing at; idle passers-by, cu­ri­ous shop­keep­ers, even ladies in mid-hairdo

Loch Na Keal on the Scot­tish Is­land of Mull Ori­en­tal Honey Buz­zard, about to feed...

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