Birdwatching In Lockdown Is Good For You Give It A Go For Your Well Being

Ruth HH T shirt

Ruth enjoying the Great Orme only a few minutes walk from the front door.

It’s pretty fair to say that all our lives have been turned upside-down in the past few months thanks to Covid-19. Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain and around the world have been infected by the virus and too many of those have sadly lost their lives to this invisible killer. Those who have remained healthy have found themselves cooped up at home for weeks on end, only allowed to venture out for the essentials of food and exercise. It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it, as Dr Spock (allegedly) once said in Star Trek.

Robin Norfolk 1

One of the many wonderful things about watching birds you can see just about anywhere!

One constant through these turbulent times, however, has been the cycle of the natural world. While we’ve been stuck indoors in lockdown, the wildlife outside has continued its busy spring routine as normal, oblivious of the human turmoil or possibly even benefitting from our situation as we cause them less disturbance. During the months that we’ve stayed at home, migrant birds have returned to their traditional nesting sites across the country and joined our resident species for the breeding season. They’ve defended a territory, found a mate and raised the next generation, many of which are able now to make their own way in the world. And that familiar reassuring cycle has helped many of us cope with the unnatural, and frankly sometimes scary, circumstances in which we’ve found ourselves.

Blackbird 1

Just pause and listen next time you hear a Blackbird, or any bird, singing, you feel better.

Across the country, people have been watching the birds in their garden with renewed attention, relishing their colour and life, and possibly feeling rather envious of their freedom to travel. Even people who don’t claim to be birdwatchers have commented on the birdsong that they can hear in urban areas now there’s less traffic noise; after all, who doesn’t feel their spirits lift at the mellifluous song of a Blackbird. And going out for a daily exercise walk is the perfect opportunity to look for birds to give yourself a physical and mental boost. Each time you walk out the door there’s the feeling of anticipation: what will I see this time? And a little surge of pleasure when the anticipated bird hops up into view: an inner smile as a male Stonechat perches on top of a gorse bush and flicks its tail or a dopamine rush of happiness as a Peregrine Falcon tears across the sky in pursuit of its prey. Birds are still flying; life is still good.

Birdwatching is good for you. Most of us who spend time watching birds have probably instinctively always known this, but now it has been officially recognised and it’s never been more important than now during lockdown. There’s been a fair amount of research in recent months and years to prove the link between watching birds and the positive benefits to our mental and physical health.

Back in 2007, the RSPB commissioned a study into the subject by Dr William Bird, strategic health advisor to Natural England. His 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 gives us something more interesting than ourselves to focus on, and it connects us with other living beings. Even just looking at a natural landscape can help us to de-stress and recharge our flagging batteries.

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, wherever you may be. In fact, the more birds you see, the less stress you will feel, the perfect excuse to gaze out of the window if ever there was one!

Why is birdwatching so good for you? Well, to start with it gets you out into the fresh air and moving. Walking is good exercise as it can boost those happy hormones and if you’re outside on a sunny day, you’re also absorbing Vitamin D which is good for healthy bones.

Birdwatching is good therapy too. Like playing a musical instrument for pleasure, it’s an activity that requires you to concentrate enough to forget your worries. If I’m busy scanning the bushes for birds, I’m there in the moment and I forget to worry about when I’ll be able to work again or how I pay my bills in the meantime. Watching birds takes all my attention and I forget everything else; it’s the ultimate mindfulness activity. But it goes further than that. Watching birds helps your ‘social health’ too by increasing your sense of connection with others, even if you’re on your own. 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 see an incredible bird, but it’s even better if you can share it with someone else and both go ‘Wow!’ together.

Sharing the sighting of a Fulmar with passing walkers makes everyone's day that bit better.

My local patch is the Great Orme’s Head at Llandudno in North Wales, and I’ve exercised there on a daily basis during lockdown. I’ve spent a lot of time watching the Fulmars sitting on the cliff ledges overlooking Llandudno Bay. These wonderful tube-nosed birds chuckle and bicker in their pairs and the volume of noise increases dramatically if another Fulmar swoops too close to them. Other people regularly walk on the Orme too and over the past months I’ve learned to recognise their faces, from a safe 2m distance of course. And sometimes we’ve been able to share the moment as a Fulmar has soared low over our heads on its distinctive stiff wings, so close that we can see the details of their dark eyes, tubenose bill and gentle expressions. I exchange a laugh and a smile with my fellow walkers and our morning is transformed for the better simply by sharing that beauty. So, it’s official. If you ever feel that lockdown is getting too much, just stop to watch a bird and you will feel better. If anyone asks why you’re gazing out the window, studying your garden or staring deep into a bush, the answer is you’re looking after your health.

Ruth Miller

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