Birdwatching is the ideal antidote to modern day life. A walk in the park or woods or even just sitting in your garden can become a wildlife adventure, sparking conversation and even debate with family and friends.
Arfon Williams of the RPSB, Europe’s largest wildlife conservation charity, tells us how birdwatching delivers an instant ‘nature hit’ when you need it most.
Why birdwatching? If you watch small kids and nature, they transfix on it, but as adults we’ve forgotten to stop and watch nature. When you do, there’s a connection, and birdwatching is as much about putting yourself back in a more natural setting as working out which species of bird you’re looking at – it’s good for your mental well-being because, when you really look at nature, you forget the troubles of the world.
So, it’s good for you? I find it helps with my stress levels. During Covid-19, everyone had an added level of concern, about their jobs, about their family, but when you take time out to watch nature, you get absorbed in it. When you’re birdwatching, you have to be quiet, you have to slow down, you have to make time to connect with what you’re watching.
I can look out of my window and see a chaffinch, goldfinches and a couple of great tits in the long grass, looking for insects – just looking away for a moment gives me a little fix, a nature hit, a bit of a buzz. The next time you see even a familiar bird, like a robin, stop and watch it for 30 seconds and I guarantee you’ll come away feeling better than when you started.
Has lockdown created more birdwatchers? With periods of lockdown, people have been encouraged people to notice nature once again. People are always really busy, too busy if anything. When they slow down they’re noticing nature – they’re seeing it, if not for the very first time, for the first time in years. They’re seeing birds in their gardens, in the parks, when they go for walks.
Okay, but what if I live in a city? It doesn’t matter if that natural space is in an urban environment, it could be just a city park, or even just a tree or a bush, there’ll be something, you’ll be surprised at what’s there if you look.
Some people think there are more birds, because they’re starting to notice birdsong, but while the air quality has improved, that’s not the reason. They’ve always been there, but now there’s less traffic, they can see them more than they’ve ever been able to.
Why do people love it so much? Birds are fantastic to watch, they’re all different, there’s a dizzying amount of shapes, sizes and behaviours. Watch a birdfeeder in a garden and there’s a pecking order, you’ll see which birds stay, which get chased off, which birds interact with others – there’s always something going on. Even if you’re watching gulls or pigeons in a town or city, it isn’t just a random collection of birds, they’ll be setting up territories or doing something for their family – there’s a pattern to it.
The RSPB is based in the UK, what if I’m somewhere else? There are birds everywhere, in the UK there’s around 620 species, in the UAE there’s thought to be around 500, in America more than 1,100, in Indonesia 1,615 and in Colombia 1,826.
That’s a lot of birds. Right, how do I get started? To start with, just get out there, give yourself time to watch them, notice them, you don’t need binoculars or even to know what you’re looking at to enjoy birds, just go out and watch birds in your garden, in a park, out in the country or just look up at the trees. Once you notice them, you’ll enjoy them, and then share with others – being able to share what you’ve seen is a great thing to do. It’s really important to get kids involved too, they’re naturally inquisitive, and they love this sort of stuff. In many ways, the recent health crisis has brought us all closer to nature, understanding that we’re all connected, and that you have to value and look after it.