Originally Published March 27, 2020
Is it time to switch from the news channel to the bird channel? Watching birds can be done anywhere – even in urban environments and has big health benefits. Researchers in England revealed people living in neighbourhoods with more birds and trees experienced less depression, stress, and anxiety.
You can bird watch from your window if you’re stuck inside or you can take it on the road with your next trip.
Where once it was the domain of grey-haired, binocular-toting seniors with their pants tucked into their socks (tick avoidance), bird watching is becoming cool to hip, flannel-sporting youngsters. Condé Nast magazine called urban birding one of the hottest trends of 2017. Calgary teenager Gavin McKinnon successfully completed a quest in 2019 to find 300 Alberta bird species in a calendar year.
Getting started is easy and chances are you’re already doing it. Doubtful? Have you ever seen a bird feeder and noticed the birds at it? Gotcha!
So how do you up your birding game?
- Put a bird feeder in your yard or on your window. Setting up a simple bird feeder will attract a variety of birds. Different birds like different feeders and food; ask for suggestions at your local bird/pet store or read Myrna Pearman’s Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide. A very simple bird feeder can be made by putting fat trimmings from a steak or other meat into a mesh bag or wrapping it in chicken wire, and nailing to a tree. (Don’t do this if you live in bear country!)
- Look at a bird. Really look at it. What shape is the bill? How long are its legs? What colour are its legs? Does it have circles around its eyes or bars on its wings? These are called field marks and help identify what kind of bird it is.
- Download the free Merlin app from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s like having a bird expert in your pocket. Put in the bird size, colour, location and what it’s doing, and Eureka! The app scans the lab’s database and provides photos of birds most likely to be around doing what you saw it doing.
- Browse bird websites. Check out The Cornell Lab and Audubon websites for more information on the birds you’re seeing. Did you know chickadees- those little black and white birds flitting through tree branches – live in hierarchal social groups and store seeds for later retrieval? To keep track of all the changes in their family group and remember where they stashed the food, they grow new brain neurons and replace old memories with new ones!
- Go for a walk in search of birds. A pair of binoculars is handy – an inexpensive 7 or 8 power pair are good to start – and there’s much to discover by looking up. Birds are often found around “edges” where they seek shelter and food. Look where water meets land, where a forest rings a meadow, where a puddle shines on a gravel road. Listen for bird calls. Singing for a bird is expensive – it can alert predators to its presence – so they usually save their voices for when it’s important, like finding a mate. Spring rewards birdwatchers with nature’s sweetest songs.
Be like chickadees and create some new memories.