Birding, or the act of observing birds, is a good way to connect to the world around us. In a time of stagnation and collective uncertainty, it’s given me (Audrey) the opportunity to get out of my head, and experience moments of rapture and awe.
“Birds are everywhere. [They] are very easy to detect compared to some other species of wildlife that live around us. They make all kinds of beautiful sounds. They come in all kinds of brilliant and diverse colors,” says Corina Newsome, community engagement manager at Georgia Audubon. “Once you realize how many different kinds of birds are living where you live … you can’t stop noticing them.”
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There is no “right” or “correct” way to observe birds. You can enjoy them however you like! Maybe you’re doing the dishes, you spot a Northern Mockingbird outside of your kitchen window, and you pause to appreciate it — that’s birding! Maybe you’re taking a moment to observe some pigeons fighting over food scraps on a subway platform — in my book, that counts as birding too.
If you’d like to dive deeper into the hobby, here are tips for how to get into birding:
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Birding can happen anywhere, any time!
An Anhinga drying out after a swim at Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, TX. Their feathers get waterlogged, so Anhingas have to dry out their wings before they can fly.
Where to go
You don’t need to go to a nature preserve or a secluded park to bird. The idea that there are outdoor spaces that are a part of “nature” vs. “urban spaces” can be a big barrier to people who want to bird, says Yamina Nater-Otero, program coordinator at Audubon New York and committee member for the Black and Latino Birders Fund. “If you live in an urban space [and] you don’t have a car, you’re going to think to yourself, ‘where am I supposed to go?'” they say.
Nater-Otero likes to “patch bird,” which involves locating a small space nearby where you can bird regularly. Going to the same spot on a regular basis allows you to become familiar with the birds that reside there year-round, which in turn can help you identify visiting migrants in the spring and the fall.
If you do want to venture further from home, you can try searching “best places to bird near me.” If you use public transit, try searching for something like “metro accessible birding sites.” You can also check to see where your local Audubon chapter leads field trips or bird outings — that should be a good indicator of popular birding spots in your area.
Birdability has a crowd-sourced map that documents accessibility in outdoor spaces. With over 600 spots mapped, it has info on how accessible a trail is, and it provides information about parking, ramps, bathrooms, surfaces, the height of railings and more.
If you can’t go outside, you can enjoy birds via webcam. Nater-Otero recommends the cams on Explore.org and the Cornell FeederWatch Cam.
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When to go
Birding can occur year-round, no matter where you live.
The “best” time of day to go birding depends on what kinds of birds you want to see. Mornings tend to be better for songbirds. Dusk or dawn is better for seeing owls or nighthawks. Wading birds and shorebirds tend to be viewable all day, since they generally live out in the open on or near the edges of water.
Virginia Rose, founder and president of Birdability, calls the window between 7 and 10 a.m., depending on the time of year, “the best birding hours for people looking to find the most birds.”
However, as Nater-Otero points out, not everyone feels safe going out at the crack of dawn, when places tend to be quieter and more empty. “The birds don’t all just disappear when it’s 10 a.m. You might not hear them as much, but they’re still there,” she says. When someone close to you dies — maybe a parent, a spouse or a sibling — it’s a big loss. Those around you might acknowledge that loss by showing up with food, checking in or maybe sending a card. But what about when a neighbor dies? Or that long-awaited family reunion is cancelled? There’s a chance others might not acknowledge or recognize it as a loss — and you may even feel guilty for even feeling this way.
Some relationships, like an online friend, an ex-spouse or a godparent, aren’t the same for everyone. In many Hispanic families, Doka says, godparents are very significant. “We even called godparents ‘compadres’ and ‘comadres,’ which literally mean ‘to father with’ or ‘to mother with.’ But if a godparent dies, most of society will just shrug it off, ‘Well, OK, sorry, but what’s the big deal?”
You may be mourning your daily commute because it was time to be alone with your thoughts and decompress, you might miss social outings and the joy they brought, or you may miss being able to volunteer and feel a sense of purpose. All of that can create disenfranchised grief. “Grief is a reaction to a loss, not just a reaction to a death,” he says.
Don’t dismiss how you feel: acknowledging the loss and what it means to you is the first step.