Watching and hearing birds has to be one of the most calming ways to experience nature. So many of us respond to birdsong or to seeing birds fly. And there are all different ways to enjoy this: birdwatching, birding or twitching. Which might most improve wellbeing?
Birdwatching is the most common. It’s one of the traditional hobbies which boomed during lockdown, particularly among Generation Z (16- 29) but across all ages. Birding ( a more committed approach, watching and waiting) and twitching (searching out rare species) may be less common but are life-enhancing.
Most of us simply drift into everyday birdwatching as more practicable. It can be relaxing and a great way to live in the moment. I’m not usually a spontaneous person, I like to plan. But I do enjoy seeing birds spontaneously – suddenly spotting a robin on a gate, or hearing rooks calling high in the trees as they move from rookery to rookery – where will they be today? This way I can get a sudden glimpse of nature in the everyday, so it feels immediate. I recently heard of a GP surgery which has bird feeders outside the waiting room windows, to calm patients as they wait for an appointment, watching the birds. I think I might feel pressured by birding or twitching, whereas this is more like letting go and just seeing what happens.
But it might seem less interesting. You might soon tire of seeing just a few species over and over again, whereas watching regularly or searching further afield could become exciting. Mental stimulus helps wellbeing and cognition, so birding and twitching could contribute to this by firing people’s imaginations. They could also absorb our minds more.
Birding can be all about learning through observation, and many birders record and note bird behaviours, flight, plumage or song. It’s about going deeper, taking nature connection to another level, so instead of glancing at a bird, you stop and observe, and gain more.
Challenge is integral to birding and twitching alike. If you succeed and get a great sighting of a rare or familiar species, there’s a real high, a great adrenaline rush. And birding and twitching create purpose – there’s always a goal, seeing a particular species, or trying to exceed a previous total for sightings, which motivates people to spend more time in nature, with all its many benefits.
They can give life real variety, never knowing what species you might find next. But there are also barriers to participation. Equipment like binoculars and telescopes can be expensive. Not many people have spare time to sit for hours in a hide, or to head off at a moment’s notice and travel quite a distance to see a rare species which has been reported somewhere. So it could become a frustrating hobby if you are limited by other commitments or travel issues. Twitching can be stressful, with time pressure not to miss an opportunity overshadowing the actual enjoyment. It can also set twitchers against each other as they vie for the most or best sightings.
All three ways of watching birds add another layer and can help us zone out and be mindful, one way or another. Maybe combining elements of all three could be the ideal. What do you think? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002