Mental Health Benefits of Birding 

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Smiling young friends using binoculars during a nature hike
A lot of people like seeing birds as part of everyday life. They might have a birdfeeder in their yard, or notice when the robins arrive in their yards in the spring. At the beach, it’s hard to miss the seagulls. But would it surprise you to know more people than ever have gotten into birding as an outdoor hobby? And research has shown that it’s an activity that brings mental health benefits.
Birding has been carried along with the surge of renewed interest in silent sports that happened during the pandemic years – and now has legions of new devotees. In 2020, the American Birding Association reported that interest in their podcasts jumped by thousands of listeners in the space of just a few months. That same year the Audubon Society, a nonprofit focused on bird conservation, saw interest in its website and social media pages spike. In lots of places – including Michigan – birding has become a hot new hobby.

Why birding is easy in Michigan

Spring and fall are especially thrilling for Michigan birdwatchers. The state is a major flyway for migrating birds, so those are prime seasons for seeing a lot of birds overhead. But really, this type of wildlife watching can be done in any season. Birds are all around us, whether you’re in the city, out in the country, or in a forest or wetland area. The best places to see them typically are near any body of water, like a lake, marsh, river or stream. And you don’t need fancy equipment. Some things to bring along:
  • Binoculars
  • A pocket-sized bird field guide with descriptions and pictures of different birds
  • A birding app, like the iBird Pro or the Audubon Bird Guide on your iPhone or Android phone
  • Water and snacks

Mental health boost

More than just being a fun activity that gets you outside and into nature, birding also has mental health benefits. Seeing a cute or an unfamiliar kind of bird out your window can spark a momentary feeling of delight. And for amateur birders, seeing a species in the wild for the first time can be a reason to celebrate. Research backs up this birding-makes-us-feel-better observation. A study published last fall found that people who were in a place where they could see or hear birds reported being in a better frame of mind for up to eight hours afterward. People in this study used a smartphone app to log their bird sightings – and their mental health level.
Another study showed that people who lived in areas where there was an abundance of birds – and birdsong – reported fewer mental health issues like depression and anxiety. So why does birding make some people feel more relaxed? It might have to do with the crossover effect of the mental health benefits that people get when they are in “green” or “blue” spaces. Being out in nature – in the woods, on a forest trail, or even at your local nature center – has proven emotional benefits that in recent years have been emphasized by the “forest-bathing” trend. The same goes for those who spend time near oceans, Great Lakes, inland lakes or rivers. Birding typically hits this sweet spot, putting people outdoors and connecting them to nature near woods and water.
Some of these tangible benefits, according to the American Psychological Association:
  • Increased feelings of happiness
  • Improved attention span
  • Better cognitive functioning
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Improved social interactions
So if you were on the fence about birding before, it might be time to get outside and try it. A better mood is waiting.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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