Next-Gen Birdwatching: A Hobby That’s Poised to Take Off

Millennials are suddenly watching the lives of our feathered friends and loving it!

Jun 4, 2020
Next-Gen Birdwatching: A Hobby That’s Poised to Take Off | Millennials are suddenly watching the lives of our feathered friends and loving it!

A surprising outcome of our extended time indoors has been a revived interest in one of the most mindful and nature-focused pastimes: birdwatching. You can admire birds just by looking and listening, with binoculars, or via webcams. And, of course, from home. Sheltering in place seems to have got us craving for nature. And there’s a new, next-gen following that’s newly in tune with the hum!

And experts have noted that our time spent indoors coincides with spring migration – the mass movement of birds towards their breeding grounds. So now is the perfect time of year to be a  newly-fledged birdwatcher!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has shared that socially distanced, more people than ever reported birds in a single day on the annual Global Big Day on May 9 this year: A record-breaking 2.1 million bird observations of 6,479 species were submitted to the lab’s free “ebird” program. And this data is put to good use: “to power science, outreach, and conservation efforts around the world.”

These sightings help the pros build a clearer picture of the annual cycle of bird populations so they can better understand and prevent avian population declines. As humans anxiously chart the global pandemic, the growing community of birdwatchers is enjoying tracking the migratory patterns of hummingbirds, or great blue herons among other species instead.

And as the lab’s website revealed, this new bigger family of bird lovers safely watched birds “socially distanced from balconies, gardens, and local parks—contributing from every continent toward a common cause. Their record-breaking numbers are part of a larger trend that has become pronounced in recent months as birds and nature have become a bright spot for many.”

Nathalie Couzon, beaming in our “Birds from my Balcony” video, is one millennial who has caught the birding habit. Usually a roaming digital native uploading her travel adventures to YouTube, Couzon has turned to videoing birds and other animals from her third floor balcony in urban Bangkok. These include the multicolored coppersmith barbet, with a call which sounds like someone striking metal with a hammer.

We find comfort in nature. Spending time near grass and trees and birds, even through a window, brings us happiness and makes us feel more relaxed. You can watch the same tree and spot different birds every day as they bring the experience to you.

You don’t need to be an expert. Just start to notice birds, slow down and really watch them. Seeking the healing balm of nature in lockdown, British author, Hugh Warwick, has even tamed a robin, still too young for its characteristic orange-red breast, to take food from his hand.

Most people are familiar with the sounds of chickens and pigeons. But it’s easy to learn to recognize the husky chirping of house sparrows, or the raucous calls of jays.  In New York right now, for instance, you can listen out for the sharp, staccato sounds of the yellow billed cuckoo, the musical trill of the scarlet tanager and the cries of red-tailed hawks.

Helen Macdonald, British author of the bestselling memoir H is for Hawk, admits to spending hours during lockdown just observing the common birds visiting her small backyard. She loves seeing blackbirds taking beakfuls of dried grass to line their nest, or sparrows taking dust baths in patches of bare and sunlit earth. She reminds us that writer Iris Murdoch calls this mindful solace “unselfing”; a way of shedding your worries as your immersion in nature takes over.

Across the pond in Virginia, Jennifer Ackerman says that “In the dark hours before sunrise, my yard whistles, chips, hoots, and trills with deafening birdsong.” This may have nothing to do with the pause in the urban soundtrack. Our ability to notice bird sounds more acutely, is because our lives have slowed, observes this bird expert.

Ackerman predicts that as our lives resume their normal rhythms, the most enduring change may be in human behavior around birds: “With any luck, this human shift may stick: People noticing the birds around them more and finding entertainment, solace, even wisdom in watching them going about their lives in a regular way.”

For Ackerman, who has a new book out: The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, birds may have something important to tell us about what it takes to navigate this world, especially under difficult circumstances:

“In exploring new discoveries in bird science, I’m struck by how birds play, adapt, innovate, and especially, work together in tough times. We want to return to our lives and livelihoods, but not by sacrificing the natural world that supports us in body and in spirit.”

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.