Is it ok to go birding during the stay at home orders for COVID-19?
Absolutely, Yes, getting outside and being in nature can provide a boost to both our mental and physical well-being. There’s been a lot written about maintaining our mental health while in this time of social isolation. Birding or bird-watching is a great way to connect with nature and for at least a moment stop thinking about COVID-19. Birding gets you outdoors and can be done wherever you live. Birding is also great to do with kids, and kids with a little direction can be extremely observant particularly given their better eyes and ears than many of their caregivers. Learning about birds helps to keep us active and to develop observational skills. It also helps us to realize the beauty and intrigue that is right in front of us. We may be at home, but we are not alone. We are sharing our space with lots of other organisms and as a group, birds are some of the most visible and vocal cohabitants sharing our space.
Here are a few suggestions for birding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Develop a yard of neighborhood list – No matter where you live, you can start by keeping track of the birds you see outside your window, in your backyard or neighborhood. You’ll be surprised at what you can find. Develop some challenges for yourself and your family. ¿Can you identify a new species each day?
Observe something new about a familiar species – Spend some time looking closely at a familiar species and draw or describe what you are seeing. Look at the patterns of color, the shape of the bill, the sound of the bird’s song or calls. Train yourself to be a good observer. By trying to draw or describe a species, you improve your ability to really see and hear differences among species. Once you start to look at common species like the blue jay or American robin, you will be surprised by the intricate details you have never noticed before.
Keep a sketchbook or digital photo album of the birds you are seeing – This is a great activity whether you are an adult or have school-aged children at home. Each day try to add a new species to your sketchbook or digital photo album. This can be combined with other forms of nature journaling and not only aid you in learning the different bird species but will also serve to document this particular time. For more on nature journaling see the video on keeping a field guide.
Visit a nearby natural area – Depending on where you live, there may be a local natural area nearby where you can walk and bird. How do the birds that you are seeing here differ from the ones you saw at your house? What species are common and which are harder to find? How do the kinds of birds you see change depending on whether you are in a field, forest, city or backyard?
Learn about migration- Many species of birds are migrants, leaving northern areas in Fall and returning each Spring. In April in Pennsylvania, our woods and fields come alive as migrant birds return making this an exciting time to learn about birds. For those of you who are home schooling, learning about migrating birds is a great way to study geography (where did the hummingbird spend the winter before it returned to my yard?) and also delve into meteorology. When do birds migrate and what weather conditions are best for migration. One of my favorite sites is BirdCast where you can learn more about when birds migrate and see the action in real-time.
Start to learn the language of birds – What better time to start learning a new language, than when stuck at home, and learning bird songs is a lot like learning a foreign language. The best time to learn the “Language of Birds» is in Spring when the males are singing to attract a female and establish a territory. Did you know that each species has its own species-specific song and by learning a bird’s song, you can identify which species are present just by hearing them? A great resource for learning bird identification and songs is the Thayer Birding software, and Pete Thayer is providing this for free to everyone until we have a COVID-19 vaccine.
Put up a bird-feeder – Bird feeders are a great way to attract birds to your backyard and enable you to see birds up close. They also can provide an important link to nature for individuals who cannot get outside. For more on bird feeding and bird feeders see the extension fact sheets on bird-feeding and attracting hummingbirds.
Integrate birds and birding into your homeschooling curriculum – If you are homeschooling your children, learning about birds can be incorporated into many parts of the curriculum from activities for young children to information suitable for youth in middle and high school. There’s lots of information on the web about teaching with birds and using them as part of art, math writing, and scientific inquiry.
Do’s and Don’ts of Birding during the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Do get outside and look for birds in your backyard, neighborhood or at a nearby natural area
- Do maintain social distancing at all times
- Do look for birds in the early morning when bird activity is greatest
- Do marvel at the incredible wonders of nature that are all around us
- Don’t share binoculars, field guides or spotting scopes except with members of your immediate household unit
- Don’t visit areas where large numbers of observers are present even if there is a “good» bird there.
- Don’t go to parks or natural areas that have been closed to the public
Margaret C. Brittingham, Ph.D.
Professor of Wildlife resources