Fraternizing with feathered friends

Bird watching brings joy, improved physical and mental health

By Barbara Pierce

Mason
Mason

“Now is the most exciting time for birds,” said Andy Mason of Jefferson. “There’s a big flush of migrants in May and early June, before the leaves appear on the trees. There are loads of birds out there.” Mason is co-president of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society.

One of the best things about birds is that they’re everywhere. And even though you may not realize it, you see and hear a wide variety of birds every day while you’re going about your daily life, adding to your well-being.

People who live around trees and birds are less likely to have depression, anxiety and stress. Researchers found a positive association between the number of birds in a neighborhood and the mental health of residents.

Yes, birds are good for our health.

And beyond birds, there are hundreds of studies that show the health benefits of being out in nature. Stress levels drop dramatically.

Birding means being in harmony with nature. It requires you to be outdoors, breathing fresh air, absorbing vitamin D, and communicating with nature in your own way.

“To me, bird watching is a stress reducer, and relaxing,” added Mason. “And it’s a way to get outside. It’s not a strenuous activity, just slow, deliberate walking, a way to get into the woods.”

“It can be a social experience, going with friends or with an organization. I often go alone,” Mason said. “It definitely helps stress and provides moderate exercise.”

Mason got hooked on birding as a young man. “My wife and I took a hippie trip, camping in a VW van. In the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia we saw a prothonotary warbler. It was like burnished gold in that dark swamp,” he said.

“It knocked me out! I’d never seen a bird like that. Then we saw a pilated woodpecker, a big bird with a red head. That knocked me out too. I was hooked! Now it’s my passion and I enjoy it,” he exclaimed.

Another bird enthusiastic is Bob Burns of Ilion. “I’ve always had an interest in birds, since my early 20s. It’s a lot of fun,” Burns said.

He agrees it’s good for one’s health. “Just getting outside is a big benefit,” he said.

“We’ve been feeding birds for the 40 years we’ve lived here in the woods. It’s exciting to see who else has shown up. We have Baltimore orioles — they love the oranges we put out for them — rose-breasted grosbeaks and many more.

Birding in his blood

Red breasted Grosbeak
Red breasted Grosbeak

Burns, who was staff photographer for Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown for 36 years, enjoys taking photos of the birds in his back yard as well as on field trips with the Kirkland Bird Club.

His favorite places for birding are Spring Farm CARES in Clinton and the Utica Marsh.

“There are all sorts of birds at Utica Marsh,” said Steve Heerkens, biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“Utica Marsh is a shrub habitat, for species that like that habitat — like the gray cat bird, fly catcher, and cardinals. And there are water fowl such as wood ducks, mallard ducks, lesser bittern, and herons, even eagles and osprey — lots of good bird watching.”

“There’s a new observation tower,” Heerkens added. “It’s easy to get to. A long walk, but an easy walk.”

“For me, the excitement about birds is year-round,” says Amy Chillag, CNN online. “Few things pull me out of a funk like the sudden appearance of a bluebird in my back yard, the vivid blue against a green magnolia tree like an exclamation point.”

“I scramble for binoculars to get a closer look, and as I turn the focus wheel, my cloudy, scattered mind refocuses, too. The tiny indigo beauty rewards me with a chest puff, a rust-colored breast popping against the brilliant blue.

“The sound of bird song and rustling leaves lead me to take a deep sip of fresh air, and the tightness in my chest disappears. My low spirits lift for now. I look skyward for the next flutter.”

In addition, there are the health benefits of birding in a group, since social connections are key to a long, healthy life. Sharing a hobby you’re passionate about can connect you to others.

For most, bird watching in a group is more fun than going out alone. Burns greatly enjoys the trips with the Kirkland Bird Club.

If you’re just getting started with birding, Mason suggests the website of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society at http://doas.us/, or the Hudson Mohawk Bird Club at https://www.hmbc.net/. Information on the Kirkland Bird Club in New York Mills can be found on Facebook.

Consider getting a bird identification book or download an app like Cornell University’s Merlin Bird ID or Audubon Bird Guide.

For more information, visit https://bobburnsphotography.myportfolio.com.

There’s a huge birding community awaiting you and boundless good health!

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