A big topic of conversation at dinner one night when my husband and I were at Paara Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park (Uganda) was why does birding make you feel so good. My husband, TDWI writer Dov Michaeli and I are amateur birders – we often forget to log the birds we see and we are by no means “LifeListers.” But we really, really like to do it. Why?
I said because I love solving problems. I also do crossword puzzles and mega-mega-gigantic jigsaw puzzles (the last one was 4000 pieces and took 10 months to complete. Figuring out what bird it is by comparing what I see with the binoculars and what is written in the bird book challenges my brain. And, when I finally decide what it is and it turns out to be right (because other more experienced birders agree), it is like getting an “A” on a test. I just love it!
Dov said he loves birding because seeing a bird he already knows is like listening to a favorite concert. “I know you, brown-eyed junco, nice to see you again.” More often than not, he will hum the call followed by humming some classical music that he also adores.
I am sure my endorphins spike when I decide the bird is the grey-headed kingfisher and not the African pygmy kingfisher (psst…we saw this one today). And Dov’s spikes when he hears the morning call of our resident California Towhee: a metallic chink chink chink – not particularly musical. We, humans, have so many ways to feel good…and that is truly wondrous.
Benefits of birding
When I bird, I am fully “present,” not checking email or texting, rather focusing entirely on the bird in front of me – one that I know could fly off any minute. I am smiling because of the way the bird looks and acts (In Murchison, we watched a grey-headed kingfisher beat a rather large insect to death – slamming it side to side against a tree branch — so that he could swallow it whole without any annoying fluttering as it went down his throat. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I am sure Mr. Kingfisher did as well.
I feel pure joy when I look up the names of birds in the bird book – who can’t smile when searching for birds named yellow-bellied sapsucker or roseate spoonbill or yellow fronted tinkerbird. Come on now, tell me you can say any of those names without a great big grin. Try these: cinnamon-chested bee-eater….eastern bearded-greenbul…kori bustard…Zitting cisticola…let your imagination go wild….there is probably a bird named for that. Olive long-tailed cuckoo, grey cuckoo-shrike, fulvous whistling-duck, black-rumped buttonquail….wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!
Birding is like baseball
So I am not advocating birding for all – some people find it boring and others couldn’t give a hoot (pardon the pun). But for me, birding is like baseball. An avocation that connects me to stuff I love. Batting averages, ok. Life lists, ok. Binocs, ok. Passion is the endgame.
Thank heavens for endorphins.