I’ve just been restocking the bird feeders in my garden in preparation for this weekend’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch here in the UK. It’s a simple concept: you simply record how many species of each bird lands in your garden (or wherever you are counting the birds) in one hour and report the findings back to the RSPB. The survey helps to provide an insight into how different types of birds are faring in these changing environmental times.
Feeding the birds in my garden has been a habit of mine for years now, since shortly after my diagnosis with fibromyalgia. As I’ve always loved nature and the great outdoors, feeding the birds allows me to connect with nature even on days when I am too ill to go out for a walk. I can simply pull up a chair by the window and immerse myself in the antics of my garden friends.
At first, there were some species coming to the garden, such as greenfinches, coal tits and nuthatches, that I wasn’t familiar with, so I had to look them up in a book to identify them. Over time, the characteristics of different birds emerge. There are the dunnocks, hopping inconspicuously around in the borders picking up whatever the other birds have dropped from the feeders. The happy gang of long tailed tits who fly in together with their non-stop chatter, feed on the suet balls and then leave. And the male blackbird who, when he isn’t feeding, will perch atop a dwarf tree, like a bouncer – any other type of bird coming into ‘his’ garden is just fine, but woe betide any other blackbird daring to enter his territory. They will be chased away by an attacking low flight accompanied by furious chattering.
When I’m watching the birds in my garden, I find their behaviours utterly absorbing and that’s important to me as there aren’t too many things that can truly stop the whirring of my overly anxious mind and divert my focus away from pain on bad days.
Research does back up these positive effects of being able to watch birds, such as in this 2017 study from he University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland which concluded that being able to watch birds near where you live was found to be associated with lower levels of reported depression and anxiety.
When I am well enough to go for a walk, I enjoy looking out for birds more commonly associated with farmland, woodland or open space such as yellowhammers, buzzards, woodpeckers, fieldfare and redwings (the latter two being winter migrants to the UK).
Alongside watching birds, I’ve also been trying to learn to identify birds by their song with the help of the BirdNET app on my phone. You can record the sound of a bird when out and about, submit it and the app will make suggestions as to what the bird could be. Although I still frequently get muddled up, I can now identify some of the more common birds by their sound alone. Being able to do this does help make a walk in a woodland for example, a richer experience.
So as I prepare my feeders for the weekend birdwatch and look forward to a mindful, peaceful hour of counting, I feel very grateful to have these birds in my garden. However much I may help them by providing food, water and shelter, I’m convinced that they help me just as much by simply being there.
If you are interested in taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, you don’t need to have a garden as you can observe birds in a park or open space – full details can be found here.