Bird-Watching Has Boomed During the Pandemic

You don't have to wander far to immerse yourself in the ways of birds. trattieritratti/Shutterstock

Most animals have been better off without us during the pandemic, but there's one confluence of humans and nature that may have gotten an enduring boost: bird-watching.

It just so happens to be a hobby that's good for both wildlife and humans. Birds get some much-needed appreciation, which often leads to conservation. And humans, well, they get a world of good from staring at birds. We already know the health benefits of getting outside, even for just a few minutes a day. Then there's all that walking. Not to mention the emotional ballast of simply sitting still for a moment and breathing the fresh clean air. Did we mention that you also get to gawk at birds, in all their diversity and spectacle?

It's little wonder birding is booming.

The National Audubon Society's bird-identification app was downloaded at twice its usual pace in March and April, according to the Los Angeles Times, with visits to its website up by an astounding 500,000. People seem to be embracing the natural world with a newfound enthusiasm. And nature, given time to take a breather during the pandemic, seems to be paying them back in spectacular spades. Forests, city parks, even backyards are teeming with bird life, especially during this nesting season.

A great tit eating from a coconut feeder.
Birds like this great tit have gained an entirely new fan base as bird-watching has soared. sasimoto/Shutterstock

"The world of birds is so much more vibrant and active than I'd ever realized, and once I paid attention, it just hit me in the face," Annapolis, Maryland resident Conner Brown tells the LA Times.

Brown is only about a month into the hobby, but can already identify more than 30 kinds of birds.

"It's given me a reason to get out of the house, it's motivated me."

But the explosion in birding may have actually got its start while people were still mostly confined to their quarters. The Global Big Day — a bird-spotting event that takes place on May 9 every year — set an all-time record for participation while most of us were locked down, according to The New York Times. In all, the bird-spotting app eBird, reported more than 2 million observations, recording 6,479 species.

And likely many of those observations were made from people's windows and porches.

"There is definitely a craving for engagement with nature, especially considering how limited our ability to move is right now," Derek Lovitch, a birder and biologist in Freeport, Maine, tell the Times.

common loon, wildlife watching as meditation
Wildlife watching can bring your heart rate down. Agnieszka Bacal/Shutterstock

Of course, birding didn't just emerge during the pandemic. The first field guide to birds in North America was "Birds Through an Opera Glass" published back in 1889. Since then, the hobby has grown into an industry that pours hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy. A study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that birders and other wildlife watchers contributed nearly $80 billion to the U.S. economy.

Since then, those numbers have only grown — especially with this unlikely pandemic boom. And the best part? The birds don't mind all that fresh admiration. In fact, they pay us no mind at all.

"The birds don't know that there's a pandemic. They're migrating, building nests and laying eggs, just like they always have," North Carolina birder Michael Kopack Jr. tells the LA Times.

"It kind of takes us back to a magical time six or eight weeks ago when there was no pandemic," he said. "It lets me decompress and get away from everything that's going on in the world, at least for a little while."

Want to join those eager ranks — and maybe find another good reason to immerse yourself in nature? Starre Vartan wrote a guide to getting started with bird-watching, and The Audubon Society has plenty of tips for going deeper.