Why Bird-Watching Is Perfect for Health-Conscious Seniors

(And for Anyone Else Who Wants More Nature Time)

From nature geeks to retired folks, everyone young and old can reap heaps of health benefits from this accessible activity. All you need is an area where birds congregate — which can be anywhere from city parks to untouched wilderness — a little patience, and some knowledge.

Birds are found on every single continent on Earth (even Antarctica!) which makes it possible to chase this hobby anywhere in the world. Plus, it’s free!

Still skeptical? Then, let’s dive into the specific benefits that bird-watching has to offer.

red cardinal
The beautiful Cardinal is a frequent visitor to backyard feeders in the Midwest and along the east coast of North America.

Bird-watching gets you out in nature.

Numerous studies have purported that nature is good for you. The Japanese even have a practice devoted to it called forest bathing, which offers a number of health benefits, such as a boosted immune system, reduced stress, and increased energy.

Many of these benefits are due to the relatively quiet, peaceful, and reflective space that the outdoors offers, unlike the hustle-bustle of urban life. Relaxing in heavily wooded areas where trees breathe out oxygen can also give your lungs a much-needed break from the exhaust-polluted air of the city.

seniors in nature
Getting out in nature is good for you!

Perhaps you consider retirement to be a relatively stress-free time of your life. However, consider your family obligations. Whether you help babysit the grandkids or assist your adult children with their new mortgages, these obligations can still be stressful. And when these duties feel overwhelming, know that you can always go out in nature to observe the birds and enjoy the natural healing benefits that the outdoors can provide.

Bird-watching gets you moving.

Golden eagle
Most people are familiar with the Bald Eagle, but if you venture out a little farther into the wilderness, you may just be able to spot the elusive and majestic Golden Eagle, the only other eagle species in North America.

If you struggle to exercise for exercise’s sake, bird-watching, a goal-oriented activity, can be your way of getting off the couch. Bird-watching requires you to do lots of walking, which may count towards your 150 minutes of recommended weekly exercise.

What’s more, when bird-watching, you might find yourself motivated to move faster. Walk briskly, and you’ll not only burn more calories but also see more birds. To catch sight of a particularly speedy flier, you might even fit in a jog here and there. Plus, the added rugged terrain of forests and mountains forces you to use balancing muscles you may otherwise never get to exercise walking on flat ground.

All this exercise for bird-watching might actually seem a bit overly exhausting, but the great thing about this hobby is that you can tailor all the required exercise to your needs. If you have arthritis, for example, and struggle with painful joints, you can take lots of breaks. Sometimes staying still may even make it easier for you to spot certain birds!

For the more adventurous birders among us, retirement is the perfect time to explore new places, whether it be a local trail you’ve always wanted to visit or the uncharted wilderness where rare birds fly.

Exercise from bird-watching is a natural antidepressant. And it’s free!

feeding chickadee
While some birds, like this chickadee, are naturally curious about humans, feeding wildlife is not recommended unless specifically allowed in your natural park. Habituating wildlife to humans can make them aggressive and endanger them.

Exercise has been shown to significantly improve mood. Unfortunately, clinical depression is something that doesn’t discriminate against age, and seniors can develop it too. The abrupt change from working full-time to retiring, the death of a spouse, or another traumatic event can trigger this illness. If you notice fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and even confusion, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, as you may be dealing with clinical depression.

Luckily, a side effect from bird-watching is that you’ll be doing some form of exercise in the hopes of catching sight of a bird or two. Don’t expect to get too far in the hobby if you think it’s just a matter of sitting on a park bench all day!

Bird-watching can be social.

feeding pigeons
The humble yet adaptable Rock Pigeon is not a native of North America. It was introduced from Europe, but can be found almost everywhere in the world.

While many people enjoy bird-watching as a reflective, solo activity, others find community in bird-watching. Retirement may be the best years of your life, but you can’t deny that as we get older, it gets harder and harder to make friends. Finding a community of nature lovers may just be the social refreshment you need.

Team up with other bird lovers in the community to learn a few birdsong recognition skills or borrow a pair of high-power binoculars for the weekend.

Birdwatching is also a highly accessible activity for families, friends, and couples. You don’t have to pay an expensive entrance fee to most natural places. You can simply chat and bond over finding rare birds, and you can even round off the day with a tasty picnic!

Bird-watching may be good for your brain.

hummingbird at feeder
Beautiful, colorful birds are not limited to the tropics! Hummingbirds, such as the Rufous, Ruby-Throated, and Anna’s Hummingbirds, can be spotted in suburban backyards.

“Being intellectually engaged may benefit the brain[,]” says the National Institutes of Health, citing academic studies. “People who engage in meaningful activities, like volunteering or hobbies, say they feel happier and healthier. Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability, too.”

While bird-watching is a relaxed hobby compared to many others, it does require some mental exercise. Serious bird-watchers will read plenty of books about bird behavior and biology. Just identifying birds requires you to remember what many species look like, their behavior, their habitat, and perhaps even songs and calls. Since many birds look alike, knowing other information such as geographical range and preferred habitat (e.g., marsh, open plain, forest) is important to identifying birds correctly.

Bird-watching fosters an appreciation for nature.

Blue Jays belong to the same family as crows and ravens, and can be found in the Midwest and east coast. Their western relative is the darker-blue Steller’s Jay.

Perhaps more than health benefits, this last benefit is probably the most valuable result that comes from bird-watching.

No one can deny that the natural world is in grave danger at this time in history. Climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation are causing at least 10,000 species to go extinct each year.

As humans, we often forget that we, too, are animals that originally came from nature. Too often are we preoccupied with getting better, stronger, faster gadgets that make us superior to nature. And it makes us forget that nature can be just as — if not more — beautiful as our high-tech lives.

Fostering an appreciation for the natural world is humbling. And hopefully, it’ll inspire you to care for it a little more.

Bird-watching is a great activity for seniors, but it’s a hobby for all ages.

Birds are often excellent parents. Many species mate for life and both Mom and Dad share child-rearing duties.

While bird-watching is frequently associated with retired folks and seniors, there’s no rule saying young people can’t join. In fact, once you’ve fallen in love with birds yourself, why not bring the whole family along?

If you have young grandchildren, teaching kids about the natural world can be an enriching and rewarding process. Your grandkids may find it inspiring if their grandparent can identify birds by ear or eye, and they might even end up striving to do the same.

Get started!

So if you’re wondering what to do this weekend, what are you waiting for? Put on your hiking shoes, perhaps borrow a local birding guidebook from the library, and head outside.

While binoculars can certainly help you find birds that don’t like being too close to humans, they’re not required.

Don’t worry if you don’t know many birds in the beginning; bird-watching is a constant learning process. Once you’re familiar with the usual suspects in your area, branch out further to meet other birds and enjoy the benefits this activity offers.