I live a stone’s throw from one of the top birding sites in America, the Back Bay in Newport Beach, California. It’s an important rest stop and winter home for birds migrating from Canada and Alaska. Upwards of 30,000 birds can be seen there, on a single day, in the winter months.
When writing, I’ll often take a break and walk over to the Back Bay. I walk to a tree with lots of branches that birds usually perch on. Why? Because I absolutely love to stand there and watch and listen to them. I find it incredibly peaceful and relaxing.
Birds pull us into the moment
I also find it to be a beautiful, spiritual and meditative experience. Why? For one, it pulls me into the present moment.
The birds I’m listening to are singing right now. And the sounds are so mesmerizing that my mind (for once!) doesn’t want to drift off. My focus wants to stay right there, on the sublime songs.
The innocence of birds
Second, there is something so sweet and innocent about birds and the sounds they make. When you look at them chirp away, it is so obvious that they have no idea what they’re doing. They’re just doing it. By instinct.
And not to get too “out there” about it, but it’s like God/Nature/The Universe is expressing itself through these tiny, cute creatures. They’re vessels of God.
Which is why birds are so inspiring to me — because I believe we humans are at our best when we “just do it,” and don’t get caught up in all the crazy thoughts and emotions that block us from being vessels of God/The Universe or whoever you think is in charge of the cosmic show.
Why birds sing
If you’re wondering why birds sing, the scientists aren’t exactly sure. They think it is mostly for two reasons.
First, a strong male singing “voice,” (and yes, it’s mostly males who do the singing) is a signal to the females out there that the dude has strong genes, giving her offspring the best chance at surviving. It’s classic Darwinian survival of the fittest.
Second, they sing to mark their territories and ward off competitors. The stronger the call, the better chance that the other birds stay out of your area.
Actual health benefits of listening to birds
To get you enthused about actually trying this, you should know that there is scientific evidence that listening to birds reduces stress. Scientists at the University of Surrey in England have been studying the “restorative benefits of birdsong,” testing whether it really does improve our mood.
They discovered that, of all the natural sounds, bird songs and calls were those most often cited as helping people recover from stress, and allowing them to restore and refocus their attention. (Stephen Moss, “Natural high: why birdsong is the best antidote to our stressful lives,”The Guardian 5/4/19).
What to do
So how do you do this bird listening thing? That’s pretty self-evident. You go outside and listen. And watch.
Couple other suggestions, though. First, bird singing is obviously most pronounced in the morning. So one thing to try is getting your coffee, going outside in your bathrobe and slippers and just sitting and listening.
It doesn’t have to be an hours long deal. Even a few minutes will put you in a better place.
Second, it’s best if you can actually see the birds as they sing. Watching them allows us to truly soak in their zen-like innocence.
No need to identify the birds
Finally, I wouldn’t concern yourself with identifying the birds and making lists of them, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you get into all the facts about birds and species, it will tend to divert your attention from the main intention: Experiencing the birds and their ethereal, majestic presence.
As Eckhart Tolle says, someone who knows absolutely nothing about honey but who has tasted it knows far more about honey than a guy who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on honey but has never tasted it.
A great book
Your best bet is to get a book my birding fanatic sister-in-law gave me called Ornitherapy: For Your Mind, Body and Soul. It offers myriad ways to use birds for your mindfulness practice. I recommend it highly.
Trust me, watching and listening to these adorable creatures that weigh all of one ounce will put you in a better mood.