One of our major goals as we hike across Canada on the Great Trail is to connect individuals, families, and youth to nature through birding. For many people this raises the excellent question: Why hike for birds?
1) Birds are a perfect way to instill a deep and lasting love of nature. Birds are familiar, they are everywhere, they are fun and free to watch, and anyone can do it. Bird watching can be as simple as putting a birdfeeder in your backyard, or as involved as making a trip to an exotic location to track down a rare species. Experiencing the excitement of observing a bird in the wild requires the development of patience, observational skills, and knowledge of habitat, which can in turn lead to a deeper appreciation for nature and a desire to preserve it.
2) Birds offer an opportunity to connect with other people. Taking the kids out for a walk on a Saturday afternoon and bringing some birdseed along so they can feed chickadees from their hands is a great way to spend time with family. Many communities have local ornithology and naturalist clubs that hold regular meetings and field trips, which offer a great way for people of all ages to connect with each other and spend some time outside. Bird watching also offers an opportunity to join the online community of citizen scientists, simply by submitting your bird observations online so they can be used to make a difference to conservation. The growing popularity of bird ID Apps for mobile devices such as MerlinBird ID, and online data submission portals such as eBird, means that submitting your observations is now as easy as posting to Facebook!
3) Birds are important indicators of environmental change. Birds provide many essential ecological services, such as pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and helping control insect populations, and they are an important component of many ecosystems. When bird populations begin to decline, it can be an indication that there are larger problems in the ecosystem which could affect other species - including us. Learning about birds and monitoring their populations is important because we will not save what we do not love, and engaging with these beautiful and fascinating creatures helps us recognize the value of our natural resources for own health, well-being, and long-term survival.
4) Birding brings all the benefits of being in nature. Research has shown that engagement with nature helps develop healthy, independent, confident and creative individuals who have the self-awareness, communication and critical thinking skills necessary to make meaningful contributions to their communities and successfully pursue their life goals. Spending time in nature looking for birds provides an opportunity to slow down, spend some time with our own thoughts, and see many beautiful and amazing things we would otherwise miss during our fast paced lives.
5) Birds present a great opportunity to make a difference. By taking a few simple and fun steps you can make a positive contribution to nature that will have lasting effects across the continent. Among the top ways to help birds are 1) Know your birds, 2) Make your yard bird-friendly, 3) Keep your cat indoors, 4) Be a bird-friendly consumer, 5) Prevent window collisions, 6) and Support bird conservation.