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Watching My Way to Mental Health – One Bird at a Time


In addition to his duties as Editor in Chief of www.rtor.org, Jay Boll has been an avid birder ever since he lived in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe, with its beautiful birds and wildlife. In a recent guest blog for Esperanza – Hope to Cope with Anxiety and Depression, Jay wrote about his pastime and the mental health benefits of watching birds. 

Emily Dickinson in one of her most celebrated poems wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all.

Earlier this year researchers at the University of Exeter announced that watching birds in your neighborhood has positive benefits for mental health. I have known that ever since I lived in the African nation of Zimbabwe and an odd-looking bird known as a Hoopoe (pronounced “hoopy”) landed on a flame tree in our yard. This exotic bird is as common in the suburban gardens of Harare as the Red-bellied Woodpeckers that visit my backyard in Connecticut every day now. But its distinctive crown of white and black-tipped feathers made it stand out from all the birds I’d seen before. Enthralled by that encounter, I invested in a field guide for the birds of southern Africa and within weeks had spotted and ID’d sulfur-colored Brimstone Canaries, oriole-like Masked Weavers, tiny Red-billed Firefinches, and stunning Purple-crested Louries. My passion for birding grew as my wife and I visited some of the top wildlife destinations in southern Africa, and so did my life list, my tally of species observed in the wild. I was fortunate to see many rare and beautiful species at such exotic locales as Victoria Falls and Mana Pools on the Zambezi River. But for ease of access and relaxation, nothing beat Monavale Vlei, a mere mile from our house in Harare.  One-hundred thirty-two species have been recorded at the Vlei, and I was able to see a fair number of them on my frequent walks through the wetlands.

7 Great Mental Health Benefits from Watching Birds

(or just about any other outdoor activity)

Outdoor Exercise – Forget treadmills and stationary bikes. I hate the idea of walking for forty-five minutes and getting nowhere. But put me on a woodland trail with a pair of good binoculars and I can go for hours.

Read the rest of Jay’s article on Esperanza Magazine to find out the remaining benefits of bird watching.

A note on Selleck’s Woods Nature Preserve in Darien, CT

Selleck’s Wood is a 50-acre nature preserve near downtown Darien, CT. Its two miles of hiking trails wind around Dunlap Lake and several smaller ponds. For such a small preserve in the heart of Fairfield County and with a border on busy I-95, it contains a remarkable diversity of habitats and species. There are seven distinct ecosystems within the park, including ponds, marshes, swamps, and streams. Raccoons, deer, red foxes, and otters inhabit the preserve as well as the 114 species of plants, 39 species of butterflies, and 131 species of birds recorded there to date.

The preserve is composed of two properties, Selleck’s Woods, which is owned by the Town of Darien, and Dunlap Woods, which is owned by the Darien Land Trust. The preserve is maintained and supported by Friends of Selleck’s Woods, a private 501 (c)(3) organization, with the help of local volunteers.

Some of the species observed by Jay in Selleck’s Woods and mentioned in the article are shown below:

From left to right, top to bottom: The Yellowthroat, The Osprey, The Redstart, The Prothonotary Warbler, The Green Heron and The Wood Duck.







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Jay Boll, Editor in Chief www.rtor.org

3 thoughts on “Watching My Way to Mental Health – One Bird at a Time

  1. connie says:

    enjoyed the photos and write up of bird watching in Zimbabwe. Experienced similar satisfaction sitting in the car in front of my house in today I returned home to find my carpets being cleaned, prohibiting my entry into the house for about 20 minutes – so I sat, resting, in my car. Across the street from my house are two butterfly bushes and my front yard yields a profession of colors from the roses, phlox, daylillies, yarrow and petunias in the flower garden. Admiral butterflies – really a swarm of them, flew between our two houses. It was just one species of butterfly but it held my interest – maybe for 20 minutes or longer. Three separate times the back and forth of the butterfly brigade was intersected by birds – unlike you, I recognize only a few species of birds – and my birds were not so striking in color- they were just brown birds, – but the interplay between the two species was fascinating. Butterflies give way to birds..after all, birds are bigger and fly faster – and probably there are birds that eat butterflies – a very good reason to give way to them. But in my yard, today, the birds and butterflies co-existed in harmony. I was so lost in the fascinating flights of the two species that I failed to recognize when the roar of the rug cleaner was turned off and it was only when the workman rapped on my car window that I became aware of his existence, my existence, and the very mundane environment we occupied. . I’d gotten lost in their world – the butterflies world – the birds world – it was quite lovely.. i recommend it for anyone seeking a few minutes of serenity – a woods is wonderful – if none is at hand, a flower garden, or even a lone flowering bush may produce the same peaceful sense of harmony.

  2. Masnon says:

    Hey Jay Boll, Thanks for sharing these great mental health benefits from birding. Actually i didn’t knew before about these health benefits, although i love to watching birds by my favorite spotting scopes and binoculars.

  3. Nathan says:

    I agree with this post. Our late grandfather was once advised by a family psychotherapist to take birdwatching sessions around his backyard in the afternoon as a form of outdoor exercise. Being a birder in his youthful days, we later realized that this was a medical prescription to reduce his elevated stress levels.

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