Birds Other

Birding Beats Anxiety, Brings Peace, in a Chaotic World

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five bird pictures

I’ve always found nature to be healing and restorative. On the first day of my journey to becoming a birder, I had headed to the woods, early, in search of peace from the anxiety that haunted me.

As I stepped out of my car I was hit with a wall of harmonious chatters, various bird songs and calls creating a single all-encompassing symphony. The air felt fresh and new, smelling almost sweet. The just-rising sun spangled the trees with a soft, ethereal light.

It was spring of 2020, and the world was consumed by terrifying reports of a deadly virus quickly spreading across the globe. There was so much panic and paralyzing fear, it felt impossible to escape. Yet here, in a little park in the midst of all the chaos, was profound peace.

I started to go more often, and I started to notice more things. There were so many different birds making so many different noises. I didn’t know what any of them were, or where they came from, or what they were doing. But they made for beautiful mornings that provided sanctuary from the horrors facing humanity. So I kept going, and I kept learning. My parents bought me binoculars and a field guide, I downloaded a birding app that helps with identification (Merlin), and I quickly became obsessed with these loud little creatures who gifted me moments of solace and peace.

One summer evening, I went for a short walk in a small open-space area. It was a rough summer in Colorado: wildfires were raging all over the state and Denver was enveloped in a dense, red haze. I couldn’t handle being outside longer than 30 minutes at a time without having trouble breathing or developing a headache. But being outdoors has always been my most reliable therapy, so I was willing to withstand the smoke-heavy air for a few minutes. I was walking on a small part of the trail between two ponds, when I glanced over to see a screech owl, sitting on a low branch at my eye level, no more than 2 feet away from me. I was startled to see this amazing creature staring back. It almost felt like Mother Nature herself was behind those eyes, presenting me with a magical moment of connection. I stood, stunned, for about 30 seconds before grabbing a quick picture and continuing my walk. I could have stared at that owl all evening but wanted to honor their space. That encounter brought me so much comfort and joy, once again, despite the difficult realities in the world outside the park.

Last spring, I decided to take a late evening birding stroll. Of all the trails nearby from which I could choose, I headed north to one where I had been hearing about some interesting sightings. From the parking lot I went left, and immediately started to hear little chirps and rustling from chickadees in the tree above me. They were hopping around and chatting away. One had a yellow stripe on his head, which sparked my interest, leading me to try and capture a picture to investigate further. Some of you may be familiar with the frustration of trying to get a good shot of a flitting bird who won’t sit still for more than a second! Somehow, with a combination of luck and patience, I was able to get a couple of snaps, good enough to try to identify later. After some research, I finally figured out it was a Golden-winged Warbler. These are relatively common in the Southeast United States, but not in the West, and are unfortunately considered a near-threatened species (you can learn more about them here: It was astonishing to me that I witnessed this precious warbler in a suburb of Denver, far from his typical habitat. I could have picked a different trail, or not gone bird watching that day, or even just turned right instead of left at the parking lot. He might have been blown off track by a storm, or become lost from any of a number of factors, but regardless of why, this bird and I ended up crossing paths. This is the magic of birding. A million small decisions made by me and this bird, and unseen environmental influences, led us to intersect on a random trail on a random evening. Had I not been paying attention, or held curiosity for the environment around me, I would have missed him completely.

These stories, and countless others, have shown me how beneficial bird watching is for my mental health. It calls for practicing mindfulness, focusing on the surrounding environment, listening for chirps and calls, watching for movement or a flash of color. There is no space for much else when you’re birding; you’re just experiencing the world exactly as it is in front of you. You’re witnessing the beauty of these brave, tiny creatures, the culmination of millions of years of evolution. For me, spring migration is the most magical time of year. Millions of songbirds migrate in the spring, some coming here to breed and others just passing through on their thousands-of-miles-long journeys. They must navigate the hazards of light pollution, predators, storms, airplanes, and countless other obstacles to get to their intended destination. Seeing a migratory bird feels like a gentle reminder of hope and possibility. How much has this bird overcome to end up here in this moment with me? How much have I overcome to end up here, in this moment, with this little bird?

Birds remind me that small things can make huge impacts. That little Golden-winged Warbler that completely enchanted me has no idea of doing so; he was just moving along with his life and yet he made spring of 2023 the best one I’ve ever had birding. I wonder how many of us have changed someone’s life, or inspired them, or simply made them feel really happy for a day, without us knowing we had done anything at all?

Birds remind me that we can do hard things. We can persevere, adapt, evolve, overcome. There are little treasures everywhere, reminders of our collective resilience and the infinite possibilities held in the breadth of our lives. I hope you can see the magic of the moment, and I hope it brings as much joy to your life as it has brought mine. 

*side note* I would be remiss to write about birds without mentioning how important it is that we work to protect them. Check out this article from the Rocky Mountain Bird Conservatory with some simple steps to help them thrive.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Born and raised in Colorado, Megan grew up with a deep love for nature and animals. She began her career in animal welfare in 2014 when she took a position as a caretaker for service dogs in training. She later transitioned to the Denver Dumb Friends League, where she worked in animal care and adoptions. Wanting to focus on education and prevention to keep pets out of shelters, she joined Fear Free in October 2019.

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