Looking for a mental health boost? You might want to try birdwatching

Often seen as an activity for older people, birding is truly for all ages, according to Matt Igleski of the Chicago Bird Alliance.

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For birder Matt Igleski, busting out his binoculars helps him destress.

“What causes me anxiety is thinking about what I have to do tomorrow or in a few hours, so I forget about all those things when I am walking around, exploring nature,” said Igleski, the executive director of the Chicago Bird Alliance.

Marc Berman, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and director of the university’s Environmental Neuroscience Lab, said conditions don’t even have to be ideal to get the benefits that nature can provide when it comes to helping your memory and mood.

“You don't even have to like the nature interactions to get these memory and attention benefits, which we think is really important,” he said.

When people interact with more natural environments, they can improve their memory and attention by about 20%, according to Berman.

If you are the type who needs a goal to get out into nature, birding, or bird watching, is an option.

“I would say for birding you can make it as easy or as hard as you want it to be,” Igleski said.

Often seen as an activity for older people, Igleski said birding is truly for all ages.

“It can be fairly challenging and I think a lot of younger people are discovering that and feeling like, oh you can create, in a sense, games around it,” Igleski said.

And it doesn’t take much to get started.

“Most basic things that people would want are maybe at least a pair of binoculars and a field guide is great. There are now a lot of apps available on your phone,” Igleski said.

He suggests these apps and websites:

  • Two free apps to refer to for bird identification: Merlin and the Audubon Bird Guide App.
  • The eBird app is useful to track the species you encounter.
  • The eBird website is a plethora of information about where and when people have seen certain species in the whole world. It also has species profiles, pictures, and even a self-quiz option to help people learn their birds.

You may be wondering just how many minutes you have to spend out in nature to get these mental health benefits.

“Anything helps. More is probably better. Some people have suggested if you can do it two hours a week,” Berman said.

Igleski said you shouldn’t let the colder weather deter you, especially when it comes to birding.

“We often get different species every winter that you only see winter time,” Igleski said.

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