Not only is bird-watching fun, it's also good for you! Learn the benefits of bird-watching and some of the best resources for identifying birds, both by sight and by sound, including one of the best FREE resources for identifying birds: Merlin Bird ID.

Why You Should Add Bird-Watching to Your Day

No matter what time of the year, bird watching is always fun. It’s interesting to watch the birds go about their day and their song is delightful.

But did you know that bird-watching can be good for you?

The Benefits of Bird-Watching

  • A 2015 study showed that people living in neighborhoods with more birds, shrubbery, and trees were less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Another study demonstrated that just listening to bird song helped relieve stress and increase attention span.
  • The act of getting outside and spending time in nature has been shown to have restorative properties.
  • Time spent outdoors remains the best way to produce enough Vitamin D, a vitamin necessary for optimal health.

Tools and Resources for Bird-Watching

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It’s fun to bird-watch, but it’s even more fun when you can identify the birds you spot.

Bird Identification Guides

There are many bird identification guides available, and often you can find them specific for the area in which you live. I’ve even picked up local bird identification guides at thrift stores, yard sales, and library book sales. I like to keep a bird identification guide and a set of binoculars by the picture window in our living room. Whenever I spy a bird that is new to me, I can use my book to identify the bird and learn more about it.

One of my favorite resources for backyard bird-watching is the Merlin Bird ID App. The best part: it’s FREE!!

The Merlin Bird ID App

The Merlin Bird ID app, developed by Cornell University, couldn’t be easier to use. All you need to do is answer five questions about the bird you wish to identify:

The first question the Merlin app asks is where you saw the bird you wish to identify.  The app can use your current location
The second question the Merlin app asks is when you saw the bird you wish to identify
The third question the Merlin app asks is the size of the bird.  Choose from smaller than a sparrow to larger than a goose.
Next, the Merlin app asks you to choose the bird's main colors.  Choose from one to three main colors.
Finally, the Merlin app asks what activity the bird was participating in when you saw it.  Was it eating at a feeder? On the ground?  Soaring or flying?

Based on your answers, the Merlin app will generate a list of possible birds.

The list isn’t random, but relies on a database of the most common species found in your location at the time you are using the app.

Based on your answers, the Merlin app will generate a list (with pictures) of the birds that best fit your description.

Once you’ve identified your bird, you can read more about the particular species. You can learn its migration pattern and even listen to recordings of its song.

Once you've identified your bird, you can learn more details about its species.  You can also view a map to learn where it is found at different times of the year.
American Goldfinch, Indigo Bunting, and Northern Flicker

I have thoroughly enjoyed using the Merlin app to help me identify species in my area including the White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, Pileated Woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Flicker, and many more. This is a great app for hobbyists, as well as for those with students studying birds (or biology, ecosystems, or animal behavior) in school.

Apps for Identifying Birds by Sound

Since moving from Florida to Kentucky, there is a bird whose identity has confounded me. For about five years, I’ve been hearing its distinctive call but can’t find the bird who is making it. (For you rock fans, the call reminds me of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler in the song Dude Looks Like a Lady). I really want to identify this bird! If only there was a way to identify a bird by its song!

It turns out, there may be!

When doing my research for this post, I came across some resources that promise to help identify birds by their songs. I haven’t used any of them personally, but will include them here.

Bird Song Identification from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

This free resource has a series of drop-down menus that allow you to describe the sound the bird makes (single or multiple notes, high or low pitched, whistle or quack, etc.). Based on your choices, possible birds are identified. By listening to their songs, you can decide if they match the bird song you are attempting to identify.

Song Sleuth

This free app is available to download to your phone. To use the app, simply open it and it starts recording audio of the bird song. It then compares the recording to the 200 most common vocalizing land birds in North America. Once you’ve identified the bird making the song, the app also supplies details about the bird species.

With the resources to identify the birds around you at your beck and call, it’s time to put them to use as a citizen scientist by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual event during which people around the world can help biologists get a better understanding of current bird populations. This year, the GBCC will be held on Friday, February 17- Monday, February 20.

From the website

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

Participating in the GBBC couldn’t be easier. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes at a time on one or more of the days of the event. Then they report their observations on the GBBC website. Despite the name, you don’t have to limit your observations to your backyard. You can even list birds you see while you’re travelling by car.

Child bird watching
Bird watching is fun at any age.

Anyone can participate, making this a wonderful way to involve your children in exploring the world around them.

I love how easy it is to identify the birds that come to my bird feeder. It provides a much-needed break from my view of computer and phone screens, and helps keep me mindful of the big, beautiful world we live in.

Further Reading

Merlin Bird ID App

Birdwatching for Peace of Mind and Better Health

10 Ideas That Will Make Bird Study For Kids Way More Exciting

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Encourage Your Child to Think Like a Scientist

The Science of Spring

5 Reasons to Go for a Walk, According to Science

Not only is bird-watching fun, it's also good for you!  Learn the benefits of bird-watching and some of the best resources for identifying birds, both by sight and by sound, including one of the best FREE resources for identifying birds:  Merlin Bird ID.

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