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Why be interested in birds? – a philosophy for watching them

People become interested in birds for many reasons, but usually there is a trigger, such as a memorable experience with a bird either directly or when with someone who is already a bird watcher. Occasionally people become interested in birds because they have encountered them through a course of study or sadly they have picked up a recently dead bird that they have found by the roadside and have been amazed by its colours, textures and feathers.

Birds are also very obvious. They do not generally hide away like many mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Like insects they fly and present themselves easily to people. Some birds are very secretive and some have very cryptic colours. Others have exciting lifestyles and some life in wild and inaccessible places. Birds are often the first wild creatures little children encounter.

Studying wildlife, even at the most simple level, allows us to make connections with our natural world and help place the human species within the planet’s biodiversity and our role within the biosphere. It reminds of our place within the animal kingdom, our place within the global ecology and for those of faith an understanding of our own relationship with God as Creator.

Studying birds can give us pleasure too. Bird watching can be as simple as enjoying the birds in our garden through to chasing rarities across the world. We can also add to scientific knowledge through our records, observations and studies.  Birds have become  part of academic study as much as other life forms.

Many bird watchers would claim that simply sitting and watching birds is a restful, possibly spiritual experience too. The re-connection with the natural world by observing other living creatures with which we cannot effectively communicate is a humbling and illuminating experience.

Birds are intelligent organisms. They operate at different levels to humans in ways we are only just beginning to understand. Watching birds gives an insight into an entirely new world of existence and perception which human animals will probably never be able to experience, even if we may, artificially, be able to simulate how a bird senses the world  through technology some day.

Birds are the closest descendents of the dinosaurs. With that in mind, birds are potentially a very exciting organism to study, watch and enjoy!

You may well have your own reasons for becoming interested in birds. One of the main reasons amongst the older generation, comes from the interest generated by an enthusiastic, knowledgeable older person (usually a man) who acted as a mentor to a child. This is now no longer an option for children today due to stringent child protection regulations.  So many of today’s well know naturalists, including Bill Oddie, can point to patient older people taking them out into the field and teaching them field craft on a one-to-one basis. Today, generations of children are being denied such opportunities and the disconnection between them and their natural inheritance is now almost irreversible. We now have several generations of people particularly in the West whose relationship with the planet is dysfunctional. No wonder there is little understanding of or connection with other organisms with which we share the planet and the potential annihilation of both them, us  and the fragile environment in which we all dwell is imminent.

Birds provide a useful link with the natural world for humans to re-connect with the natural world and their environment. Engaging with the natural world is part of the human experience and we are poorer for want of real engagement with it. We also become disconnected with our own natural history and our own evolutionary pathway. Such disconnection leads to a wide variety of aberrant misconceptions about our place in the world, our relationships with it and between ourselves because we cease to be grounded in reality. We are living in such times now.  It is to be hoped that through an interest in birds, we may start to put together the broken pieces of our relationship with the natural world which plays such a crucial part in shaping our humanity.

SWM revised Mar 2017, from a course handbook "Getting started with birds".