It’s hard to fight the feeling that, right now, everything is horrible. The world is battling a pandemic. Communities of color are still fighting police brutality and systemic racism. Millions are struggling to stay afloat during an economic meltdown. Protests are happening in all 50 states. Society is hanging by a thread—we can’t even agree that we should all be wearing masks, a scientifically proven defense against the coronavirus.
Seeking respite from this vortex of madness, I’ve found myself relying heavily on an oasis of happiness for me: birds. But even that has been infected by the world’s ugliness. While writing this, a video came out showing a white woman calling the police on a black man bird-watching in Central Park simply because he asked her to put her dog on a leash (Central Park’s rule, not his). Turning to birding, a peaceful hobby, is not the end-all answer, I know. It won’t change the world, stop the pandemic, or abolish racism, but it can still bring some joy. Since I’m mostly stuck in my second-floor apartment in a complex that, while it has trees, is lacking on outdoor relaxation space, my bird feeder allows me, even for just a few minutes a day, to forget what’s happening out there besides what’s right in front of my window.
While cleaning out my bedroom post-college, I found a diary entry from my childhood that described whistling at the birds outside my window. As I read it many years later, I could remember how magical it felt when they whistled back to me, like I was, just for a moment, connected to them and not something they feared. I’m an animal lover through and through, but that moment set me up for a lifetime fascination with avians.
It was several years later that I finally got my own bird feeder. I had gone through a series of life changes with jobs, cities, and relationships, and I craved the bliss I got that day from the simple act of watching birds.
Owning a bird feeder as an adult has been incredible. While there are tons of options to choose from, a clear window feeder opens you up to another world of bird voyeurism. “Once you get a bird feeder, your life will change forever,” Lauren D. Pharr, a graduate research assistant of fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology at North Carolina State University, told me. I agree.
Birds are beautiful, mysterious creatures that can fly in unison, sing exquisite songs, and dance to attract prospective mates. New Yorkers love to hate pigeons, but I think they’re stunning little weirdos who, despite possessing the gift of flight, sometimes choose to walk down the sidewalk like us neanderthals. For me, their cooing is an aural embodiment of peace.
I have yet to go on a bird-watching excursion, but Pharr (whose Instagram and Twitter are full of amazing bird content) assured me that watching from anywhere, even from inside my house, is considered birding. So if you, like me, are more of a homebody even when there aren’t stay-at-home orders in place, you can still be a part of this quite beautiful community.