Hello Spring

How birdwatching has brought me joy and calm in difficult times

Birds are bright lights. As birdwatching grows, birds bring life to a locked down world.

Birds are bright lights. As birdwatching grows, birds bring life to a locked down world.


I love to chase or as the Brits say "twitch" rare birds. Usually, I travel around British Columbia. seeking new rarities when they are reported to me at the B.C. Rare Bird Alert, a website I run that lists all the rare birds seen in B.C. During the pandemic, however, when we've been asked by our government to not to travel, I quickly learned that staying home wasn't bad at all. I discovered self-found rare birds close to home including a dusky flycatcher, northern waterthrush and red-naped sapsucker. Each morning, I would go out and feel excitement to see which new bird would turn up next. 

Birding is having a moment

This year, there has been an increase in the amount of people birding. It's great to see the new faces that are emailing me about rarities they find. I've also been approached by birders in the field, thanking me for continuing to run the Rare Bird Alert website, which they told me has helped them cope during this difficult time. I have also met more young birders enjoying this hobby, too. Since I founded the B.C. Young Birders Program in 2014 there has been an increase in young people taking up this hobby due to their passion for conservation and concern for this planet. The more birders out there the better. Birds need all the help they can get from future advocates. 

Bright lights in difficult times

Birds have helped many people — myself included — to get through this difficult time. On a personal level, birds have helped me tremendously with my mental health. They uplift me, decrease anxiety and stress, plus bring me peace, calm and most importantly, joy. Birds have helped my friends through tragic losses. They sure have helped me through the loss of loved ones in my life — particular birds can even remind us of our loved ones or cherished memories. In hard times, we can turn to these "bright lights" we call birds to help us escape to a place where we can focus on the simple things and what is truly important in life.

Birds are life

Humans are completely intertwined with birds, even if we don't realize it. Birds are indicator species (organisms whose behaviours let us know how their habitat is doing) and when there is a decline in their population, we must pay attention.

Development, urbanization, climate change and pollution continue to threaten them, and many bird species have had significant declines. Their presence should never be taken for granted. Simply put, birds are life.

Recent studies have shown that birds have been singing  louder during the pandemic as humans produce less noise. The pandemic has slowed down our lives, but it has not stopped the birds from getting on with it — and in that way, it gives me great hope.

It is now spring here in Vancouver and I have been ecstatic to see my first flycatcher and migratory warblers. At the same time, I'm also sad to see large flocks of winter species like snow geese migrating away. The season has turned and it is time to look at the new birds coming from down south to spend their breeding season here. It grounds you to think just how far these tiny birds travel, to appear before our eyes. It is humbling and awe-inspiring. 

Birds face many challenges during migration, so by the time they get to Canada, they deserve our reverence.

Coming together even while distant

If you have a partner, friend or family member who can share birding or the "twitching" of rare birds with you, then you are all the more blessed. Birding can bring family and friends together and strengthen existing bonds. Even if you live apart from your loved ones, you can send them pictures of your bird finds and they can do the same; strengthening that connection even though distanced. 

Birding is a fun challenge as you try to discern field marks of what you are seeing to make an identification in the field with your trusty field guide. As you record sightings, it gives your mind another task to focus on. It helps to keep your mind sharp and practice mindfulness as you patiently stand around, waiting for one to appear. 

Birds can take you all over the world and each place has spectacular birds to discover. However, don't forget the jewels to be found right in your own backyard! I have made many long-lasting friends through birding, and I couldn't imagine living without these creatures. I will continue to enjoy looking at their beauty through my binoculars while advocating for their protection. As I said before, it is the least I can do, for all the gifts they have given me.

Click here for more scenes from spring across the country. Show us your spring with the hashtag #HelloSpringCBC.


Melissa Hafting

Freelance contributor

Melissa Hafting runs the B.C. Rare Bird Alert website. She also designed and led the British Columbia Young Birders Program, which aims to bring youth of different backgrounds together for fun excursions in the natural world.