Be Your Own Birder

Safer at Home – Can I Still Go Birding?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, more and more states, cities, and communities are issuing movement restriction orders. These might be called a number of things – safer at home recommendations, stay at home directives, shelter in place orders, essential movement only orders, or even just curfews, lockdowns, or mandates, but they all mean the same: travel and movement should be severely curtailed, and you should only be venturing out of your home or off your property for necessities. But what about birding, and how necessary is it?

Empty Suburbia - Photo by Scott Akerman
Empty Suburbia – Photo by Scott Akerman

Why Staying Home Should Help

The idea behind these orders is to enforce more aggressive social distancing and limit crowds. Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads relatively easily from person-to-person, any gathering has the potential to spread the virus quickly and widely. If fewer people are gathered in any way, there is less exposure, less contagion, and less spread of the disease. This will help keep hospitals and medical facilities from becoming overwhelmed by dramatic caseloads, and ultimately, will save lives.

What Are Essential Activities?

Staying at home does not mean complete isolation and confinement, however. While each state and community has a different definition of what errands and outings may be considered essential during this crisis, you are still generally allowed to leave home for tasks such as…

  • Critical Jobs – Utility workers, healthcare providers, waste management, transit operators, emergency responders, banking operations, etc.
  • Purchasing Essential Supplies – Groceries, prescriptions, cleaning supplies, repair materials, pet food, etc.
  • Using Available Government Services – Court appointments, post offices, tax collection, real estate transactions, etc.
  • Caring for Loved Ones – If those loved ones are compromised and require special care, errands, or assistance they cannot do themselves
  • Exercise and Well-Being – Walking, running, hiking, biking, and other physical activities to remain fit and focused
Firetruck - Photo by Lane Pearman
Firetruck – Photo by Lane Pearman

It is important to note that the exact activities that may be permitted will vary in different areas. If your community is under a stay at home order, consult local guidelines and officials to determine what exactly is permitted, what businesses may be open, and what activities you can safely engage in until the order is lifted.

How Birding Could Be Essential

Under these directives, it could be interpreted that birding and bird watching are essential for the physical and mental health of those who enjoy the activity. Walking trails and visiting birding sites provides necessary physical exercise, and time spent in fresh air (even driving auto loops) surrounded by nature is calming and soothing, helping bolster mental health during excessively stressful periods.

American Robin in Spring - Photo by John Benson
American Robin in Spring – Photo by John Benson

If You Do Leave Home to Go Birding

We all have to make our own decisions about what is essential in our lives at this time to protect not only ourselves and our families, but others with acute vulnerabilities, as we may be inadvertently endangering others whenever we come into contact. If you do choose to consider birding an essential activity, and you do choose to go out…

  • Follow all local directives for closures and restrictions. Many small parks, nature centers, tourist-driven nature spots, and other facilities are closed at this time. Do not violate those closures by trespassing or crossing gates, fences, or other barriers.
  • Choose birding destinations close to home. It can be difficult to rationalize why your “essential” birding requires you to visit a refuge or preserve a long distance away, when there are other suitable areas for enjoying nature much more locally.
  • Strictly adhere to social distancing practices at all times, and avoid any groups, gatherings, or crowds. Be mindful of surfaces, use hand sanitizer liberally, do not carpool, avoid sharing gear, and otherwise keep yourself as practically isolated as possible.
  • Minimize your birding time. While some birding may be beneficial to your physical and mental health, it is not responsible or considerate to go birding for hours each day, or multiple times a day. Limit your activities as much as possible so others can enjoy birding and time in nature with fewer people – including you – nearby.

Am I still going birding? Yes. My birding at this time is confined to my home, my neighborhood, whatever birds I see while driving on essential errands, and one park less than two miles from my home, that I only visit every few days, and never with a crowd.

The Park I Visit - Photo by Melissa Mayntz
The Park I Visit – Photo by Melissa Mayntz

It is important that we all take whatever steps are necessary to keep ourselves and our families, as well as our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and community members, safe and well during this uncertain time. Everyone has different considerations that factor in to their personal decisions, and everyone has to make the decisions that work best for them. Wherever you may do it, however you manage it, and whatever bits of it you enjoy – happy birding!

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