How Birdwatching Changed My Life

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Osprey and Barn Owl feathers I got tattooed!

I’m sure many read that title and thought “uhm… what? How can looking at birds change someones life?” But hear me out…

Picture me, a person so detached from reality that I wasn’t even aware I was really depressed or anxious. I thought I just needed to finish school and get out of debt and i’d be okay. I spent all my spare time looking at my phone and thinking about the future. I was focused…. focused on what my life would look like after graduation or after I moved out of Miami or after I finally had a big butt and a six pack. Do you ever do this?

These are common thoughts that many young adults have. This is what society teaches us. Graduate high school, go to college, get a degree, get a job, buy a house, have a family, die. So more often than not, we just sit around waiting for these things because we believe it’s going to bring us happiness. This was my case. Waiting for something to bring me happiness.

So here I was, a college student who had just quit her job to finish school and FINALLY feel happy after that. The day after I quit my job I went on a road trip with my boyfriend and friends. We visited West Virginia where our campsite was pretty out there in the middle of nowhere. One morning, I woke up to my friend saying “Tasha! Wake up and come look at what’s outside your tent!). I get out and there’s a gorgeous Barred Owl flying from tree to tree in our campsite. After witnessing this curious bird maybe 10 feet away from me, I was hooked.

Fast forward a few months while I was taking Ecology of South Florida and learning about different ecosystems and species, I started venturing to wild places in search of birds. I knew I was birding but I didn’t know JUST how serious it was to me until I visited one of the best birdwatching sites in South Florida, STA 5/6.

STA 5/6 is a stormwater treatment area near Clewiston, FL that provides some of the best habitat for birds! Just on the drive there, we saw a Bobcat, Bald Eagles, Crested Caracaras, and a bunch of different hawk species. After this day, I never looked back and began birding every single week.

I’m sure you’re still wondering, okay well how does this change someone’s life? I’ll tell you how:

How Birdwatching Changed My Life

It forces you to put the phone down. 

You can’t look for wildlife while staring down at your phone or scrolling through instagram. You miss all the great birds doing this. While birdwatching all of your attention is on the trees or grass or water that you’re scanning for a few beaks.

It forces you to use all of your senses. 

When you’re looking for birds, you need to use all your senses. You need to look for flashes of feathers deep in the trees, you need to open your ears and hone in on that call you’ve never heard before. You need to feel where the wind is coming from so you can catch all the migrates that are being pushed to shore. If you want to do some active meditation, birdwatching is a good way to start!

It forces you to stay present.

You’re not thinking about what tasks need to get done at work while you’re birding. You’re focused on the birds and wildlife that you’re most probably listening to but can’t see. You’re forced to stay present and keep walking in the hopes that you’ll see 30+ species today. It’s an awesome way to focus on the now and not the things that possibly give you anxiety.

You spend most of your time outdoors.

Well… you’re not gonna find a lot of wild birds indoors are you? Birdwatching takes you to the wildest and most beautiful places, from beaches and islands to the arctic and old growth forests. If you want to start spending more time outdoors, birdwatching is your hobby. Not only will it give you the itch to travel more but even when you’re stuck in your hometown, you’ll want to go to a local park in the hopes that you’ll see a lifer!

You meet the weirdest and coolest people.

As with many odd ball hobbies…. you’re gonna meet some weird people! And these people…. have stories! Some have traveled to the very tip of Alaska in search for Russian or Asian birds that flew too West. Some have spent months in the Amazon and some have a lifetime of stories with a life list that could make you cringe (I know peeps who have seen 4,000 species of birds). I’m a huge introvert but when I’m birdwatching it pushes me to be super extroverted where I start conversations with complete strangers… and I’m happy to talk to them!

The point of this post is that birding came to me at the perfect time, where I was still an anxious wreck. After committing to birdwatching every week, I noticed a sense of calm within myself majority of the time. This was a huge improvement since I would randomly burst into tears from how anxious and depressed I was. I, myself, didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I thought I was crazy! I’m sure many people feel this way and I only want people who were in a similar situation to take control of their anxiety/life and feel pure happiness. Maybe it’s not birdwatching, but I’m sure there is a hobby you enjoy that can give you similar results!

Leave a comment below with a hobby that you’re thinking of pursuing! Let me know if you’ve ever had similar struggles and what you’ve done (or thinking of doing) to help yourself!

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Florida Keys Wild Bird Center

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As a kid, my parents would drive down to the Florida Keys from Miami every few weeks so we could enjoy the ocean. My sisters and I were really born mermaids because we spent so much time out in the ocean, whether in Haulover Beach, Biscayne National Park, or the Florida Keys. However, one of my favorite things to do when down in the Florida Keys was visit the Wild Bird Center in Tavernier. It’s a small sanctuary for injured birds but it had a huge impact on me since you got to see a wide variety of birds up close. The last time I actually visited the center was over ten years ago so I decided to take advantage of my winter break and visit again. If you can appreciate wild birds such as hawks, owls, egrets, pelicans, song birds, and even seagulls than this is definitely the place for you.

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Most of the birds in the center cannot be returned back into the wild such as their resident Blue Jays, Flip & Flop, which were extremely friendly! However, many other birds are simply recovering and regaining strength to be released back in their natural habitat. This aviary was filled with all types of song birds such as Doves, Blue Jays, Mocking Birds, and even the beautiful White-Crowned Pigeon who’s northern most habitat is the South Florida, mainly the Florida Keys.

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My personal favorite part of the sanctuary is the variety of birds of prey they have such as this Short-Tailed Hawk. The sanctuary also features Red-Shouldered Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and even a Barn Owl. Most of these birds are permanent residents. As an animal lover, it can be heart breaking to see such incredible animals in these small aviaries when compared to the large open spaces they could be flying out in the wild. At the same time, one must understand that these birds were either hit by cars, shot by some asshole, or found entangled in fishing line/trash but was thankfully found and taken in by this wonderful center! (Don’t be that asshole and pick up your trash, fishing line INCLUDED!)

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As someone who has loved wildlife and nature all her life, I can say that this place is a haven for most birds. Many of these birds are becoming threatened due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Pictured above is a Cooper’s Hawk, which can often be seen flying in suburban areas. Personally, there is one that often flies around my neighborhood looking for a nice meal. Next time you’re taking your dog for a walk, I encourage you to look up and see if you can spot one! (THEY’RE AWESOME, LOOK AT THOSE EYES!)

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Once you travel towards the back of the sanctuary, you’ll see a Vulture aviary and a larger aviary filled with aquatic birds such as Pelicans, Seagulls, Cormorants, Limpkins, and Egrets. The boardwalk will also take you towards the Bay where many Pelicans will be waiting for your arrival. You’ll also be able to see a beautiful wetland filled with Black Mangroves and fish.

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Next time you decide to travel down to the Florida Keys, I definitely recommend visiting this wonderful place. It’s a short visit and I’m sure you’ll leave inspired to look for these awesome birds in your neighborhood! The center is also completely donation based and is always in need of items such as pet carriers, wire cages, towels, sheets, baby blankets, heatings pads, gauze, cotton swabs, and the list goes on and on. You can visit their website http://www.keepthemflying.org for more information.

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I hope you enjoyed reading all about this awesome place! Now get off your phone and go outside.

-Tasha Adventures