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So, the sparrow has been in Australia now for 157 years! It was this particular bird species that sparked my interest in birds and nature as a boy.

Birds can help you to stay healthy

Now in middle age, birds still interest me. They keep me happy and take my mind off the negative thoughts that we all have at times. I hike a bit and so getting out on training walks is a healthy aspect of bird watching. On a training walk I don’t carry binoculars or take a camera. I’m walking! But this doesn’t stop me watching out for flashes of flight and colour, and particularly listening for birds singing and calling. I often hear superb Lyrebirds in my local forests on morning walks and I also watch out for birds that fly or call whilst cycling on the Southern Rail Trail. But you do need to be careful! Once a bird flew towards me and I couldn’t identify it as it flew past, and I let go of the left handle bar to turn and watch it. Thump!

On other days, I could be out for hours watching or looking for a particular bird species and this makes you focus and concentrate on the natural environment that you’re in. This might involve driving to different areas and exploring new spots along the way, which is fun on its own. Well for me it is, because I really enjoy driving in the country - it is all part of the exploration I like.

So, I am out watching birds, listening to calls and their singing and I find myself at a point where there is just nature and birds, or wildlife or plants — no racing mind, instead a sense of calm. It’s very good for mental health. You’re allowing yourself to have a cognitive break. I don’t find it lonely, it’s more singularly mediative. It’s a form of mindfulness in nature, a natural meditation.

The importance of birds

There are an estimated 10,000 species of birds worldwide and in Australia there are 842 different bird species to look for and observe. I have observed just over 400 species in Australia, so I still have more of Australia to explore. When I travel to other countries, apart from the interest of adventure and new cultures, I travel to a country to see other bird species.

So, birds can make you plan, read a lot, study, meet other people, and get out bush.

I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to study and monitor powerful owls, the largest owl in Australia. I have studied the birds of prey, as well, particularly the brown goshawk, which included the trapping and then banding of this secretive raptor species. Birds have helped me map out my career towards environmental management.

Out of all the world’s animals, birds would have to be one of the most studied species on earth. We can also thank birds for the evolution of planes and the development of aviation. People feeding sea gulls might take their amazing ability to fly for granted. I certainly don’t. I’m still amazed by it. When I see birds fly, my spirit lifts with them.

The photography of birds is a big part of many people’s lives. Birds feature in art, and history. Where would we be without the humble chook - as a staple food item, the feathers and down for insulation in outdoor clothing and sleeping bags? I love my most important bit of camping gear, my minus-15- degree sleeping bag.

The need to protect

I think a lot about the conservation of birds and commitment to good conservation practices. Birds need support, a voice to speak on their behalf, particularly for those threatened wild birds and the protection of their environments. Especially now during climate change, we need to encourage more people to consider birds, and how better to interact and share our planet with them. Many bird species might adapt in time to climate change, but sadly some species might be unable to adjust to severe changes in the world’s climate.

Birds have always made me feel happy. I’m still watching the sparrows in my backyard and smiling at them. Find a bird you like and just watch it. Go on! Go into the back yard, or down to the beach or into a forest, or a local heathland and find one. The best sites to watch birds will be anywhere there’s a water source, local wetlands are great, coastal beaches are good and local parks are fabulous. Birds are found in a variety of habitats world-wide.

If you are interested in getting involved in bird watching the best tip I can give is to obtain one of the many good field guides on birds of Australia. My favourite field guides on Australian birds include the authors Simpson and Day, and Pizzey and Knight.

If you are going to purchase binoculars then I recommend a pair in 8x32 because they cover the best field of view for looking at birds and are very good for local whale watching as well. The cost of a good pair of binoculars can set you back between $400 to $4000 dollars. Buy the best pair you can afford, and you will not regret it. Good binoculars give the best clarity of birds at a distance showing up all the colours. High quality binocular optics generally have a lifetime warranty and will outlast you. I guard the lens of my binoculars with my life. Now, you can purchase binoculars second hand but you need to be able to try them out first. I have only been lucky on eBay once, and the binoculars I purchased for 40 dollars were a collectable pair of German-made 8x30 Zeiss binoculars that were in amazing condition and worth a lot of money. Others I have purchased have been junk. So, I suggest you save up and buy new! Try binoculars out in the store first and ask to use them outside. Great optics brands include the following: Top end - Swarovski, Zeiss, Minox and Leica, and for mid-range look at Bushnell, Celestron and Nikon.

Have a look at and make use of their app for bird surveys. I also use a lot. It’s a world-wide birding app. It allows you to see which species of birds have been seen in different states, and it is great for surveying birds that you see when travelling overseas. With the ebird app you can download bird list data sets for most countries. It also has a good following in Australia.

Good luck and stay positive in these difficult times! Watching birds and spending time outdoors is wonderful.

David Farrar