Birdwatching is an inclusive activity that can be enjoyed by people of all abilities. If you think friends or family members with cognitive and physical limitations can’t enjoy birdwatching, think again! With some intentional accommodations, birdwatching can be a fun, enriching, and healthy hobby for people with disabilities, too.
Disabilities can take lots of different forms, so birding modifications can vary greatly. Here are a few ideas for adapting your birdwatching game plan to be more accessible for birders with disabilities.
Start with a Controlled Environment
Not all birders have to trek through the great wilderness to catch a rare species mid-flight! Birding can happen almost anywhere, including at home or at safe spaces designed for bird education. One of the best ways for people with disabilities to get involved in birding is to start with a more controlled environment, such as a bird sanctuary or refuge center. These places offer fantastic educational resources of all kinds – guided tours, audio-visuals, storytelling, and hands-on displays – making it easier for special needs birders to interact with content however they prefer.
In addition, educational centers often provide a sheltered space that’s designed to be accessible for those with physical limitations. Whether that means birding from inside a climate-controlled room or following paved pathways that are wheelchair-accessible, controlled environments boost safety and prove to be more inclusive for birdwatchers with disabilities. Learning about birds within a controlled environment can be an excellent first step that’s safe, educational, and fun.
Plan Ahead for More Independence
Ready to break free from guided tours and do some independent birding? To make solo endeavors more successful for those with disabilities, it’s essential to plan ahead. Research the birdwatching location to get a better idea of the surface terrain, conditions, route difficulty, and time required to complete the loop (if hiking a path from start to finish).
Anticipating challenges and creating targeted solutions can be key for birders with disabilities to be successful in the field. For example, birders with visual impairments may benefit from filtered glasses with a blue, yellow, or red tint – these can help process light and color – or magnifiers, which can be a fantastic help when trying to identify specific species. Focusing on bird calls and aural cues can also be a great approach for visually impaired birdwatchers.
Birders with limited motor skills may benefit from adaptive fine motor supports, such as wrist cuffs or specialized grips with large handles. These tools can help disabled birders hold binoculars and other gear more easily. In addition, bringing a small trolley with wheels may be another solution for birders unable to carry extra equipment, like field guides, birding logbooks, and cameras.
Thankfully, there are now a few groups out there making it easier for birders with disabilities to explore independently. For example, mobility-impaired birdwatchers can consult Birdability, a network that compiles the best birdwatching parks with wheelchair-friendly trails. Though initiatives like these are mostly run by local birdwatching groups and are only available in certain areas, they are constantly expanding and sharing resources. With increased participation and awareness, even more birders can get connected!
Getting out in the field can be fun, but it’s not absolutely necessary to catch the red flash of a male cardinal in flight or a slick hummingbird stopping for a sip on a summer day. Birdwatching is still possible for birders who are homebound.
Create a bird-friendly space in the yard by setting up food, water, and plants that provide shelter and places to perch. Arranging these items near a window can be best for birders who are restricted to the indoors. Living in a loft or spending time in a room off the main level? Consider finding a flower box or bird feeder that can be secured to the outside of a window. You never know who may stop by for a quick perch!
See also: 10 Fun Ways You Can Go Birding at Home
Helping Kids with Disabilities Enjoy Birding
Kids with disabilities can get in on the fun of birdwatching, too. In addition to making modifications for physical disabilities, many of which are similar to those made for physically disabled adults, behavioral disabilities can be addressed by providing specific assistance for kids.
One of the best ways to help children understand the expectations of how to act, listen, and keep quiet while birding is to engage in social stories before heading out to the field. Storytelling that shows examples of proper birdwatching etiquette can help children with behavioral disabilities better understand the importance of not being loud, running, chasing, or making impulsive movements — all of which can scare or provoke the birds.
Advanced Solutions for Serious Birders
Birding with physical and cognitive disabilities may become a source of frustration for some. Each birder with a disability is likely to face unique challenges in the field and develop their own specific birding goals, depending on their abilities. Sometimes, there may be specific limitations that require more creative and professional accommodation. If you’re looking to enhance your birdwatching experience with more advanced solutions to manage a disability, consider consulting an occupational therapist or other medical professional trained to facilitate participation in everyday activities and hobbies.
With increased awareness and creative solutions, we can create safe ways for birders with disabilities to participate in the hobby that we all love. Share your ideas with conservation centers and disabled birdwatching networks to help make birding even more inclusive. After all, the thrilling world of birdwatching is waiting – and everyone is invited!