Social distancing is an essential step to curb the spread of highly contagious diseases. It’s also a way to protect yourself anytime your health may be severely compromised. Keeping your distance doesn’t have to mean giving up birding. However, and there are many safe practices you can follow to keep enjoying birds while distancing yourself from health risks.
Where to Go Birding While Social Distancing
There are many places you can go to enjoy birds without mingling in large crowds. Backyard birding can be surprisingly productive and rewarding, and is a great option when you are at high risk and must keep a maximum distance between yourself and others. You could also take short walks through your own neighborhood and see what other birds are visiting different yards, small parks, or vacant lots.
If you want to venture further afield but still keep your distance, consider visiting lesser-known parks or more isolated trails rather than the most popular and potentially crowded refuges and birding hotspots. Social distancing can be an excellent opportunity to find new birding spots you can enjoy. You may be surprised at just how productive a less crowded, less disturbed location could be.
No matter where you go birding, always be sure the location is open and visitors are welcome. Do not trespass on closed properties or private property, and avoid areas that may be questionable for safety.
Before You Leave Home
Before you head out for socially distant birding, be sure you’re prepared for the trip. Instead of stopping at a local coffee shop or convenience store (which could expose you to unnecessary contact), brew your own java and pack some healthy snacks at home. Facilities, including restrooms, may not be available. Be sure you’ve taken that bathroom break before you leave. Put some toilet paper, wipes, and sanitizer in your field bag in case you do need to use facilities that may not be fully stocked during times of closure or limited hours.
Birding at a (Social) Distance
Regardless of where you go birding, it is easy to maintain social distancing practices at all times.
- Avoid carpooling or public transit and only travel with members of your own household.
- If you must pay at a gate or checkpoint, do so through a crack in your window.
- Space out in a parking area if possible, leaving empty spaces between vehicles. If the parking lot is too crowded, be patient and wait your turn instead of crowding others.
- If you are meeting other birders at a location, keep the appropriate social distance. Refrain from shaking hands, hugs, or other contact greetings.
- Be mindful of surfaces, such as boardwalk railings, gates, brochure boxes, etc., and minimize touching them as much as possible.
- Use hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes after any necessary contacts, including before and after you’ve finished your birding excursion.
- Keep at least six feet from other visitors at all times. Seek out a different birding view rather than crowding in one small spot. You may well discover an even better view!
- Be mindful of sharing gear (field guides, spotting scopes, etc.) and avoid sharing if at all possible. If sharing is necessary, sanitize equipment thoroughly between each use.
- Always follow good health practices, such as staying home when you are feeling ill, washing your hands often and thoroughly, and avoiding any large crowds.
- Do not share sightings of rare birds during social distancing periods. Doing so could only encourage others to gather in crowds.
No matter how you keep yourself socially distant while birding, always follow your local guidelines and emergency restrictions such as curfews and closures.
See also: How Birding Benefits Your Health
Birding and Feeding Birds at Home
If you are especially vulnerable to contagion, consider staying home altogether and enjoying birding books, webcams, movies, and the birds in your own backyard instead. Many birders get their start by watching the birds at their feeders. Like birding, feeding birds is a proven stress reducer, which can be very helpful in times of isolation or quarantine.
Time spent outdoors, including birding, is critical for relieving stress and improving mental health. If you want to go birding when social distancing measures are necessary, do so thoughtfully and carefully, and you’ll still be able to enjoy birds without putting yourself or others at greater risk.